The buggy is flying across the sand, the speed is such that we barely touch the surface. The warm desert air whirs around my head and my knuckles whiten as we suddenly get thrown back against our plastic seats, climbing up an impossibly steep ascent at frightening pace. The edge of the sand-mountain comes closer and closer and I can’t see what’s on the other side but the buggy doesn’t slow down. We hurtle recklessly towards it. My stomach drops and my eyes shut as we career over the edge into a seeming abyss, plunging down a near-vertical drop. People scream and our Peruvian driver laughs manically. This, is dune buggying.
Huacachina is a sleepy oasis in the middle of the desert. Like, really, it’s a small, tranquil lake of greenish water, with a few buildings dotted around it, surrounded entirely by the towering sand mountains of the Atacama desert; the driest desert in the world. After two days in Lima, Peru’s capital, we could be on a different planet, only a four-hour bus, followed by 20-minute taxi ride, away. We’ve barely put our stuff in our rooms at the hippy hostel – Bananas Adventures- when we find ourselves strapped into the buggy and out riding the sand waves. I’ve never been in a desert before and it’s kind of incredible – just hot, golden, undulating sand as far as the eye can see. And what better way to see it! After the dune buggying, is the sand boarding, which is essentially surfing down a mountain of sand on a piece of wood. The first dune we board down seems pretty damn high to me – I face plant in the effort to avoid hitting someone and hurt myself. The second one is dizzyingly huge and the third one is downright terrifying to even the hardiest adventure-seeker. I opt–out, ever the wuss, but feel a little better about this decision when people limp off their boards at the bottom. The only first aid that seems to be available is bottled water. The grins outweigh the injuries though.
After a gloriously well-priced BBQ and free beer at the hostel, we curl up sleepily on the many arm chairs littering the hostel garden and chat to other travellers who’ve ventured into the desert.
Huacachina is only a two-day stop kind of a place – it’s perfect and tranquil but there’s not a lot to do. On our second day we go on a Pisco tour. Pisco is Peru’s national spirit and is like a slightly sweeter, softer version of tequila. The tour involved a short introduction into the Pisco-making-process, followed by a lot of “sampling.” We mastered the Incan way of saying “cheers” and got fairly drunk as we trampled round vineyards. After the tour and carrying a bottle of our very favourite Pisco, my boyfriend, our friend Ben and I walked to the top of one of the largest sand dunes as the sun set – no easy feat as the sand falls away underneath your feat. Finally at the top, we drank Pisco and stared out at the endless desert as the sky darkened and the stars appeared. In the pitch black and after a bit more Pisco, there was only one way down… running at full pelt. If you fell (as I did), you were met by only the softest sand.
So, if you are planning a Peruvian adventure (which if you are not, you definitely should be) build in two days to soak up the sand in a genuine desert oasis. You won’t regret it.