Many people visit Peru to see world-famous landmarks like Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the Colca Canyon. The influx of tourism to these sites has given rise to new and exciting hotspots that cater for travellers along the ‘Gringo Trail’. One such place is Huacachina.
An idyllic oasis village surrounded by harsh Peruvian desert, Huacachina was relatively unvisited by international travellers until the 1990s. A major promotional campaign brought it to the world’s attention, and today Huacachina has become somewhat of a thrill-seeker’s haven.
The towering dunes that surround Huacachina are the perfect setting for sand-boarding and white-knuckle buggy rides. While adrenaline is the main draw, it also doubles up as a great spot for relaxing and socialising, with its peaceful blue lagoon and selection of bars and chill-out cafés.
How to get to Huacachina
Huacachina is situated a stone’s throw away from the city Ica, on the main tourist route between Lima and Cusco. Most visitors stop by en route from the capital city to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail.
The cheapest and easiest way to travel to Huacachina is by bus. The nearest airport is some 80 kilometres away in Pisco. From Lima, the journey by road is a little over two hours, while from Cusco it’s a grinder of a 15-hour overnighter.
We travelled with Cruz Del Sur, which we found to be one of the best bus companies in South America. Its buses are large, comfortable and spacious, and – vitally – its safety record is excellent.
Cruz Del Sur stops at Ica on its main route along the Peruvian tourist trail. We booked online here and paid 40 soles each from Lima to Ica (July 2017). From Ica, we paid 8 soles for the short taxi ride to Huacachina.
Another bus option is Peru Hop, an open-ticket, multi-stop service that drops directly in Huacachina. Later on our trip we used its sister company Bolivia Hop and had a very good experience. The slight extra expense was worth it for the convenience and flexibility.
Where to stay in Huacachina
We stayed in Desert Nights Ecocamp, a luxurious campground with private double-bed huts, a swimming pool, swim-up bar and free breakfast. At GBP 34 it was a bit more than our typical accommodation outlay in Peru, but it looked great so we decided to treat ourselves for a night.
We really loved this place. Situated on the edge of the village on the lower slope of a large dune, we had an awesome view of the desert scenery. The pool was perfect for hanging out in the sunshine with daily deals on food and craft beers. Of all the places we stayed during our month in Peru, this was the most memorable.
Things to do in Huacachina
As I mentioned above, adrenaline activities are the order of the day in Huacachina. We arrived at Desert Nights Ecocamp in the mid-afternoon when a two-hour dune buggy sunset tour was about to set off.
(For the adrenaline junkies out there, tour agencies exist in abundance all around the village competing for custom on buggy tours and sand-boarding. For a more relaxed vibe, there are other desert activities to choose from, such as horse-riding, or nearby winery and pisco tasting tours.)
We had a few minutes to decide whether or not to go for it. Our style is usually to get stuck in, but this time we decided on a more chilled evening. As we relaxed at the bar, we could hear the sound of buggy engines roaring down from above, drowned out only by the screams of their passengers as they made sudden downhill plunges at speed. Bizarrely, it was quite a therapeutic backdrop as we sipped cocktails in the waning sunlight.
We decided to walk to the top of one of the giant dunes for sunset. The most popular spot was around the other side of the village, and so we set off in that direction. The uphill trudge was a lot harder than it looked – sand is not an easy terrain to climb! Especially with the additional challenge of dodging the sand-boarders flying down in the opposite direction.
It took longer to reach the summit than anticipated, but boy, was it worth it. The orange–mahogany sunset tones across the desert sand were mesmerising. I would go as far as to say it was the best sunset I saw in our entire year of travel.
Had we more than 24 hours in Huacachina, we might have taken advantage of some of the day tours available. The Paracas National Reserve, a huge protected natural area featuring marine ecosystems, archaeological sites and stunning ocean scenery, is only an hour and a half’s drive away.
How I nearly lost my phone in Huacachina
The next day, I made two more trips back up to the top of the same giant dune. At the summit, I decided it would be a great idea to run down the steep slope of the dune. I’d seen lots of people doing it, and it looked like fun.
I only realised once back at the ecocamp that I’d had my iPhone in my pocket, and it was no longer there. I wrote about this incident in a lot more detail the day after it happened – check out the full article here.
The moral of this story is: be careful with your valuables in the sand!
Money in Huacachina
The most important thing to know before you head to Huacachina is that it has no ATMs. If you’re planning to stay for a while, or to splash out a bit, then make sure you take plenty of cash. If you run out, you’ll need to take a ride to Ica and back.
More reading on Peru
Are you spending a while in Peru? You might want to check out one of my other articles:
- What to do in Lima: a two-day guide
- Visiting Iquitos: the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon
- The art of the menú: budget eating in Peru
- Racing the Inca Trail: legendary porters go the distance
Have you visited Huacachina and have an experience to share? Let me know about it in the comments below.