Huacachina is notable for being, as far as we know, the ONLY desert oasis in South America. That’s right, ALL of South America! Located just outside the city of Ica, you feel like you’ve been transported to the middle of the desert.
How to Get There
By far the most common way to get there is to take a taxi. You more than likely arrived on a night bus, which stops at the bus terminal on such and such. From there, it should be about a 15-minute taxi ride to the heart of Huacachina, which costs 10 soles as of May 2023. Don’t accept anything more than that. 10 soles is the standard.
Huacachina? More like WALKachina
If you’re a cheap bastard who seeks adventure wherever he can (like me), you can walk to the oasis. It’s 3 miles from the bus station, so you’ll be walking for a solid hour. You’ll also have to cross at least one very busy roundabout. Lastly, as you near the outskirts of town and take your first steps out into the desert, you’ll be walking along a fairly busy two-lane road with either no shoulder or a bunch of sand on either side.
In all reality 10 soles is not that much and you’ll get from Ica to Huacachina pretty quickly. If, however, you want to save some money and get some exercise, it’s kind of neat. The cool thing about walking into Huacachina is that you feel like you’re transitioning from one biome into the other, a la Legend of Zelda. From the streets of Ica you can see some sand dunes in the distance, but it’s at the city limits that you literally step out into the desert. I thought it was a really neat experience. You won’t be walking long along the road before you crest a dune and spread out before you is the verdant oasis of Huacachina, set against the backdrop of an endless desert.
How Long to Stay There
One day should do, not more than two. As beautiful as it is, there’s only so much to do.
Huacachina is also highly touristed. You will have vendors mugging you at every step for restaurants or tubulares (what they call dune buggies). Because of these foreign tourists, Huachina is NOT cheap. Pound for pound, it was probably the most expensive place I stayed at during my time in Peru.
Good luck finding a meal for under 12 soles. That’s absolute rock-bottom minimum, for a bowl of spaghetti and a glass of juice at La Casa de Bamboo. They also serve a good breakfast for 20 soles, which includes coffee, juice, eggs, a generous helping of bacon, and four pieces of toast with butter and jam. La Casa de Bamboo also has a great 2 for 15 soles happy hour featuring pisco sours, mojitos, and rum & cokes. They’re probably the best deal in Huacachina, located just one street back from the lagoon.
Otherwise, you’re going to be spending some money here. Dinner prices routinely run over 50 soles for a simple medium pizza. 90% of the restaurants there will be serving hamburgers and pizza and chicken wings. It certainly caters to a certain type of individual, which in my opinion sorely cheapens the experience: why go to a desert oasis in a foreign country just to eat hamburgers and pizza that aren’t even as good as the hamburgers and pizza you can get at home?
Alas, it is what it is. To get more traditional local dishes like lomo saltado or causas, you’re looking at 55 to 70 soles, easy.
For drinks, you definitely want to go during Happy Hour. You’ll be able to find everything from a 2 x 15 soles to 2 x 30 soles for drinks. Individually, they usually cost about 18 soles apiece or more. For late night Happy Hour, try Banana’s, a popular hangout whose happy hour runs until 10:30 at night.
I eventually had to settle for a dinner of BBQ chicken wings and a pisco sour at Carola Lodge, a hotel near the lagoon. My 8 wings, fries, and drink cost me 46 soles, one of the most expensive meals I had during my stay. To be fair, the wings were actually quite good and filling (though you may have to ask for extra BBQ sauce) and the pisco sour was good and strong.
What to Do
Dune Buggying & Sandboarding
If you’re going to Peru, you have to visit Machu Picchu, and if you’re going to Huacachina, you have to do sandboarding. It’s what you go there to do.
Lucky for me, I had met someone who had been there and said she got a two-hour deal for dune buggying and sandboarding for the low, low price of 30 soles. Indeed, when I got there, I was approached by various outfitters trying to get me to buy their packages. I waited until I was on a quieter street (just outside Carola Lodge, in fact) and ran into a representative of Manolito Tours. He said 35 soles at first, but I was able to talk him down to the 30 soles that my friend had recommended. Some of the ladies at my hostel had a guy tell them he could get them a 1-hour “private” group for 40 soles and they thought that was a steal. No, no. 30 soles for 2 hours is what you want. You will also pay 3.80 soles for the tax but that’s it. Trust me, there will be 8 million vendors on the street offering you their packages, so be sure to shop around for the best deal.
So what does the 2-hour package entail? We were herded up the dunes to the waiting dune buggies, huge 10-seater monstrosities with exposed engines. You kind of feel like you’re about to do battle with enemies in Mad Max. From there you blast off into the desert for a rollercoaster of powering up and down huge sand dunes. If you don’t like rollercoasters, it may not be the experience for you, but I also used to get really freaked out by rollercoasters and this experience was right at that dividing line between exhilarating and being uncomfortable.
After about 30 minutes of that, the driver will park on a particularly steep sand dune and give everyone some time to take photos. Fellas, be prepared to wait around a while while the ladies get the perfect shots.
Afterward, the sandboards come out.
Sandboarding is exactly what it sounds like. You basically get these old snowboards that have straps attached to them. You lay down on your stomach length-wise on the board, tucking your elbows in and holding the straps as tight as you can. Then, you get pushed over the edge.
The ride is short, but exhilirating. It’s over in seconds, but from your perspective you’re going as breakneck speeds. You can see my POV video below for an idea of what to expect:
After letting everyone go twice, you’ll pack up, go park somewhere to admire the sunset, and then head home. The driver will give you some more rollercoaster driving on the way back as night falls.
There are plenty of bars scattered throughout the oasis, and even a dance club: Arenas, towards the back of the lagoon. The Wild Rover is a popular hostel and bar for travelers.