Huacachina is a desert oasis and tiny village just west of the city of Ica in southwestern Peru. At its center are the green waters of the Huacachina Lagoon, ringed by palm trees and thought to have therapeutic properties. The lagoon's shores are dotted with bars, restaurants, shops, and cozy accommodations.
On my day trip from Lima in January of 2020, I ventured to Huachachina after a morning in Paracas where we went out on a jet boat to see amazing ancient geoglyphs and lots of wildlife that call the barrier islands home. You can read more about that experience A Pedacito of Paracas, Peru.
The drive to Huchachina is a comfortable one-hour trip from Paracas with epic desert views; it's about a 3.5-hour drive from Lima. Along the way, you pass a sprinkling of small towns with farms likely irrigated through ancient springs or manmade waterways.
According to local legends, the water and mud of the area are therapeutic. Both locals and tourists often bathe in the waters or cover themselves with the mud in an attempt to cure ailments such as arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, and bronchitis. The lagoon itself is very green and not really inviting for swimming (I mean, I wouldn't swim in that).
Our guide told us a story that locals believe the lagoon was created when a beautiful native princess removed her clothes to bathe, but after looking in a mirror she saw a male hunter approaching her from behind. Startled at the intrusion, she fled the area leaving behind her mirror which turned into a lake.
Other versions hold that she fled, leaving the pool of water she had been bathing in to become the lagoon. The folds of her mantle, streaming behind her as she ran, became the surrounding sand dunes. The woman herself is rumored to still live in the oasis as a mermaid. From the top of an adjacent restaurant, you can see the beauty and life that this little watering hole provides in an otherwise towering desert landscape.
While the lagoon is pretty people really come to Huchachina to ride sand dunes in the desert. You can have a prearranged reservation or book one once you arrive - there is no shortage of dune buggies!
This is another one of those instances where I didn't exactly realize what I was getting myself into. Again, living an almost completely flat landscape in Florida, the idea of sandboarding down dunes didn't quite prepare me for what was to come. Amongst the sea of dune buggies, we are guided to our "well-maintained" buggies which are obviously kept together by tack welds and layers spray paint. I was happy to know that although our driver didn't speak any English, he knew how to write it! Lucky for me I got the front seat, which tends to happen when you're the big guy (as pictured in my awkward selfie).
If you've ever taken photos of a mountain landscape you know that photos just don't do it justice. Also, conveying how fast you are going in a vehicle just never seems to come out right... Either way, I hope you can tell by the screams and the wind that we are blazing through the desert! All the while I am just praying that the welds hold on this rickety thing we actually paid to get on. The video below hopefully captures some of the intensity.
There was a lot more of that but you get the gist of it. The main attraction was sandboarding down the massive dunes. We traveled to four different sites, each progressively taller. I received a really cool board with the Inca symbol for the Condor.
We were given brief instructions (which felt too brief) for how to wax the board, how to mount, and how to slide down the dune. We were told not to stand up and to use it more like a bodyboard, however, there were a few brave souls who apparently don't mind dying in the Peruvian desert, but not me... Not today, Satan!
The dunes were massive and beautiful. While seemingly inhospitable, I can imagine why the Inca people were so drawn to this place and mesmerized by the sheer scale of this desert. Even in the baren lies so much beauty. It is just stunning!
This was an awesome experience that I highly recommend. Make sure you bring a hat, sunscreen, and probably a change of socks - you will get sand in all the wrong places! After being out in the heat of the desert I rehydrated and cooled off some cold drinks and enjoyed some local homemade sweets before hitting the road back towards Lima.
I'm sure there is way more to Huchachina than what I was able to experience in the few hours of being there but I really enjoyed it. I can imagine that there is more to see and do in the adjacent towns and it's likely worth a couple of days in the region. For me, this was the end of a long day followed by a long bus ride back to Lima. I'm glad I took the time to see another one of the unique sides of Peru!
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