When I first arrived in Peru I hadn’t done a lot of research into what to do or where to do it. Sometimes this is nice because you’re surprised by the wonderful places you get to visit instead of comparing them to the Instagram photos you have spent hours pouring over (I am very guilty of this). So when I arrived in Lima and a few people mentioned the oasis you can visit on the way to Arequipa and then Cusco, I knew I had to visit. It does not disappoint, so if you’re planning on a visit yourself here’s a quick and dirty need-to-know for Peru’s little desert paradise.
Huacachina is actually a sort of suburb of the city of Ica, which is not really worth a visit in itself. It’s mostly a tourist town with a population of only 115, and as it is only a 10-minute taxi ride from the much larger city of Ica most locals who work in the town commute in from there. If you are already in Peru, you can take a gander at the oasis by checking the back of the 50-sole note.
How to get there:
Huacachina is an overnight, or 11-12 hour, bus ride from Arequipa, 1 hour from Paracas to the north and about 4 hours to Lima.
What to do
The main attraction of Huacachina, which some tourists sop on for just the day to enjoy, is sandboarding. This involves climbing into one of the mutant vehicles from Mad Max and rampaging at break-neck speeds across the dunes that surround Huacachina, stopping in different spots to glide most gracefully (screaming weirdly and with a mouth full of sand) down the mountains of sand. It is a ridiculous amount of fun, and even if you don’t want to actually sandboard, going along for the dune buggy ride is well worth it (and many people say even better than the sandboarding!). All tours end just before sunset, so the views are beautiful.
Time: Two hours, leaving around 4.30pm
Cost: Don’t pay more than 45 soles, though if you want a better quality sandboard prepare to pay extra. If you are in a group then you can talk any of the guides from the streets down to 20 soles each, which is what I did.
*Many tours leave every day, so there is no need to book before you arrive, giving you a chance to shop around and get the best price.
Another main event in the oasis is visiting the surrounding wineries in the Ica region, including tastings of both wine and Peruvian Pisco.
Time: Around 3 hours
Cost: 25 soles
Known by some as the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ or ‘little Galapagos’, the Islas Ballestas are a popular day trip from Ica if you don’t have time to stay in Paracas. The tour includes views of ‘La Candelabra’ one of the ancient pictures in the landscape similar to the famous Nasca lines, as well as a lot of birds and sea lions amongst the fire-red rocks. If you have the time to stop in Paracas I would recommend it on the way to Lima, as there is also a National park tour that takes you to some beautiful beaches.
Time: Around 3 hours
Cost: 20 soles, not including a tax of about 3 soles to be paid right before the start of the tour (for some inexplicable reason this is not included in the ticket price).
Where to stay
Huacachina is a quiet little tourist town, although as development increases more hostels are increasing the party atmosphere. A lot of hostels on the north side of the oasis have pools, such as the popular ‘Casa de Arena’. I stayed there for one night, and at the time of writing it was not an enjoyable place to stay. There is heavy construction going on all day, and very loud music from the ‘club’ until after 4 in the morning. I don’t like writing something negative, and I am sure this will be hugely different once constructions has stopped, but this on top of dirty sheets and lack of toilets made for a rather unpleasant stay.
Recommended: Desert Nights
I have stayed at this cost little hostel twice now and have really enjoyed it both times. Clean and comfortable rooms, reasonable wifi (very reasonable for SA), very friendly staff, cheap rates and a discount at the restaurant makes for a great hostel. Try the ‘Café Helado’ at the restaurant (where you also get a discount if you stay at the hostel), it is deeelish.
Cost: 20 soles for an 8-bed dorm, not normally any need to book but you can do it online here if you feel the urge.
Location: South side of the Oasis, at the end of the main street where taxis drop off from Ica.
Have you ever been to Huacachina? What was your favourite part?