Sandboarding in San Pedro de Atacama

Sandboarding is exactly what it sounds like: using a snowboard on sand. However, there is one major difference between snowboarding and sandboarding: the latter is easier to get to grips with for first-timers. No previous boarding experience is required in order to successfully ride your way down a dune.

Photo courtesy of Moira O'Malley
Photo courtesy of Moira O'Malley

One of the most popular places to sandboard in Chile is located just outside San Pedro de Atacama in the Valle de la Muerte. The valley has many different types of sand dunes suitable for beginner and advanced sandboarders alike. The average cost of sandboarding is around CP$12,000 (US$25.80) for a three-hour experience although tour companies will often give discounts for larger groups.

The surrounding landscape seems to be from a movie set—different sand dunes and hills of all different elevations with a wide variety rock formations. It easily contributes to the wide range of beautiful Chilean scenery.

Finding a tour company in San Pedro is very easy. Many companies offer a range of different excursions, with sandboarding a popular option. These companies are located all throughout the downtown area. The only requirement for sandboarding is closed-toe shoes while shorts or pants may be worn.

Photo courtesy of Moira O'Malley
Photo courtesy of Moira O'Malley

The excursion guide will give a brief tutorial (in English) before beginning. A run on the beginner dunes is surprisingly pretty leisurely, and certainly slow in comparison to snowboarding hills. The hardest part about sandboarding would have to be the slog up to the top of the hill—considerably more tiring than the run down!

Sandboarding was both exhilarating and anti-climatic at the same time. Not necessarily anti-climatic in a bad way, but if you’re expecting to fly down those slopes... fly you will not. Cruising is more accurate. The friction of the sand allows for a relaxed run, so extreme dare-devils might be a little disappointed with beginner slopes and cautious first-time boarders reassured. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a fun morning, but something I did not expect or realize was that the run would be slower than a run on snow.

One pleasant aspect was the comfort of knowing a fall wouldn’t hurt too badly, but in order to get a faster run it's necessary to climb a little higher. Our guide took us to one sand dune and luckily it had different grades of steepness. After successfully completing a couple of runs I decided to climb higher and see how challenging the steeper section was. I definitely got my thrill fix although not without falling once or twice.

I have skied on beginner slopes before, but sandboarding was definitely easier to pick up as a first-timer. If you have the chance to go sandboarding, definitely take it. It’s ease and leisure is adaptable for all ages and athletic ability levels. If you’re the type of person who likes some activity, this is a great option while in the Atacama.

Sandboard San Pedro
Toconao 421-A
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

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