Next to the city of Ica, about 4 hours from Lima, the scenery might make you feel like you were instantly teleported in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
Nested in the heart of impressive sand dunes, the Huacachina desert oasis appears like a little miracle of Nature. It is the last place where you would expect to find such a body of water!
In fact, desert oases are extremely rare in the Americas. Many say that Huacachina is the one and only desert oasis in the whole of South America. I haven’t studied the subject deep enough to confirm that to you, but in any case the place is clearly out of the ordinary!
The desert lagoon had been quite popular with the people of Lima until the 1950’s, but it was then more or less abandoned. It was only in the 1990’s that a few visionary people and businessmen brought it back to life. Nowadays, it made it to the list of tourism hotspots in Peru.
Address: Huacachina, Ica, Peru
GPS: 14°5’15.90″S, 75°45’49.88″W
Best way to go: Short taxi ride from Ica
Duration of stay: 1-3 days
Best season: May-September (winter) for pleasant temperatures.
Good to know: No ATM at the oasis.
Hotel recommendation: Wild Olive Guesthouse
Staying At The Desert Oasis
Over the years, Hucacachina has become like a small resort around the lagoon. More hotels, restaurants and tour operators have established themselves at the osasis, providing the visitors everything they need. Or almost. The only useful thing you can’t find in Huacachina is an ATM, for that you need to go to Ica, just a short and cheap taxi ride away.
The Hucacahina Oasis is a very pleasant place to stay, and I have to mention that it’s also very safe.
When I first visited Huacachina more than 10 years ago, I had a hotel in Ica and visited the oasis by taxi for a few hours, and it was already a very cool experience. But as I went back recently with my girlfriend, we decided to take the experience to another level and directly stayed at the oasis and for several days. We really loved it and I can only recommend you to do the same if you have the time.
The Peruvian Coastal Desert
The geography of Peru is an interesting one. It really is a land of extremes. In the center of the country in a north-south axis, the Andes Cordillera splits Peru in two halves. East of the mountain range is the Amazon Basin, covered with dense and humid rainforests. West of the Andes, along the coast, it’s a desert.
If in the northern coast it would be more adequate to talk about a semi-desert, in central and southern Peru it is so dry that it seems totally lifeless. You can think of it as an extension of the famous Atacama Desert in Chile, known to be the most arid desert on the planet.
The region of Ica belongs to this desert. It virtually never rains. Only 2-3 mm of rain in Januray/February – that’s almost nothing. However, in the morning, the sky is often overcast with a mist that is the result of the cold water of the Pacific Ocean meeting the warm air of the desert. Mid to late morning, the mist disappears, giving way to the usual blue sky.
The ocean is cold because the Humboldt Current runs along the Peruvian coast, sustaining a rich wildlife. Indeed, cold waters are always much richer in nutrients than warm waters.
But the desert itself is extremely hostile. There is nothing, not a plant, not a cactus, it’s like being on the Moon. Where rivers flowing from the Andes cross the desert, Humans took advantage of this providential water to turn the valleys into lush cultivated areas.
A lot of the Peruvian desert consists in endless arid and dusty flat or hilly lands, but Hucachina is located in a large dune field. A fascinating landscape that can’t leave anyone indifferent!
Exploring the Huacachina Sand Dunes at Sunset
The desert was my primary reason for staying at the Huacachina Oasis, and I wasn’t disappointed. I couldn’t get enough of these majestic dunes, and every day I would go walk in the desert with my eyes wide open totally enchanted with what I was seeing.
If you walked 55 km (34 miles) west in straight line across the dunes, you would meet the Pacific Ocean. I did try to ask around for a way to visit this part of the desert, but it seems that the tours that used to exist don’t exist anymore, and everyone basically told my it’s too complicated because very far. Too bad.
In any case, my modest hikes in the dunes were already mind blowing, and the golden glow of the sunset on the dunes is truly magical. You can check on the map at the bottom of this page how far I went into the desert.
It doesn’t look extremely far on the map but firstly, walking in the dunes is hard! Climbing a dune is exhausting, and if feels like you go two steps down for every step up. Secondly, you don’t actually need to go really far. Just pass the first few dunes and the oasis, the people… will just be a remote memory. Just a few dunes away, you feel completely immersed in the desert.
The only people you will see are the ones riding buggies (that’s why you can see tyre marks on the sand everywhere in the panoramas), but they drive fast and disappear in a few seconds. You can check out the short video below to see how walking in the desert was like!
What To Do In/From Huacachina
The first thing that comes to mind is of course the exploration of the wonderful sand dunes, attracting thousands of visitors like a magnet.
- A popular activity is sandboarding. I tried this on the first time I visited Huacachina and well… it’s wasn’t a big success. I didn’t know what I was doing and ended up sliding down at an uncontrolable speed and ended up falling and rolling down to the bottom, with my mouth, nose, ear, hair and everything else full of sand. Since then I have decided that I will leave sandboarding to those who know what they are doing!
- Another extremely popular activity is riding a buggy. All day you can see them driving like crazy in the sand dunes. It’s quite fun and should probably be tried at least once.
- But as an introvert guy enjoying the peace and simplicity of a jaw-dropping landscape and exploring around, my best memories are definitely when I went hiking in the dunes.
Huacachina can also be a good base to explore the Ica Region, and there are plenty of places to discover in the area.
- An interesting tour you can choose is a visit of the wineries. Ica is home to some reputed Peruvian wineries such as Tacama, where they produce the famous (and strong) pisco alcohol, among others. I negotiated with a taxi to take us on a tour to the Tacama and El Catador wineries, where we could sample their pisco and a fairy large variety of wines.
- A must-see in the region is the Paracas National Reserve and the Ballestas Islands. The desert peninsula of Paracas meets the Pacific Ocean and is home to incredible landscapes and a rich wildlife – Post coming soon!
- Another famous attraction is the Nasca Lines. Nasca is not very far from Ica and it is possible to arrange a flight over the lines from a travel agency in Huacachina.
- A bit more off the beaten track, you can take a tour to a lost canyon in the desert, called Cañon de Los Perdidos. I took this tour with my girlfriend with a private car and driver, with the help of our hotel. A really nice experience!