Huacachina is only an 90 minutes from Paracas, and we’re leaving early, so I figure I’ll have a lazy morning at the hostel, attempt to upload my blog (again) and get lunch at Fido Lovo before we head off at 1pm. This doesn’t quite go to plan as the Kokopelli Wifi remains persistently erratic, but I do get to eat at my favourite restaurant again just before I have to head out. Today the dish is chancha a la caja china (which Google Translate essentially throws its hands up at), for 25 soles. Turns out to be a roasted pork dish, which is one of most beautiful things I’ve had plated in this country.
It’s also delicious, the crackling is perfect and the flavour strong. I’m not sure what kind of potato is on the plate – it just looks like plain boiled potato, but there’s a very spicy kick to it.
Huacachina is a very unique place in Peru, as it’s the only oasis town in the country. Currently known as a sandboarding capital, it’s economy has taking a vicious downturn recently. In August an unliscened dune buggy crashed, killing two tourists and injuring several others. In action, the government has banned all dune buggy trips until they can figure out safety issues – which means most of Huacachina board and buggy companies are struggling to stay afloat.
More personally, like with many places in Peru, I’d booked a trip ahead of time, and now I’m constantly getting emails telling me the trip ‘might be cancelled,’ but never confirming it. This is problematic, especially since Peru Hop are offering a sandboarding alternative that I can consider, but I don’t want to book without confirmation.
I end up being given quite the runaround, until I’m finally told outside the meetup hotel that it is running, and to be there in half an hour. It’s been a hectic 40 minutes, which is frustrating because Huacachina is beautiful, and I haven’t had any time to walk around and enjoy it. Wish I had another day here, because it’s really charming.
In Huacachina, I decided to treat myself a bit and try some ‘glamping’ – and staying at the Eco Camp on the outskirts of the main centre. It ended up being tricky to spot, there’s no signs and the whole area is cordoned off with bamboo walls. However, I’ve now got a tent with two double beds in it all to myself in a very nice little resort.
Don’t have time to enjoy it though, because I have to run to the other side of the oasis for the sandboarding. Where I find pure chaos – and learn the tour IS cancelled, but I can hop onto one of these for a fee. At this point I just shrug my shoulders and say sure. The options are sandboarding for 20 soles, or snowboarding for 50. I go for Sandboarding, and once I’m given my board, our group of twelve heads up the side of the oasis to the nearest dunes.
Since this is more basic sandboarding, we don’t head up the highest dunes, but stick the smaller ones, although I’m regretting choosing to wear my hiking boots – I’m might as well be shovelling the sand into them, lord knows how I’m getting them clean.
Not the first time I’ve done boarding, so I’m one of the first ones down. Wax the board, drop to the floor, grab the handles and let your teacher push you down. It’s just as exhilarating as I remember it – and this time you have an added danger level if you can’t stop in time, another small oasis-type lake…that smells strongly of a septic tank!
Unlike my last sandboarding adventures however, these have an added twist. The handles also work at foot straps, and once we’ve gone down a few times, we’re given the option to try going down snowboard style. I eventually work up the nerve – but realise it’s just a tad different from snowboarding. Not helped by the fact that I keep trying to move said board like a snowboard…and having the velcro on my feet give way and send me crashing to the ground. It just won’t take the force I want to add to control the board.
I keep trying though, and I have a few tolerable runs with multiple crashes – but everything stops around 17:45, when everyone starts climbing up the dunes in order to watch the sunset over this crazy, sand kingdom.
Tragically, when I walk up and find my spot, I discover there’s been a casualty during the day. My camera has gotten sand in the lens and has wedged the shutters open, rendering it worthless. I’m gutted – my only hope is that somewhere in Arequipa can fix it before I head to Cusco and rely on my phone camera. Plus it means I have no way on recording this awesome sunset – I’ve never seen the sky go that shade of orange peach before!
It’s a really beautiful view, and I only reluctantly walk down when it starts getting hard to see. I have to head to Casa de Arenas for 6:30 in order to meet my current Peru Hop guide to learn about heading to Nazca. One of my big ticket plans for this trip was doing a flight, and since Peru Hop arrives too late to do them, the only option is either staying at extra day in Nazca (not recommended due to the lack of things to do), or take a shuttle bus in the morning and join up with the bus in the evening.
Our guide ends up showing up at 6:40 (‘Peru time’ is not known for being precise), and explaining the requirements. Two passengers who were interested decide they’ll stay a night in Nazca so they can stay in Huacachina and enjoy some more sandboarding, while I chose to take the shuttle for 50 soles. The guide then shows me how to book the flight online through FindLocalTrips, and recommends that I take the 11am flight despite my reservations. It’s supposed to be a 3 hour trip to Nazca and we’re leaving at 8:30 – but he assures me this is the one they recommend for passengers on the shuttle, so I go ahead and book the 25 minute flight for $84 US.
When I get back, it’s nearly pitch dark but the pool is still open, and a quick temp check tells me the water is warm enough to head in, so I decide to get rid of all the sand stuck to my skin in a more amusing way than a mere shower, and head on in.
The water is just warm enough not to be painful, and diving towards bright lights and feeling sand wash off is a glorious feeling. The only issue I have is the water is rather murky and it’s a multi-level pool, so I can’t always tell where the bottom is – my feet have a few painful bumps whenever I forget and brush them against the edge that marks the shallows.
After 30 minutes though, I decide it’s time to get rid of the last clumps of sand and have an actual shower, so head out to get a change of clothes. During which I realise one flaw in how this camp is setup – I’m on the second level, which has no stepping stones in the sandy surface. There is literally no way for me to get to my tent without stepping on sand. Which, when you’re wet from the pool or shower, is going to be a problem. That’ll be fun in the morning.