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Peru Travel Guide

How to Survive a Sandstorm

When visiting Peru's Atacama, you’ll need a plan to withstand the intense wind and sand when the Paracas sets in.

The rolling dunes of the northern Atacama meet the cool coastal breezes of the Pacific in Paracas, Peru. This under-the-radar budding resort town offers travelers adrenaline-inducing dune buggy rides, picturesque oasis vibes, and wildlife reserves teeming with marine life. Its sunrise horizon is speckled with flamingos, and its dusk skies are dotted by colorful kite surfers that take off from Paracas Bay when the afternoon breezes surge.

The city’s name is from the Indigenous Paracas people, and it translates to “sand rain.” Sky-scraping sands surround this shoreline desert town, and it sustains strong winds during austral winter. A convergence of chilly ocean gusts from the south and the hot desert air above it creates the perfect conditions for an event simply known by locals now as a Paracas—when sand falls from the sky.

During a Paracas, winds pick up in the early afternoon and stay through the evening at speeds holding above 30 knots. Dust is lifted from towering dunes miles in the distance to pile in drifting patterns on the porches of posh vacation rentals. Water views are obscured by a beach-blown haze that stains the landscape in sepia tones as shops shut down in the center of town.

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I ended up in Paracas, Peru in August during the height of sandstorm season and got to experience this incredible phenomenon firsthand. I loved my initial escapade with a Paracas so much that I extended my stay by two weeks in hopes I’d have another opportunity to watch the waves of the sand layer across my balcony. I got my wish and collected some key tips for surviving a sandstorm in this desert dreamland.

Visit During the Off-Season

Sandstorms are super cool but can seriously put a damper on outdoor plans. If you’re on a time budget or are planning a jam-packed itinerary, you might play it safe and opt for visiting during a North American shoulder season. Most Paracas happen between June and September when winds are highest. The months of May and October are cool, dry, and still windy enough to try kiting without any risk of being confined to your hotel.

Follow the Forecast

Local kite surfers have the freshest pulse on the weather outlook and use the most reliable prediction tools. My house host and area resident was an enthusiastic kiter, and as soon as I noticed the sky turning a shade of tan, she was already on the line sending storm updates. She shared current condition maps and her go-to app for the area, which forecasts wind speeds weeks in advance.

Load up on Supplies

These wind projections will help you anticipate the ambiguity of a Paracas, so when you see there’s a chance of sustained high winds in your future, get out the day before to stock up on necessities. Stores will likely close in the early afternoon, and food delivery services will pause until the skies clear. Make sure you’ve got your essentials ahead of time, and that dinner doesn’t involve outdoor cooking.

Secure the House

If you’re staying in one of the many vacation rental properties available in Paracas, you’ll want to help out your host and take some basic precautions to shield their home and secure your liability in it. Remember to close any open windows or doors because the dust is small enough to creep through screens and cracks. If you have outdoor access, bring in patio furniture or use provided coverings. Finally, once the storm has passed, don’t forget to sweep up sand that found its way in, paying particular attention to window sills and baseboards.

Protect Your Body

If you have to go out, protect yourself. During a sandstorm, the landscape will look like it has been filtered through the lens of an old western film, but the dust driven up is indistinguishable from the air. Your eyes and lungs can’t detect how irritating those tiny particles are until it’s too late. Always wear sunglasses (and take out contact lenses!) and a safety covering over your mouth and nose to prevent respiratory trouble. I used a cloth mask, but some of my group wore a light fabric scarf, and both worked great. Also, it’s hot in Peru, and tank tops or sundresses are the norms, but being in a sandstorm with exposed skin feels like you’re being roughly exfoliated. I was left with a raw, pins and needles sensation on my bare arms, so cover up and find an indoor activity.

Peru’s Atacama puts you amid an otherworldly canvas. It has a backdrop of red rock and fine dunes that, from a distance, mimic a gourmet meringue. Visit this stunning place and be prepared to shade your head, shake out your pockets, and keep your camera close to capture a normally somewhat chic Paracas scene behind a distressed sheen of burnt sienna.