Remember those cartoon animations that had the explorers crawling through the desert dunes, under the scorching heat of the unforgiving sun? Then, suddenly they see an oasis and start running towards it until poof!… it vanishes into thin air. It was all a mirage.
That’s how I saw oasis until I visited Huacachina, Peru.
When you think about Peru the last thing that comes to mind is a desert oasis. Overshadowed by the popularity of Machu Picchu, the Huacachina Oasis has stayed under the radar for most tourists in Peru – except for adrenaline-seeking adventurers.
Huacachina, also known as the “Oasis of America”, is located in the Ica Region in the southwestern area of Peru. To get there, it takes about 5-6 hours bus ride from Lima to Ica (30 soles with Soyuz, a local bus), and then a 5 minutes taxi ride from Ica to Huacachina (5 soles) – just 4 km away.
Now, What can you do there? Here are some of the ways you can experience this impressive small natural lake.
What to do in Huacachina
With roughly 150 residents, this small oasis is more a “resort” for local families and travelers looking to experience a laid back environment. But, the main attractions here are the sports of sandboarding and dune buggying.
To get the best thrills out of your sandboarding experience, it is best to combine it with the dune buggy tour. Prices range in the 40-60 soles for a 2-hours combined tour.
Many operators offer the tour in the morning and the afternoon, though the afternoon tour is recommended the most for two reasons – the sand has a colder temperature and… sunsets!!! Score!
You will first cruise high and low with fast speeds across the towering dunes. Speeding through those dune cliffs gives you a rush of adrenaline that will get you all pumped to start taking those dunes on your own with your sandboard.
When sandboarding you will start with small dunes (30 feet in height approximately) and slowly increase the height with subsequent dunes (up to a couple of hundreds of feet of slopes).
A few tips: Take it slow when climbing up the dunes – it is physically demanding and exhausting (especially if your legs are already sore from hiking the Inca trail).
If you want speed, wax your sandboard after every couple slides down the dunes (they provide the wax). It reduces friction. The sand is coarse, so achieving speeds normally obtained while snowboarding is harder to accomplish.
Learn from my mistakes… Take a FULL bottle of water; you’ll want to drink a lot of water after going up and down those dunes. And store your camera inside a sand-proof bag or zipped bag… sand gets EVERYWHERE!
Here is a short video that I took while sandboarding, er, falling down a dune. (You can laugh. The fall wasn’t that bad…)
Other adrenaline-filled activities include renting 4 x 4’s and driving through the dunes by yourself. Can you believe some of the dunes soar up to half a mile in height?
If you’re not into adrenaline but still want to see the desert dunes, there are “slow-buggy” tours that take you up and down the dunes in a slow pace.
For relaxing activities, you can lay in the sand under one of the palm trees and enjoy the beauty of this peaceful oasis. You can also rent a small rowboat to spend a chilled afternoon in the heart of the oasis. Swimming? Sure, locals do it, but it’s not common. Just beware of the mermaid. Huh?
Legend holds that the lagoon was created when a young hunter apprehended a beautiful native princess while bathing. She fled; leaving the pool of water she had been bathing in to become the lagoon.
The folds of her mantle, streaming behind her as she ran, became the surrounding sand dunes. And the woman herself is rumored to still live in the oasis as a mermaid.
What to do around Huacachina
Huacachina is small, but it doesn’t lack activities to do in and around it. If you’re spending more than a couple of days there, you can camp in the dunes or at the Virgin beaches – between Huacachina and the Pacific Ocean.
Ica shouldn’t just be your transfer town to Huacachina. You can roam around exploring its churches, squares, bodegas and wineries (lots of Pisco!!), chocolate factory, and archeological museum.
Where to stay in Huacachina
Even when Huacachina is geared towards tourism, most of its hostels and hotels are not listed online. But don’t worry; getting a bed or a room here is an easy task since everything is condensed around the natural lagoon.
Desert Nights is the most popular hostel here. It is also the only Hostelling International hostel there at the moment. The laid-back environment feels very Red Hot Chilly Pepper-ish with a spice of Bob Marley. They only have dorm rooms and their restaurant serves great food. Did I mention it costs only $6 a night?
