I Did My First Sandboarding in the Driest Place on Earth

sandboarding atacama

First of all, I’m not a sandboarder (is that even a word?). Sandboarding is not really a thing in Indonesia, since there are only a few places to do sandboarding in Indonesia. I can even only name one place. But there is always a first time for everything, and I happened to have my first sandboarding experience in the driest place on earth.

During last year’s summer, I went to Chile with a couple of friends for summer break trip. The reason why I chose Chile for my summer break destination was because Indonesians can travel to Chile without having to have tourist visa. (I mean, applying for a tourist visa could be a pain in the ass sometimes.) I was in Chile for a week and I spent half of the time around Atacama Desert.

atacama desert

Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth

Atacama Desert is located in the northern part of Chile and is said to be the driest place on Earth (if you exclude the poles). Sand dunes, geysers, salt flats, lagoons, rocky canyons and valleys. The otherworldly landscapes of Atacama Desert would make you feel as if you were not on Earth. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit this place when I was pursuing my Masters degree in the US.

atacama salt flats salar de atacama

The amazing view of Salar de Atacama (Atacama salt flats)

When I planned the trip to Atacama, I didn’t think about doing sandboarding at all. Chile is literally halfway around the world from Indonesia and I don’t know when the opportunity to visit Chile will come again in the future. So, I just wanted to maximize my time to explore Atacama and visit as many places as possible. But after touring around Atacama for two days, my friend Bita managed to convince me to do sandboarding on our third and last day in Atacama since we’d seen enough lagoons, canyons and valleys. Then on the second night there, Bita and I signed up for a half-day sandboarding tour.

We were told to gather in front of the tour operator’s office in San Pedro de Atacama town the next morning around 7 AM. We chose to do the morning trip because we had to fly back to Santiago at night. When Bita and I arrived, there were already a couple of people gathering in front of the office which was still closed. We waited for about half an hour until the sandboarding guide and crew arrived. After some equipment preparation and a short briefing, we boarded a medium-sized van and finally departed from the town.

The sun shone brightly when we arrived at Valle de la Muerte, but it was not really hot since it was almost winter season in Chile. We hopped off the van and gathered nearby the van to listen to our guide explaining how to put on the shoes and the board. He also handed out wax for each person. We needed the wax for smoothing out the bottom surface of the board so that the friction between the board and the sand could be decreased. We had to wax our board every single time before going down the sand dune, or we’d barely move.

sandboarding guide explanation

Introductory briefing from our guide

While putting on the shoes, I looked around wondering which small dune was going to be used for the beginners’ practice. But no, there was no “for practice” dune. We were just going to learn how to do it on the monumental sand dune right beside where the van parked.

climb the high dune

We had to climb this super high dune!

And so we climbed, slowly but surely, with our boards. I mean, walking in sand already requires greater effort than walking on the street. Here, we had to climb the sand dune plus bringing the sandboard. It’s exhausting. But I have to tell you, the view from the top is worth the climb.

Once we got on top, our guide taught us basic theory of sandboarding. How to move forward, how to turn, how to speed up, how to slow down, and most importantly, how to stop. It sounded easy when our guide gave us the explanation. But then I looked down, realizing that I was on top of a super high dune with a steep slope, and there’s only one big question inside my head: “HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS?!” But then I said to myself, “Well, I can’t stay here forever. I have to go down one way or another.” So, after making sure I strapped myself well, I braced myself, took a deep breath, started to lean forward, and the next thing I remember I was scared as hell because I moved really fast by going straight down. I immediately changed the direction to going down diagonally.

fell down sandboarding

Yup, that is me in the center, falling πŸ˜€

It took me a while to go down and reach the bottom of the dune on the first run. I fell down every couple of seconds, and after each fall I had to brace myself again and take a deep breath before starting to ride down again. But, the mixed feelings of anxiety and fear did not stop me from going another round because it turned out that it was fun for me! So, I decided to go another round, knowing that I actually enjoy it even though I still felt nervous and scared. And I did better on the second run. I still fell several times, but it was less frequent than the first one. Well, you know what they say: practice makes perfect. 😎

bita in action

My friend Bita in action!

After the second run, I was thinking to just be done with it because I was tired. But then I realized, I hadn’t recorded myself sliding down the dune using my GoPro! I didn’t bring my GoPro with me for nothing. So, I gathered all of my remaining energy to climb up the dune on more time; this time not only bringing the sandboard, but also my GoPro camera and, of course, a monopod (or selfie stick, lol). Before going down for the third and last time, I didn’t forget to take a picture on top of the dune.

selfie on top of the dune

Now you can see how high the dune is. Look at the amazing view!

And here is the video-selfie of me sandboarding!

 

Overall, I really enjoyed my first sandboarding experience. It’s nerve-racking but also fun! And the fact that I did it in the driest place on earth surrounded by Mars-ish landscape, that makes it even more amazing. So, if you ask me whether I want to do sandboarding again, my answer will be: I would love to. But maybe on a smaller dune, haha!

pretending to be a pro

Don’t you see how good I am (at pretending)? LOL

Notes:

  • To go to Atacama, take a flight from Santiago International Airport to Calama Airport. Then, you can take shuttle van from Calama Airport to the town of San Pedro de Atacama. It will take you about 1.5 hours from Calama Airport to the town. I used Transvip shuttle and it was 20,000 CLP for return ticket per person.
  • There are plenty of tour agents that offer sandboarding trip in the city center of San Pedro de Atacama. Instead of booking it online, I suggest you to just book the tour on the spot since it would be much cheaper. The sandboarding tour cost me 15,000 CLP (incl. transportation, equipment, short lesson, English-speaking guide). On top of that, there’s an entrance fee 3000 CLP for regular adult (or 2000 CLP for student).
  • Don’t forget to bring your own water! 1.5 liter is the recommended amount of water you need to bring.
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