Golden waves of sand, smooth circular dunes and the scorching heat: while the world’s deserts are mostly desolate, one such place in Peru is home to a real-life oasis.
Located in southern Peru, Huacachina has gained popularity among travellers in the last few years. It has incredible sandy scenery, adrenaline-filled activities, and dreamy hotels in which to kick back and relax.[related_articles]59092,59686[/related_articles]
One myth is that a Peruvian princess began to weep over the death of a warrior she was in love with. Seeing the warrior’s reflection in her mirror, got scared and fled, dropping the mirror, which turned into a lagoon. Legend has it that she dived in and became a mermaid.
A more likely story is that Huacachina became popular in the 1940s due a local belief that the lagoon had healing powers. Later, it became a spa hotspot for the wealthy, with accommodation popping up to service the influx.
These days, Hotel El Huacachinero is a great option on the rim of the lagoon and offers several private room types. It’s equipped with a pool, bar and restaurant in a modern and cosy setting. You can book your buggy tours and sunboard trips (more on that later) here, too. Prices start at around $150.
If you’re travelling on a budget, Banana’s Adventure Hostel is attractive choice, with prices starting from around $30 for a dorm bed or $60 for a private room if you’re booking direct. With a friendly traveller vibe, a pool, hammocks, BBQ, a popular bar and regular tour options, the hostel makes things easy.
Now, back to those tours: the steep dunes the surround Huacachina provide an epic setting for sandboarding. It doesn’t matter if you lie on your front and go bodyboarding or surf like a pro, anything goes. There’s no doubt you’ll taste a little bit of sand, but it’s part of the experience.
More like something out of Mad Max, the many dune buggy excursions offered in the area are a wild ride. Fitting up to eight people, it feels more like a roller coaster than sand dunes. It’s up to the driver on how the ride goes, but you can bet on almost-vertical drops and topsy-turvy trails.
Tours begin from as little as $12, but it does depend on where you book. There are several tour agents (try International SandSnow School, Desert Adventure, Huacachina.com for reputable, affordable options) and many of the guesthouses and hotels also provide these tours. It’s advisable that you wear loose clothing that covers your limbs, and consider taking something to protect your head and face.
If you’d prefer to spend your time on the water, the lagoon is nowhere near big enough for a normal cruise liner, but it does have pedalos and wooden boats in which to set sail. Where most people take themselves to the outer dunes for adventure, few experience the tranquillity of the water.
On top of that, there’s no better place to see the sun set than in the desert. The vibe as the sun dips behind those golden sand dunes is unlike anything else. You’ll appreciate the cooler evenings even more if you’ve been racing about the sand all day.
Food in Huacachina can be a little over-priced compared with other destinations in Peru because of the location, but you can find tasty budget eats for as low as $7. For the famous Peruvian cuisine ceviche and cheap eats, head over to Restaurant Hospedaje Mayo, try the Wild Olive Trattoria for Italian, or eat at La Casa de Bamboo for an Asian influence.
Given that Huacachina is popular with solo travellers, there’s no shortage of places to quench your hard-earned thirst. Party hostel Casa De Arena always lives up to its reputation, while drinks can get as low as $2 in some bars.
On that, make sure you bring cash to Huacachina as there’s only one ATM. Otherwise, you’ll have to go to Ica to withdraw.
How To Get There
The town of Ica is the stop before you get to Huacachina, only 10 minutes away by car. Taxis should be as low as a $3 to $4, so make sure you book with a reputable driver to avoid being scammed. If you’re coming from the north, Ica is five hours from Lima by bus. Cruz del Sur is one of a couple of bus companies who have frequent trips into Ica.
- Fly into Jorge Chávez International Airport (Lima)
- Take a Cruz del Sur service to Ica
- Drive 3.8km (about 10 minutes)
- Huacachina, Peru
(Lead image: Christopher Crouzet / Flickr)