Just a Wee Bit Sandy [Huacachina, Peru]

It’s been a while since I’ve done any ground transit south of the border so I’d kind of forgotten the mathematical formula for getting anywhere: quoted transit time x 1.5+ = true time. Taking a bus from Lima to Ica was a stark reminder of that.

Over six (not four & a half) hours after boarding, we hailed a cab from the Ica bus station to Banana’s hostel in the desert oasis town of Huacachina. We had two objectives for this stop and the first was a couple days of much needed relaxation after nine days of constant movement. The hostel was a perfect spot to do just that.. it had the best hostel food I’ve had to date (try their curry and the tequeños de lomo!), expansive open-air common space equipped with bar & pool, friendly staff, and great rooms to boot.

Talk about some ambiance!

The original thing that drew us to make our way out there was to play in the giant sandbox surrounding the oasis – dune buggying around the Atacama desert and penguin sliding down the massive dunes on sandboards. But before we get to the fun of that, let me first tell you what not to do in Huacachina…

The second of two activities our hostel advertised was a misleadingly named “winery tour.” Now, if you want to twist this into an infamous, one-semester-of-law-school, Chris Taylor style argument, this technically might be accurate because the famous spirit of Peru – Pisco – is distilled from wine, in addition to them carrying a couple of subpar wines. But holy guacamole, this could not have been further from the typical, classy estate tour & multi-sensory wine experience.

Don’t let this nice looking picture fool you!

Instead, for the low, low price of about 9 USD you can be taxied across Ica to what they call “the bodegas” and have shots of wine, Pisco variations, and Pisco-based creme liquers hurriedly poured down your throat alongside Spanish “toasts” they don’t translate. We were later told this is a popular first stop for locals on weekend nights to get a *solid* buzz going for the even lower price of $3.75. If only we’d been informed of that before we asked our cab driver to take us to his favorite bodega, hoping for a different experience.. it shouldn’t surprise you that we ended up eating dinner at a place called Huacafuckingchina, because what’s more funny to a drunk person than slapping the f-word, literally anywhere. To be fair, though, the food was pretty tasty!


Getting back to the point… The next day was our chance for redemption! At 4ish, not sharp, we waited at the front desk as all the serious people adjusted bindings on the generously used rental snowboards. We were told tennis shoes were fine for the low budget mystery boards we had yet to see, but I’m glad I opted for my already-dirty hiking shoes.

After a quick ride into Ica, they loaded us into our bright green and pink sand rover. We strapped in almost like an amusement park ride, except way less safe – certainly nobody had ever inspected the recycled airplane, car, and/or whatever looks like it might work as a buckle, buckles #Itooliketolivedangerously – but at least there was a roll cage and a water jug to splash on the open engine block should (when) the desert heat got to it.

Our lean, mean sand machine.

OSHA, or whoever keeps carnival equipment in order, aside… holy bananas was this a great time! The buggy ride was like a rollercoaster without knowing where the tracks would take you, or at times whether we would make it up the target incline (there’s a reason they say third time’s the charm).

It felt like we were another planet – perhaps Arrakis since I’m ironically reading Dune at the moment.

Eventually, the buggy stopped and it was time to put the sand where our mouths were. Pandemic silver lining – wearing a mask definitely cut down on that displeasure… would recommend. Since we didn’t get the fancy boards, the bunny hill was the only spot they’d allow us to ride standing up (or try to, since none of us made it more than 10 feet before eating it), and after that we pretended to be sand penguins, riding on our bellies. Each subsequent slope got progressively steeper, faster and more fun, until we made it to the mack daddy. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dragging my toes to temper my speed, but I’m almost certain I crushed whatever my record was volcano boarding in Nicaragua. Unfortunately they didn’t have radar guns to prove me right (hint hint, @Bananas)

A split second after I almost took Chris’s head off…

The cherry on top of the afternoon was not clawing our way up a steep dune that was no match for our buggy, but rather being able to watch the sunset overlooking Huacachina once we made it!

All said & done, this was the cheapest few days we had in Peru: $18 for bus tickets to/from Lima, $6 for the cabs to/from Ica’s bus station, $14/night per bed at Banana’s hostel (breakfast included), and $6-8pp for lunch/dinner. As I’ve said before, I’m no math whiz, but that’s a steal for the experience.

Footnote – You may recall reading about our volcano boarding excursion in Nicaragua a few years back. I would hands down recommend sandboarding if I could only pick one. For about the same price of a night at a hostel and the excursion, there’s less risk of bodily destruction (sand vs. volcanic pebbles), just as much of an adrenaline rush, plus the obvious… you get the added fun of riding in dune buggies!

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