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Sandboarding the dunes in Huacachina, Peru

The author's husband and two sons hike to the ridge in the desert town of Huacachina, Peru, to catch a sunset and ride down a dune on locally made sandboards.

The author’s husband and two sons hike to the ridge in the desert town of Huacachina, Peru, to catch a sunset and ride down a dune on locally made sandboards.

(Hilary MacGregor )

On our way back to Lima after our Nazca adventure, we decided to stop at Huacachina, a hippie hangout and former playground for the Peruvian elite.

The town is a desert oasis near Ica, with a lagoon surrounded by towering sand dunes that stretch as far as the eye can see. You can pay $40 each for a ride up the dunes for a sandboard run and a sunset view.

Once we were strapped into our dune buggy, we realized it was a ride for thrill-seekers. The buggies that left before us had spun out in clouds of dust, mufflers blowing. Our driver was skilled, but the rides can be dangerous.

We arrived at the top of a sandy ridge, surrounded by twentysomethings, international party music blasting. The sun cast long, blue shadows across the dunes. We took our obligatory sunset photos, then jumped back in the dune buggy.

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After five minutes of hair-raising ups and downs, we reached another steep ridge. We grabbed our snowboard-shaped sandboards, which were made of wood with ill-fitting Velcro straps for shoes. But Tom, our driver, suggested a different method for descending: He told me to lie on the board on my stomach, then shoved me headfirst down the giant dune. I was flying, screaming, using only my feet as brakes, wondering if this were the end.

My boys and husband followed. We were thrilled but also disappointed. I thought we were going to actually sandboard. It’s difficult and you can get hurt, but Tom was eager to please so he took us to a bunny dune and let us try sandboarding snowboard-style.

The sand is hard, just like an icy run, and falls can be brutal. But it whet our appetite. We learned later that you can rent from a company that has actual snowboards and boots — you just have to know what you are looking for. Ah, well.

As we paused above for our final sunset photo, we saw a skier flying down, an arc of sand spraying in his wake, as graceful as a skier in Mammoth.

Huacachina was intimate and fun — and on the verge of being overrun as backpackers spread the word about this hot, new destination. If you go, go soon.

travel@latimes.com


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