A few days ago we got to visit the amazing tiny desert oasis town that is Huacachina, Ica, Peru. Here’s the what, how and why.
What is it?
Huacachina is literally a desert oasis that was turned into a tourist destination when some people realised that it was fun to explore the massive surrounding sand dunes with dune buggies, and sandboard down them. It is tiny, and you can walk from end to end in less than 10 minutes. It is pretty much a row of hostels, hotels, and restaurants now. Previously it was a vacation spot for wealthier Peruvians, then it was abandoned for a while, and now it is frequented by tourists. The internet is pretty unreliable on an exact figure, but the resident population is around 115 people. There is a myth that a princess was bathing in the oasis lake when a hunter found her. When she fled, her cloak created the surrounding sand dunes. There is another myth that a mermaid lives in the lake, and takes one man a year. A more likely reason is that terrible swimmers have drowned in it before.
How did we get there?
We caught a bus from Paracas to Ica, then caught a taxi from the bus station to Huacachina. We met a cool German guy on the bus and we shared a taxi with him for s/ 8. It’s only about a 15 minute drive from Ica.
What did we do there?
We organised a dune buggy/sandboarding tour through our hostel, which was really affordable. I think we paid s/ 20 each for the 2 hour long trip. We were in a dune buggy with about 8 other people. The driver took us up and down huge sand dunes and stopped a few times for us to take photos and/or sandboard. Pro tip: take sunglasses so that your eyes don’t get full of sand like mine did. I haven’t snowboarded before, but apparently sandboarding is much slower. That doesn’t change the fact that I still saw my ass twice, hard, before I kind of got the hang of it. I’m still finding sand in weird places. While it looks lame, it is also super fun to just lie down and go. We also enjoyed just walking around, chilling by the lake, people watching… We climbed the huge sand dune overlooking the town, which gives you some incredible views of the surrounding area and huge mountains in the distance. It took about 20 minutes to climb, and about 3 to run down.
Where did we stay?
We stayed one night at Desert Nights Hostelling International, in an 8 bed mixed dorm. We expected it to be really rowdy and noisy, as we were right next to the hostel bar, but it was actually great and not like that; one of the better places we’ve stayed at in Peru so far.
Tips and stuff:
There are tons of stray dogs, as with everywhere in Peru. They are generally mellow, but we did see a dog fight, which you’ll want to keep away from. Some are really sweet and friendly though. Stock up on grocery items you might want, as there is no grocery store, only small overpriced convenience stores. Eat at La Casa de Bamboo, and get their falafel – it is amazing. If you do a dune buggy/sandboarding tour, do it at around 4pm; the sun is less intense, and the views are awesome when the sun sets. The lake is pretty dirty, and it’s probably wise not to swim in it, but it’s up to you whether you’re willing to take the risk. It probably isn’t worth staying here more than 1 night, maybe 2. Once you’ve done a dune buggy tour, there really isn’t that much else to do.
Overall it was totally worth seeing and experiencing the unique, tiny desert oasis that is Huacachina, and I would highly recommend stopping over for a night on your trip through Peru.
Words by Pete. Photos by Cara.