In the Atacama

Sandboarding in Chile’s northern deserts

San Pedro de Atacama is a hub of adventure sports, ecotourism and outdoor activities. Check out the latest craze sweeping this oasis town.  

Monday, May 07, 2012 Category: Sport - Tourism
Photo: timsnell/Flickr Photo: timsnell/Flickr

The striking, lunar landscapes of the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, might be the last place on earth that you would expect to find snowboards.


But believe it or not, the streets San Pedro de Atacama are lined with them.


Why? This picturesque oasis town is home to a flourishing culture of sandboarding.


And with dunes that stretch to nearly 400 feet (120 mt) within an easy distance from the tourist haunts, the new trend in town is hardly surprising.


Akin to snowboarding in fresh powder without the heavy winter gear, sandboarding is the latest craze to hit this adventure tourism mecca, known as the entry point to the Atacama desert and surrounded by an incredible array of natural phenomenon, from flamingo-inhabited salt flats to geysers and active volcanoes.


There are numerous tour companies that can arrange sandboarding trips, with one of the most popular destinations being the Valle de la Muerte, or the Valley of the Dead.


“‘They call this Death Valley because of all the people who don't make it out alive,’ our tour guide, Steve, whispered in a haunting voice,” writes Jessica Festa on the Huffington Post. “Staring at the enormous sand dunes and unworldly rock formations, I felt fearful of what I was about to do.”


But though it may be daunting, sandboarding is actually easier than its winter counterpart, and most beginners become confident sandboarders within a few hours.


For that reason, many choose to rent a mountain bike and a board and do it themselves.


Exploring the dunes and canyons surrounding the city by bike is a great way to appreciate the area, and offers stunning views of the town, the distant Andes and the mesmerizing rock formations.


If you’re still not convinced, check out this photo essay from Downtown Traveler on sandboarding in the Atacama.

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