The oasis on the back of the 50 Nuevo Sol bill is more than just an aesthetically pleasing design… It’s a fantastic tourist trap, perfect for racing around in a dune buggy, tearing down 100 metre slopes on sand boards, and rich sunsets over the oasis.
Huacachina is a small village 3 hours South of Lima, it’s very easy to reach by catching a bus to Ica, we used Cruz del Sur for the 1st time paying 45 soles each (which was one of the more expensive companies) but it included food and a personal screen in each seat. Rather fancy! When you arrive in Ica you can take a cab (5-8 soles) or a moto-taxi (4-6 soles), 10 minutes to Huacachina. It can also be visited in conjunction with the Islas Ballestas and Paracas Reserve as they are only an hour away and transport is easy to book from Ica.
We only stayed 2 nights in Huacachina, and to be fair I think that’s more than enough. It’s a very small “town” with around 100 or so permanent residents, but with 1000’s of transient residents passing through each year the place has a certain buzz. The whole village is based around a small lake in the middle of the desert, the lake started off as natural, but the nearby farmers have dug wells causing the need for extra water to be pumped in preserving the oasis as a tourist attraction. Climbing to the top of the dunes when the sun is low in the late afternoon is very surreal, the place has a storybook, magical feel to it.
We were expecting Huacachina to be full of tourists and the nightlife to be heaving, but surprisingly it was pretty quiet, even during the day… Well except between 4pm and 6.30pm. That’s when you’ll hear the buggy’s all roar into life. The dunes echo the deep grumble of V8 engines racing around the narrow streets collecting passengers and heading off into “the park” for the evening cruise. The local tour operators package up an exhilarating death ride through the rolling dunes with belly boarding down 3 or 4 giant sand slopes, starting small and finishing pretty high! We wanted to stand up, but the boards supplied are only good for lying down, and even when you pay a little extra to hire a snowboard it looked very slow and awkward. Luckily it’s still a good giggle on your tummy!
I think the tour operators all offer the same deal, for two and a half hours we paid 35 soles each (which included the sandboards) and we were able to watch the sunset over the oasis.
At 4pm you meet your buggy, our driver was a quite Peruvian chap with an Jesus dangling from his keyring and the Virgin riding along shotgun from the rearview mirror. The buggy ride was a like a rollercoaster in the sand dunes, every time we would approach a big drop off we had all the women in the backseat screaming their heads off, and I was giggling uncontrollably! Our driver seemed to feed off the fear so was happy to go faster and higher, although I never felt like he was putting us in danger. The sandboarding was fun, we started off at a small slope and all had to go down on our bellies with our feet down, by the time we got to the 4th and final slope the ride went for around 2/3 minutes and was pretty exhilarating (although I found the buggy ride to be more fun).
There really isn’t much else to do in Huacachina. There are a few bars and restaurants ranging from your cheap, typical menu and burger joints, to the more expensive gringo hostels and pricey restaurants. We ate at a couple of menu places which were good, we also stayed at a vegetarian restaurant / hospedaje which was well priced and had a mean curry (For a review of Casa de Bamboo click here). The main hangout for travellers is Banana’s Adventure which came recommended several times, but seemed very expensive at 220 soles for a matrimonial room, compared with the 70 we ended up paying. When you stay at Banana’s one activity is included in the room price however it was still too rich for our blood. Even if you’re not staying there you can still enjoy their common area and over priced drinks. Fortunately I had a yellow wristband from the hostel we stayed in Lima so I was able to sneak into their pool for a swim before we caught the night bus to Arequipa!
My recommendation is: Huacachina is the perfect way to break up the trip from Lima to Arequipa, but you don’t need to stay long or spend a fortune.