Other popular choices are:
Sand and Lake – Cheap backpacker rooms in a one-story house, informal, overlooking the lagoon.
Salvatierra – Cheap and popular hotel for backpackers. It has a nice pool and offers internet access for 3 soles/hour.
Casa de Arena – A very popular “party” hostel. It is loud and busy; and has a pool, restaurant, bar, and dance floor.
Hotel Curasi – Middle-range hostel/hotel with nice rooms and a decent pool.
El Huacachinero – Overall it is more upscale and more expensive than backpacker places. The environment is quieter and more serious than a youth hostel.
Where to eat in Huacachina
Due to its touristic attraction, the cost of food in Huacachina is somewhat above the average. But still, you can find delicious food at modest prices. Among those are:
Bamboo House – Serves international food, until 6 pm. Thai curry and Israeli falafel are popular dishes here. Also for sale are sandwiches, crepes, desserts, and coffee.
Desert Nights – Tasty meals until late at night, cheap breakfasts. Free WIFI for customers!
El Cordon y la Rosa – An excellent option for popular Peruvian food, such as Ceviche and Lomo Saltado.
How’s the nightlife?
Most bars and dance clubs in Huacachina are associated with a specific hostel or hotel. Here are some of the popular ones:
Casa de Arena Bar – This is a pool-side bar located in the Casa de Arena hostel, This bar is usually open in the afternoon, until 8 or 9 pm when Casa de Arena’s small dance club/bar opens. This is where you can hang until the early morning hours.
Da Silva’s House – This is a small bar is located next to the Casa de Arena hostel. With names like Fucking Huacachina and Sex on the Dunes, the drinks are clearly designed to attract the backpacker crowd. An average drink costs about 14 soles (aprox. $5), but many nights have “happy hour” which features 2 drinks for 15 soles.
Bolepo – This restaurant located in El Hospedaje del Barco hostel seems to be a pretty popular place to get a cocktail or a beer. There isn’t dancing or music here, just eating and drinking.
The Pub – A new bar located right next to Da Silva’s House. This is another place to hang until late at night.
Where to go next?
Huacachina is a great jumping point to visit Nazca, to see the Nazca lines; and the town of Paracas; where the Ballestas Islands are located.
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Fabulous. I am one of those who would never have thought of sand dunes in connection with Peru. Thanks to you, I now know better. Love your writing style too..and the video. Great piece.
Thanks Inka! Like you, I didn’t know about this desert in Peru until I was researching for my trip. I was extremely amazed and excited about it… and still am!
I keep seeing posts on this place and it makes me so sad that I missed it while in Peru! Amazing!!!
Awww, Next time you visit Peru you should spend a couple days there. It is such a relaxing place to be.
Stunning scenery and I love those cute buggies. Seems like you had a great time in Peru.
Those buggies are amazing… I love it when they start razing against eachother. You’re right, I had a great time in Peru… one of my favorite places so far.
This looks like an awesome place to visit – from sandboarding to nightlife to relaxing under the palm trees! I only recently became aware of the sand dunes in Peru. This country is full of surprises!
It is full of surprises! I’m still amazed by the variety of things Peru has; so many that you need to spend a good amount of time in this country to see them.
Even though Huacachina is focused more on on the young/adventurous backpackers, this place is a great spot for any traveler, and even locals, to just sit back and relax in its natural beauty. Such a great place!
Perfect timing, I’m heading to Peru at the end of the week!
Ah, Perfect! If you have the chance to go to Huacachina, try the sandboarding and dune buggying… Uh-Mazing!
How cool. The dune boarding looks like a blast.
The video was really well done. The next Travel Channel personality, perhaps?!
It is a blast! Well, I consider myself an adrenaline junkie, so I love all these kinds of stuff. 🙂
HA! I shy away from video cameras… I’m slowly making an effort here. lol
Way cool. I only thought places like this existed in the movies. And way an awesome array of things to do there too!
Ha! so did I… I had only seen oasis in the Looney Tunes and “adventure” movies… lol
Wow, Huacachina is a really cool place. It’s like one of those location from movie set. But REAL place*. Great video – I feel like I just travel to Huacachina with you for few minutes 😛
Thanks Sarah! That Oasis is for real!!! haha… and the experience is amazing!
