Laguna de Huacachina -- If you stumble upon this gentle, beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert, surrounded by massive sand dunes and palm trees, you might think it's a mirage. Only 5km (3 miles) southwest of the center of Ica, Huacachina (pronounced "Wah-kah-chee-nah") Lagoon is a great place to relax and swim (although the water can be pretty murky) if you're suffering from the heat, and there's a small resort village with a few hotels and restaurants. A boardwalk rings the lagoon. Locals contend that the sulfur-rich waters of the lagoon have curative medicinal properties. Kids can go sand boarding on the dunes (one of the restaurants and the Hostal Rocha in town rent out boards) or paddleboat across the lagoon. Regular buses to Huacachina depart from the Plaza de Armas in Ica. Better yet, you can take an inexpensive and quick taxi; it's best to request one from your hotel and establish the price beforehand (rates run about $3-$4).

Sand Boarding -- In the sand dune-laden desert landscapes in southern Peru, surfing the dunes on sand boards and rumbling across the sands in areneros (dune buggies) are popular sports. The largest sand dunes in South America, reaching a height of 2,000m (6,560 ft.), are just 8km (5 miles) from Nasca, and there are also really high dunes around the Huacachina Lagoon outside of Ica.

Sand boarding, a cross between downhill skiing and snowboarding on grainy stuff rather than white powder, is fairly easy to do (or that's what they tell me). You can really build up some speed, and accomplished boarders can maneuver almost like they would on the slopes. It can be very hot, though, and tough going, because there aren't any lifts to transport you back up the dune. After a few spills, you'll be covered in sand. Accidents can occur, so it's best to get some instruction from a local or the outfit renting the boards.

Adrenaline-fueled adventure trips in buggies are available through local tours (information is available at the Hotel Paracas) or at the 210m (690-ft.) dunes around the Huacachina Lagoon outside of Ica, where a restaurant and the Hostal Rocha rent sand boards (about S/3 an hour; tel. 056/222-256).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.