Heat, hot sun and vast sand dunes everywhere around. Somewhere between these dunes, a small oasis is hidden. And it almost perfectly resembles a classic desert mirage imagination. But Huacachina is not an ordinary oasis…
Desert oasis on the edge of the city
Along the west coast of South America, on over 1000 km stretches one of the aridest deserts in the world – the Atacama Desert. On its northern outskirts, just a few kilometers from the city of Ica there’s a small oasis – Huacachina – which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Peru.
Located in between the high sand dunes, the oasis is centered around a small lake surrounded by palm trees. In the 40th century, Huacachina hosted wealthy Peruvians, who believed in the healing properties of water here. Unfortunately, the renowned SPA center quickly lost popularity when the quality and the water level in the lagoon have dropped significantly. For many years, Huacachina was a place almost forgotten, to once again flourish in the early 90’s.
Named the National Cultural Heritage of Peru, the oasis is small – no more than 100 people live here. Every year, however, the hot sun shining over the dunes, beautiful sunsets, and magical location attracts more than 200 000 tourists. It is no wonder that almost all every building is either a hotel, a restaurant or a convenience store.
During the day Huacachina seems to be almost completely silent, to live again every afternoon, as soon as the sun stops burning. In the evenings, you can hear live music in some of the places, that entertains tourists who either rest after crazy buggy rides or are waiting for their turn.
A few moments of extreme – buggy and sandboarding
Buggy riding through the dunes is in our opinion (and probably not only our) by far the best attraction, which Huacachina has to offer. Buggy is a lightweight car on big wheels with wide tires, equipped with a robust suspension and powerful engine.
The body is made of welded pipes, so the car looks a bit like riding a cage. Add slightly uncomfortable seats with sport safety belts and you have it – a perfect recipe for the adrenaline rush.
When the driver fired up the engine we heard pleasant “purring” of the powerful engine under the hood. We took off from the oasis quite leisurely and at first only enjoyed the speed at which the buggy crossed stretches of sand. And at the least expected moment, we suddenly dropped down from an edge of the dune – and our hearts almost jumped out of our chests. Adrenaline level jumped rapidly and we knew that the next two hours will be fun!
We crossed the dunes length and breadth, and every now and then the driver was surprising us with steep uphills and downhills. Girls who rode with us (4 girls from Portugal, the driver and us) squealed and laughed heartily in turns… And we did as well – laughed like never before while in Peru, a couple of times squealed – but mostly screamed ‘WWWOOOOOWWWWW’ when our stomachs were on a crazy rollercoaster in our bellies.
In the end, we stopped on a high dune to rest for a while. The view from the top was captivating! We have never seen such extensive dunes like those around the Huacachina oasis. The sandy hills, like waves stretching endlessly in the full sun, were shining with a golden glow. The hot wind was chasing the grains of sand, which rubbed our skin, harsh and unpleasant, and yet looked so magical. Traces of our footsteps after a moment completely disappeared from the surface of the dunes, covered by blown sand.
When we were occupied with the views and taking pictures, our driver prepared the boards. First, he explained how to hold the board and how handle sliding so we don’t hurt ourselves when sliding down from the sand dunes. However, there was nothing too complicated with the theory, so we tested immediately how it checks out in the real life.
Again the adrenaline when you’re just lying on your belly on a piece of wood, holding tightly flimsy strip and sliding down on the hot sand… but fortune favors the brave! We had a great time doing the competition who will slide farthest. We also could try the snowboarding style – standing on the board. But this required more courage as falling off the boards was quite painful because of the hot sands, that were peeling our skin with every contact.
The time passed by very quickly and we barely noticed the sun leaning down. The driver took us to the highest dune situated quite far from the oasis, so we could enjoy the sunset over the horizon. It was the perfect finish to an active afternoon at the dunes. Once the sunset finished, we set off in the direction of the oasis. The driver took one last stop at the top of the hill next to the oasis, so we could see the Huacachina lit up with night lights. We really liked the view.
Tired, dirty from the sand, but very happy and satisfied we returned to our hotel in the oasis. It was a very good day!
- As we mentioned that several times by now – traveling in Peru is very simple. There are good bus connections between all major cities. Several companies offer the purchase of tickets through the internet, including Excluciva or Cruz Del Sur, but when traveling on less popular routes just go to the bus station and buy a ticket at the box office before the departure. The cost of a ticket for a more comfortable bus is usually a much higher, but very often the price also includes a meal.
- The easiest and most convenient way to reach Huacachina from Ica is taxi. The average cost for this short trip is around 7-8PEN, and certainly, should not exceed 10PEN (less than 3USD).
- The oasis consists mostly from hotels, hostels and restaurants. During low season there should be no problems with booking accommodation on site. And if you looking for cheaper accommodation, you should think about staying in Ica and coming to Huacachina just for the buggy tour.
- Literally every travel agency in the oasis and Ica sells buggy tours to the dunes. The price depends on the size of the group (private tours are much more expensive), and the type of trip (there are various options – with or without standbording, leisure tour around the dunes instead of crazy one, etc.). We paid for our trip 70PEN (20USD) for two people. The price of our ticket included the admission to the sand dunes. And here are some examples of tours to the dunes: www.huacachina.com and www.peruhop.com.
- Dunes admission ticket costs 3,70PEN (1,10USD).
- You don’t need to buy a tour if you want to try sandboarding. You can rent the only a board in one of the rental places in the Oasis, pay for the admission to the dunes and sandboard as much as you’d like. The cost of renting a board is about 5-7PEN (about 2USD).
- When going for dunes don’t forget to bring the sunscreen with a high filter and sunglasses. The sun can be unbearable, there are not too many places to hide from it, and the wind is hot and definitely doesn’t bring a breeze.
- Referring to our post about Nazca it’s worth mentioning that you can take a flight to see the Nazca lines even from Ica. The cost of this trip is about 240-260USD and sometimes extra 10USD airport charges. Here are the sample offers for flights over the Nazca lines: www.huacachina.com/nazca-lines-flights and www.nazcaflights.com.