After five months traveling through South America, I can say that I have seen the craziest things of my life on this continent. Like, for example, the real-life oasis of Huacachina, Peru.
Before getting here, I had no idea that there is an enormous desert in Peru. After driving through it for more than 40 hours in combined bus rides over the last three weeks, I started to figure most of the country was desert. I was surprised when through my research I discovered it’s only a mere 10%, and that 10% happens to be the 1,550 mile stretch along the coast that I drove through from Ecuador down to Huacachina. Even more surprising: half of Peru’s population live in this 10% of coastal desert (Lima is located there).
It is in this stretch that we find the real life oasis of Huacachina. The pictures I’d seen circulating on the internet of this little phenomenon are what inspired me to go there, but still, it’s one of those things you truly have to see to believe.
It was with those intentions that I boarded a bus to Ica, the closest big city to this oasis. Over the course of the six hour journey we saw many glimpses of what was to come: little shanty towns and cities built right into the dunes: an incredible thing to witness. Every roof is flat as rain is never ever an issue there (it is for this reason that Northern Peru was so devastated by recent heavy rainfalls. They are completely unprepared for wet weather).
Ica itself is a city of nearly 250,000 people built on top of a desert. When you arrive to the bus terminal of Ica, you take a fifteen minute taxi ride for 8 sole ($2.50) to Huacachina.
The lake that Huacachina is built around is completely natural, but the town around it only has about 100 residents and exists solely for tourism. Naturally, a real-life desert oasis has become a big hit with the tourists and it recieves around tens of thousands of visitors a year; Peruvians and foreigners alike.
The oasis itself is planted in the midst of miles and miles of enormous sand dunes as far as the eye can see. Legend has it that a mermaid inhabits the lake and moves the dunes around every night, so each day they are in a different position.
Given the unique terrain surrounding it, the other big things to do at the oasis are dune buggy tours and sand-boarding. For just 30 sole or $10 you can go on an hour long dune buggy joyride that takes you racing over and around the enormous sand dunes, with a few stops to try your hand at sand boarding (or sand sledding, like I did).
I would like to meet the engineer who fashioned this vehicle, that can whip over enormous piles of sand like it’s nothing. The ride was more of an adrenaline rush than any roller coaster I’ve ever been on, and the hills are ringing with the screams of tourists getting their thrills in the dune buggy.
The driver will stop at a few dunes of varying sizes to let you try sand boarding. I saw way more people falling then actually sand boarding down the dunes, and as I wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of tumbling down a mountain of burning hot sand I rode it like a toboggan instead. It was awesome.
That’s pretty much it for what there is to do in Huacachina though, unless you want to try paragliding which also looked very fun:
More than a night here is not necessary; if that. I would recommend staying in the city of Ica and going into Huacachina for the day; you can do everything you want to do in one day there and go back to Ica for reasonably priced food and accommodation afterwards. As you might expect prices at the oasis are inflated. You’re stranded in the desert, after all. They can charge whatever they want. One thing’s for sure though, Huacachina is not to be missed on anyone’s Peru itinerary. In fact you could even do it as a day trip from Lima if you’re strapped for time, it’s so close, so there’s no excuse. Just another crazy cool, uniquely South American experience.