Huacachina: Desert Oasis
A few hours south of Lima lies the small city of Ica, and just a ten minute taxi ride from Ica is Huacachina, which looks like it sprung right out of a cartoon or fairy tale. Located in the middle of Peru’s southern desert region, Huacachina is a literal desert oasis. A natural freshwater lake forms the heart of the small town, surrounded on all sides by palm trees and sand dunes. You can rent paddleboats or rowboats to take out into the lake, enjoy a lunch at the dozens of often overpriced restaurants, and take slightly more adventurous excursions out into the dunes themselves, riding dune buggies in their natural habitat and sandboarding down the hills.
We went for the buggy/boarding excursion, which turned out to be a lot of fun. At only 35 soles (just over ten bucks), it’s definitely one of the more affordable adventure activities we’ve had the opportunity to try out. We loaded up into a 10-seater buggy at around 4:30pm and headed off into the desert. The dunes can be pretty steep and tall, so it was a bit of a roller coaster ride at times, but we never felt unsafe with the driver. They do tours every day so they know the layout of the area as well as the limits of the buggies.
After wandering the desert for 40 years — I mean minutes — we pulled off onto one of the taller, steeper dunes, perching the buggy at the top, and all grabbed a sandboard, which is basically a crappy snowboard with velcro straps that don’t really work right. They get the job done though, the job being getting from the top of the dune to the bottom in the quickest, most fun way possible. Having a bit of snowboarding experience helped here, so I was able to board down standing up, but plenty of people also chose the tamer option — sliding down on their bellies, using the board as a sled. Either way is super fun.
After repeating the sandboarding activities on three or four different dunes, we all stopped to see the sun set over the sand (say that five times fast). Actually a bit earlier than the true sunset, due to the fact that we were watching it set behind tall dunes, we were then able to make our way back to town before the light faded completely.
Huacachina, as well as the nearby city of Ica, are definitely worth a visit. Going to Huacachina makes you feel like you might stumble over a genie’s lamp at any given point, and Ica is a nice enough city in a good location to break up the long bus ride from Lima to Cusco. Definitely glad we made the stop.