This was a huge surprise to read! Really well written and great photos. Thanks!
Thanks John! Glad you liked it… I think is becoming an up and coming destination in Peru. Great place!
I’m in love with Peru- Red Hot Chilly Pepperish with a spice of Bob Marley- sounds like my kind of place.
Love the video Norbert. I definitely have this place on my list now.
Thanks Caz! LOL… then I think you will LOVE this place!!! The atmosphere feels very loose, laid back, and very friendly.
This is such an amazing guide to a place few people will have experienced. I would love to surf down a dune! Great post!
Thanks Amy! Yes, I think Huacachina is getting more attention now; especially in the backpacker scene. Ah yes, sandboarding is a must there! 🙂
i never knew about the desert there. sand boarding takes its toll on your knees, but it is still fun when i go there i will be dune bugging that sounds like fune
Many people don’t know about the desert in Peru; even less about the Oasis. I was equally surprised when I heard about it for the first time.
Wow just about deja vu here Norbert looking at that photo. Thought I was seeing things. Then I looked up at the calendar on my wall and the picture of Moon Lake , Gobi Desert, China. So similar. A wee oasis, surrounded by massive dunes.
Thanks for sharing this Jim! I had never heard about that oasis before… It looks really cool. It has an interesting shape, and they do sandboarding too! 🙂
Whoa, this place is crazy talk! It looks like it should be located in the middle of the Sahara–not Peru! I’ve never even heard of it before…I love reading about places I’ve never heard about! Means you’ve done your job =)
Haha… so true! Peru is the last place I would have thought I could find an oasis! Wow, thank you so much Kristin. I too love the thrill of “discovering” places I’ve never heard about. 😀
This place looks amazing! Just like the typical oasis out of the movies. I’d love to visit, though I think I’d be more of the sand-sledding type…haha.
Actually, some local kids from the nearby town, Ica, do go to the oasis to sled on one of those huge dunes right next to it. So, you definitely can go sand-sledding! 🙂
Hahahaha nice fall. In your opinion is it softer falling on sand or snow?! (It looks like you have been snowboarding before?) There is a similar place in Bolivia, near Santa Cruz, with a series of random sanddunes and a mini oasis (where you can also go sandboarding and dune buggy-ing)… and of course the sand dunes in the north of Chile. But for some reason desert sand dunes are not the first images that come to mind when you think of Latin America! Anyway, I have set up a Facebook travel community called “When i went travelling to South America”. It would be great if you joined us. Cheers, Linda
hahaha… it was a nice fall indeed. Good thing I didn’t hurt myself. It’s true what you say, when I think about South America I don’t picture deserts and dunes, but as I found out, there are a lot of deserts there!
Thanks for sharing with us those other sand dunes places and for sharing “When I went traveling to South America”. Pretty good info in your community and I had a laugh with some of the facts and comments. Joined!
I love Huacachina! How awesome were those dune buggy rides?!
We ended up spending a few extra days there just hanging by the pool drinking Cusceuna Beer. Great overview about the area. And love your bail on the video! 😉
I LOVE it too!! Those dune buggy rides and the sandboarding were ridiculously awesome!!
Ha! I’m sure there wasn’t much convincing to stay there when you can have Cusqueña beers in an oasis. 😉
Not that I need anymore convincing to visit South America and Peru but doing a great job of it, love the images and buggies. Better start looking at flights again!
hahaha! I agree, South America and Peru don’t need any help in convincing us to go there. They have so many wonderful things that make it easy for us to decide to just go! 🙂
I am traveling here soon and this was a perfect article. Thank you!
wow! Fabulous! This article looks awesome and informative as well. Love your photos and ideas! Thanks Norbert for sharing with us.
I agree with you Stefan.
Excellent article! I also never imagined that Peru had such a beautiful oasis. I went there some months ago and I loved it! The people is amazing and if you like sand-boarding it is the right place for you! Another thing is that everything is very cheap, even bus tickets. For example my bus ticket from Lima to Ica cost me 25 soles.