Just outside Ica, set amid the towering sand dunes is the oasis of Huacachina, a small lake surrounded by a scattering of colonial buildings – and lots and lots of backpackers. Apparently this once used to be an sophisticated peaceful escape from the city; now it’s been overrun by foreigners hell-bent on hedonism and adventure tourism, but it was fun for one night at least.
We joined a tour that was more of a mobile rollercoaster on sand, a dune buggy tearing its way up, around and over the dunes, with near-vertical drops down the other side that made me glad there was a roll cage and we were well strapped in! As the powerful engine roars and you fly up another sand ridge with the adrenaline kicking in, you can’t help but wonder about the poor creatures who once made this place their home – it’s some contrast to the idyll we found on camelback in the Rajistani Desert in India, and it’s pretty clear the local environment has suffered at the cost of tourism.
The other sport in town is sandboarding. It seems the encouraged way for beginners to get to the bottom is to lie front-first on their board and slide and scream your way to the bottom, using your feet as breaks. It turns out you can go pretty fast; there’s something a little odd about hurtling down a mountain of sand with your face inches from the surface, but it was certainly cool, if that’s an appropriate word. We also had a go at sandboarding proper – standing up, sticking your ass out and attempting to balance. Definitely harder! I found the best technique was just to point the board down the slope and go for it – if it was on snow, you’d go way too fast, but the sand slows you down enough that the maximum speed is just about right. Great fun!