Our next stop, after the briefest of visits to Lima, was Huacachina, a small oasis town in the middle of the Peruvian desert near the border of Ecuador. The town, being surrounded by huge sand dunes, is famous for desert related sports such as sand boarding and dune buggying. It’s a popular feature on the gringo trail of Peru and we’d heard only good things.. we figured it would be rude not to give it just one night.
So we did just that. We jumped on a night bus in Lima and arrived at around 11am. Our bus dropped us off in Ica, a small town 5km to the east of Huacachina. Upon arriving we jumped on our new favourite form of transport, the tuk tuk, and made the short trip to Huacachina. In all honesty, our first impressions weren’t great. Whilst Huacachina looks like a beautiful desert oasis on photographs, the town itself was pretty un-spectacular at street level. Yes it was surrounded by the towering sand dunes we had expected but the streets were a little dirty and very quiet. But not to be perturbed, we battled on to find our hostel – which didn’t take long – Huacachina is small and can be walked around in about 15 minutes. Our hostel of choice was Banana Adventure hostel. We managed to get a deal that included breakfast, sand boarding and dune buggying all for £15 a night – a steal!
Upon arriving we were greeted by welcoming staff, a beautiful pool and a more than substantial double room. We had chosen well. After a full American breakfast we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the pool, enjoying the occasional dip to get a bit of restbite from the 35 degree desert heat. Having only booked one night, we also booked ourselves onto the dune buggying and sand boarding tour that evening at 5pm.
After an incredibly strenuous afternoon of doing absolutely nothing, 5pm arrived and we jumped into the back of a large, fluorescent green and pink dune buggy. It didn’t scream health and safety, but nothing really does in South America. We strapped ourselves in.
Before we knew it we were hurtling at breakneck speed up near-vertical sand dunes. The driver – who can’t have been older than 16 – then paused briefly at the summit before flooring it and pacing down the other side. The engine revving, sand blowing everywhere, people screaming – It was like being on the maddest rollercoaster you’ve ever been on. Great fun.
After around half an hour our 16 year old driver stopped at the summit of one of the tallest sand dunes we’d seen so far before jumping out and retrieving a stack of old wooden boards from the back. We were each given one and told to wax the base before strapping our feet in and doing our best to make it to the bottom alive. At first everyone was slightly hesitant but before we knew it bodies were flying in every direction down the dune. Me and Lauren were both pretty pleased with our effort – we managed to make it to the bottom, with no control whatsoever, but with all our limbs intact and still standing. Mission accomplished.
After around 15 minutes of boarding/falling with style down the dunes we all threw our boards back in the buggy and our driver set off once again, this time, with even more gusto. The dunes were bigger and steaper and he was driving like a complete and utter lunatic. It was partly terrifying, partly exhilarating but most of all it was complete uncontrolled madness. The buggy bounced all over the place throwing us with it – it was like being in a car crash that lasted 20 minutes.
The final stop was at the summit of the biggest sand dune we’d seen. It was ridiculously steep and must have been close to 500m from top to bottom. It was the kind of dune that if you went down and lost control you would get seriously hurt. Baring that in mind we were advised against trying to board down in the conventional fashion – instead we were told to lie on the board, face first on our tummies. Apparently a much safer option.. 😳
At the summit, we lay on our boards gazing down at the sandy abyss that seemed to stretch out forever beneath us. Here the driver offered a few words of encouragement (in Spanish), ensured we were positioned correctly before launching us unceremoniously off the edge (even if you change your mind, you go). At first everyone tries to brake with their feet but within seconds you realise there’s no point – whatever you do you accelerate to an unbelievable speed, the whole time your chin is just centimetres from the sand that’s hurtling beneath you. The speed and acceleration is indescribable. You’re like a bullet. You’re bouncing all over the place trying your hardest to keep the board going in a straight line (if it veers off – it flips and you’re screwed). You reach the bottom battered and bruised and covered with sand but with the biggest adrenaline rush. It was awesome.
For the sake of Lauren’s phone we didn’t take any videos of the experience but this YouTube video gives you a pretty good idea.
Once everyone had made it down in one piece, we set off on foot back to the buggy which then returned back to Huacachina. We were dropped off at our hostel where we enjoyed a steak BBQ and a few ice cold beers. All in all, an incredible day.
The next day, our bus was leaving at 4pm which gave use the morning and some of the afternoon to explore Huacachina. We subsequently spent a leisurely morning around the pool before heading out on a short walk around the water in the centre of town. The lake is surrounded by cafes and restaurants in which people sit and watch the boats on the lake. It’s a surreal place – not what you expect to see in a desert. We enjoyed an ice cream before heading off.
All in all Huacachina does what it says on the tin. It offers a no thrills adrenaline rushing experience in one of the most bizarre, surreal and, from some angles, beautiful locations. It was a great place to spend a night and leaves you with memories that you definitely won’t forget in a rush – which is essentially what travelling is all about!