Huacachina Oasis has evolved in recent decades to become one of the premier destinations in all of Peru. This lush oasis town set amidst a series of massive rolling dunes is undeniably picturesque, a natural oddity of such beauty it welcomes a steady stream of travelers from all over the globe. Imagine a vast desert with gigantic sand dunes reaching up into the sky. Now picture a little lake, surrounded by a couple of buildings, nestled deep in the valley of these huge sand dunes. This perfect little oasis town in the middle of the desert is a joy in itself, but here are some ideas of what to do in Huacachina.
The indisputable highlight of any visit to Huacachina is the adjacent desert, best enjoyed by hopping on a board and soaring over the golden waves. You may be dubious about the idea of flinging yourself off the top of a sand dune, but almost everyone cruises down these slopes on their belly (the dunes are massive), which means even uncoordinated individuals can get involved and have a jolly good time! Throw yourself down a hundred-meter dune in what has become a bucket-list activity among travelers in South America. Staying upright on these wooden boards is deceptively difficult, even for those who know how to surf, snowboard or skate, so the belly-down version is always the best option!
Everyone in town offers sandboarding and dune buggy trips in the morning and the afternoon, typically departing around 4/4.30pm. I’d highly recommend the afternoon option, as the end of the tour coincides perfectly with a stunning sunset, making for some phenomenal photo ops out in the desert. In case you haven’t joined a sandboarding tour or you want to catch some additional sunsets on your own, a quick hike up to the top of the dunes will afford equally spectacular views of the fading sun. Just be sure to pack a light jumper or a long sleeve shirt, as things get chilly when you lose the light!
Legend has it that the town of Huacachina was named after a beautiful Inca princess whose voice was so haunting she was known as Huacca China (the girl who cries). One day, while bathing, she noticed a hunter watching from a distance. Startled, she dropped and smashed a mirror into tiny pieces which transformed into the lush oasis, and, as she fled the scene, her flowing robe was left behind the imposing sand dunes. Huacca China then became a mermaid who is said to still live in the lake, supposedly venturing out to sing her ancient songs in the dead of night. To honor this legend, a stone statue of the mermaid princess overlooks the lagoon.
For even more spectacular views of the oasis, a tandem paraglide departs directly from the dunes. Flights cost $100 USD depending on the duration (anywhere from 5-20min) and typically operate early in the morning.
In the 1940s, Peru’s wealthy Limeños descended on the oasis to construct a beauty spa around the waters, which they believed to contain special healing properties. Although the trend died out shortly afterward in the 50s, many Peruvians still see the lagoon as therapeutic and come to swim or plaster themselves in mud for its healing properties.
The most popular tour in town is undoubtedly the adrenaline-filled dune buggy ride. This no-holds-barred experience sees certifiably crazy drivers hurl their buggies over towering dunes at breakneck speeds, at times balancing them on two wheels to really get the heart racing.
Just a ten-minute drive away is the sizable city of Ica, home to a large portion of Peru’s pisco industry. Made from white grapes, this grappa-like spirit is the national beverage of the country and is mainly well known for the tangy pisco sour. Travelers can learn about the production process and sample the good stuff at the close-by Tacama vineyard.