Sandboarding in San Pedro de Atacama is one of the most popular activities in Chile’s oasis in the desert. I wasn’t keen – my co-ordination is abysmal and I’ve never done anything like it before, but when the lady in the tour shop asked “why don’t you want to do it? It’s fun,” I had no good answer. So the next day I found myself, sandboard in hand, heading into the desert.
I was relieved to find that the name Death Valley, where the sandboarding take place, holds no more significance than a lost-in-translation mistake. The French priest who discovered the area explained to the Spanish speakers that it looked like marte (Mars) but was misunderstood to be saying muerte (death). So hopefully death wasn’t on the agenda. In fact, our guide said the worst we could worry about was broken bones. This did not reassure me.
Sandboarding in San Pedro de Atacama in photos
When we got to the dune, it was spectacular against the blue sky, and also very, very high. I watched as the experienced people in our group sped down the slope and was far from encouraged. Images of somersaulting down the hill filled my mind and, as I peered over the edge, my body was gripped by terror. But slowly, I saw that the other novices in the group were managing to inch down super slowly, simply falling onto their bums as a brake. It didn’t look so bad, so I decided to face the fear and try it.
My first attempt at the slope was laughable. I fell every meter and struggled to stand up again as my board became buried in sand. My foot hurt as I tensed it wildly to use as a brake. But I did it, and I was proud so I decided I’d go once more.
This time, I had a few runs without falling – enough to give me a thrill and decide I’d go again – and again, and again.
Who would have thought? I was in love with sandboarding. This is not to say I was good. I fell every time and went at a snail’s pace, but the adrenaline was addictive. It reminded me of a time in New Zealand in my gap year where one bungee jump spurred me to do another the next day and then skydive, hang glide and white-water raft in the space of just two weeks. Addictive personality, perhaps?
I guess it just goes to show that sometimes the things we are scared of turn out to be the most fun of all.
Watch a video of us sandboarding below. They only caught my falls but Steve, who used to skateboard, was amazing at it. Look at him go!
Useful information on sandboarding in San Pedro de Atacama
We went sandboarding with Atacama Inca Tour who we would definitely recommend. It was part of a combined sandboarding and Valle de la Luna tour. This included two hours sandboarding with instruction, a trip to the salt caves, and a chance to watch the sunset over the Luna Valley with a pisco sour. The group goes to a secluded spot away from the crowds, which requires a scramble up a pretty steep slope. If you can manage it, the privacy is worth it and the view is spectacular.