While Peru may be best known for its Andean landscapes, around 10% of the country is actually made up of sandy coastal desert. One of the best places to see this side of Peru is at Huacachina, a unique desert oasis located just a few hours south of Lima near the city of Ica. Spend a day here and you’ll have the chance to marvel at vast sand dunes reminiscent of the Sahara, take a paddle boat out onto the lagoon, go for a ride on a dune buggy, or even go sandboarding.
Table of Contents:
- What to Do
- Best Time to Visit
- How to Get There
- What to Bring
- Where to Eat
- Where to Stay
- Plan Your Trip
The town of Huacachina is centered around the eponymous Laguna Huacachina, a small lagoon fed by a natural spring and framed by leafy green palms. The town is surrounded by massive sand dunes that are both picturesque and perfect for adventures activities like sandboarding and dune buggy rides. Tourism is the only industry here, and the lagoon is surrounded by tour agencies, restaurants and hotels catering to visitors.
Many Lima residents come to Huacachina on the weekends to enjoy the sunshine and get away from the chaos of city life. It is also a popular stop-off for travelers who visit on a day trip or stay overnight on their way to visit Paracas, Nazca or Arequipa.
Huacachina has long been a popular destination for both domestic and international visitors. The waters of the oasis were once believed to have healing powers, and it was during the 1960s that the town became a resort for wealthy Peruvians coming to take advantage of those therapeutic properties. Once the playground of Peru’s elite, Huacachina now has the air of a former beauty queen. The restaurants and hotels that line the small lagoon are composed of old Spanish colonial revival architecture that bring to mind an earlier era.
Nowadays Huacachina is most popular with 20-something partiers and thrill-seekers drawn to the town’s adventure sports, but even visitors who aren’t interested in those activities will find something to enjoy about this quaint town with a long history.
Along Huacachina’s main walkway you’ll find a statue of mermaid, which is a depiction of a well-known legend about the lake’s origins. One version of the story goes that a young Inca princess was walking in the desert, brushing her hair while looking at her reflection in a mirror when she spotted a hunter watching her.
Frightened by the man, she dropped the mirror which then shattered and transformed into the lagoon. The princess then dove into the water to hide, but when she later emerged she found that she had been transformed into a mermaid and that the tunic she had left behind was now transformed into the dunes around the lake. According to the legend, she can be heard singing at night when there is a full moon.
What to Do
Huacachina offers several different activities that are worth experiencing during your visit. Here are some of the most popular things to do in Huacachina:
Without a doubt, the activity that Huacachina is most famous for is sandboarding. Similar to snowboarding, sandboarding involves coasting down sand dunes on a wooden board specially designed for the sport. If it sounds terrifying, don’t worry – it’s actually really fun! Kids, tweens, teens, and moms and dads of all ages have tested their skills on the slopes of Huacachina and few regret having given it a shot.
There are couple different techniques for sandboarding. Experienced sandboarders or more daring individuals can board down the dunes while standing upright. It’s possible to control your balance by taking a wide stance and slowing your board down by dragging your toes in the sand. Another option is the embrace the “tummy technique” and coast head first laying flat on your board. Just make sure that you follow your guide’s safety guidelines and you’ll have a blast no matter what technique you choose!
Another popular activity for thrill-seekers in Huacachina is a four-wheel drive dune buggy ride through the desert. Strap yourself in for the ride of your life and cruise full-throttle through the dunes. Climb to the top of a dune and hold on tight for the downward plunge before making another hairpin turn up the next desert hill.
Many tours combine both sandboarding and dune buggies into a single activity. Riding the buggies up to the top of the dunes saves you a tiring uphill walk, and then you just sandboard back down to the bottom!
For a more relaxed way to spend the afternoon, spend some time out on the lagoon in a paddle boat. The boats are available for rent at the lake’s shore. This also is a great family-friendly way to enjoy the oasis if traveling with children.
The Ica region is where most of Peru’s wine and pisco (a type of strong grape brandy, considered Peru’s national liquor) is produced, so one of the best things to do while visiting Huacachina is to take a tour of a nearby vineyard. Enjoy an afternoon sampling pisco sours and taking in some beautiful scenery at one of several wineries and pisco producers in the area.
Hike Up the Dunes
While visiting Huacachina, make sure to take a hike up to the top of the dunes surrounding the oasis and snap some photos. If you happen to be staying overnight or are still in town later in the day, this is also one of the most magical and photogenic places in Peru to enjoy a sunset.
Huacachina is conveniently located near many of southern Peru’s most famous tourist sites. If you find yourself in this area, make sure to visit the nearby Paracas National Reserve, Ballestas Islands, and of course the enigmatic Nazca Lines.
Best Time to Visit
Weather in Huacachina is consistently warm and sunny, with very little rain occurring in this dry desert climate. Because of this consistently pleasant weather, Huacachina can be visited all year round. If planning a trip to Peru, it’s a good idea to learna bout the best time to visit Peru since other destinations and regions tend to have less predictable weather.
How to Get There
The Huacachina Oasis is located just 10 minutes from the city of Ica, a major hub about 5 hours south of Lima. If visiting Peru on a guided tour package, you can easily add a stop in Huacachina to your Paracas tour or Nazca tour.
If traveling independently, the best way to get to Huacachina is by taking a bus from Lima to the city of Ica. Once in Ica you can hire a taxi to take you the short 10 minute ride to the oasis town of Huacachina. If you are traveling by rental car, the Huacachina Oasis is connected to Ica by a paved road and is easy to find in any GPS system.
What to Bring
Make sure to take the following essential items with you on your trip to the Huacachina Oasis:
- Cash in Peruvian soles
- Hat or sun cap for protection
- Sunblock so you don’t get burned
- Plenty of water to drink
- Lightweight clothing
- Sandals or flip flops
- Tennis shoes/sneakers (mandatory for sandboarding)
- Sweater or jacket if spending the night
Where to Eat
As a popular destination for international visitors, Huacachina offers a surprisingly eclectic selection of restaurants to choose from. Here are a few favorites:
Wild Olive Trattoria & Guest House
This tasty Italian restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and serves up pizza as well as pasta staples like lasagna.
La Casa de Bamboo
This restaurant and cafe is part of a backpacker hostel and offers a mix of exotic food such as curry, falafel and stir fry as well as plentiful vegan and vegetarian options.
Visit this restaurant for a mix of Peruvian staples like lomo saltado and ceviche as well as American classics like burgers and fries.
Enjoy some delicious Peruvian plates and Peruvian-Chinese food favorites like chaufa at this low-cost eatery.
Where to Stay
The majority of accommodations in Huacachina are no-frills hotels and backpacker hostels, many of which feature bars and pools. Some of the most popular options include Hotel Curasi, Desert Nights Ecocamp and Hotel El Huacachinero.
For a wider range of options, you can also spend the night in the nearby city of Ica. The elegant Hotel Las Dunas is a favorite of many visitors to the area. Alternatively, you can stay at a Paracas resort or Nazca hotel and visit Huacachina on a day trip.
Remember that our travel advisors can book any hotel in Peru!
Plan Your Trip
If you’re looking for a unique and fun destination to add to your Peru itinerary, Huacachina may be just the place you’re looking for!
For more information about visiting Huacachina and other destinations in Peru, don’t hesitate to contact one of our travel advisors who can help you plan the perfect Peru adventure.
Britt is a California native who now calls Peru home. She is a traveler with a passion for all things outdoors, scuba diving, and capturing memories with her camera.