Five hours into the drive from Lima to Cusco and just outside the city of Ica lies the oasis of Huacachina. Ringed by restaurants, hostels/hotels, tour companies, and miles of sand dunes, this lagoon sees plenty of visitors, both foreign and Peruvian. For the former, there are two main attractions: pisco tours and sand dune tours. With just one day here before heading up to high altitudes, we decided to get our hearts pumping and the oxygen flowing by taking the dune buggy/sandboarding tour of the nearby desert.
Choosing the afternoon tour, a group of us were picked up from our hostel. As we all piled into the nine person buggy, one of the hostel workers said to us: "You are lucky today! Alfredo is the best driver in town. And the craziest. Good luck!" At this point, everyone strapped themselves in a little tighter, and we departed for the dunes. After picking up a candle and paying entry fees for us, Alfredo showed us why he has the reputation that he does.
Imagine there’s a roller coaster track weaving its way over and around and down all of the dunes in the picture above. Get on that roller coaster, set the speed to Warp, and that's a fair approximation of what it was like to be in the buggy. Alfredo was gunning us up and down the dunes at absurd speeds, most of the time sending the massive buggy into the air as we crested the dunes. And if we didn’t catch air, it was because the other side was a steep downhill and he wanted to make sure we saw it before we went screaming down it.
Every so often, we would stop at the top of a dune and pull out the sandboards and start waxing them. If you're an accomplished snowboarder you can head down on your feet, but most people lay on the board and head down face first. The premise is to go as fast as you feel comfortable with and avoid wiping out. The first time going down, Alfredo made sure we had enough speed so he gave everyone a big push. Every time we stopped to board, the dunes got bigger, the runs got faster, and everyone had more and more fun.
After the final boarding session, we enjoyed another roller coaster ride back into town, where we were dropped off at our hostel. Certainly crazy and arguably the best, ask for Alfredo - you're guaranteed to have a blast.
We stayed at Carola del Sur, where we also booked the buggy-boarding tour. You also have to pay a small fee to enter the sand dunes area and we tipped Alfredo at the end. For two people, the tour + fees + tip totaled US$33.77. Carola del Sur was good for one night, but I wouldn't stay there for much longer. Right next door is a very tasty vegetarian restaurant, La Casa de Bamboo. It has odd hours, but we had a very good lunch there.