Peru: Huacachina, the desert oasis

By Cubie - February 26, 2019

I was told Ica lies on the border of the Atacama desert but I can't be sure as when I was trying to search for the name of the desert in Ica, all I found is Peruvian coastal desert. The other closest desert is Sechura desert. Even then it doesn't seem to be in Ica. So I'll just go with Peruvian coastal desert.

Ica is famous for its wine and pisco and is the largest producer in Peru. So if anyone spent some time in Ica, wine tasting would be in the list. In fact, the taxi driver who sent me to the hostel also offered wine tasting tour. I was a little scared of his over friendliness so I did not contact him for any tours and skipped on the wine tasting as well.

Huacachina is a desert oasis around a small natural lake. It is only about 10 minutes drive away from Ica. According to legend, a native princess removed her clothes to bathe and saw a male hunter approaching her from behind from a mirror she was holding. Startled at the intrusion, he dropped her mirror and fled away. The mirror turned into a lake which formed the lagoon Huacachina is at. Another version is that the pool of water that the princess had been bathing in became the lagoon.

The hostel I booked isn't at the oasis but about 20 minutes walk from Huacachina. I guess all the party hostel reviews kind of swayed me to that decision. However, after my trip there I think I could survive a night in Huacachina, but would still choose to stay at one of the accommodations a street away, instead of those exactly around the lake. I was away from all the noise and parties till very late night but it also meant that I left Huacachina before it gets too dark as I walked back to the hostel. 

I paid S/7 (~USD 2.50 / ~AUD 3 / ~RM 9) for the taxi ride from Ica bus station to the hostel. The hostel is comfortable but the nearest shops is about 10 minutes walk away. I was starving so I had breakfast at the hostel at the day of arrival at the cost of S/7 (~USD 2.50 / ~AUD 3 / ~RM 9).

Lunch was at a restaurant named Rumi Wasi. They didn't serve set lunch so I order tacu-tacu (Peruvian style fried rice with beans), S/25 (~USD 8 / ~AUD 11 / ~RM 31), it was served with a yummy chilli concoction. The rice serving was huge!

After lunch, I continued walking to the oasis.

I didn't shop around to see which travel agencies offered the best deal but just booked via the hostel, so I am not sure what was the name of the shop. I booked a sand dunes buggy ride + sandboarding tour, S/50 (~USD 15 / ~AUD 21 / ~RM 62) and a day trip to Ballestas Islands + Paracas National Reserve tour, S/60 (~USD 18 / ~AUD 26 / ~RM 74). Both tours included pick up from hostel but I asked to be dropped off at Paracas instead of returning back to Ica.

Paddle boats for rent

The price of the sand dunes buggy ride + sandboarding tour does not include sand dunes entrance fee of S/3.60. This fee is only collected just before the start of tour, so please remember to bring some cash. I vaguely remembered this from my readings prior to the trip so I brought along a S/20 note because coincidentally that was the smallest note I had with me then. I was also paranoid of dropping my things during the buggy ride so I only brought along my sunnies, a mineral water bottle and mobile phone aside from S/20 note.

2 of my fellow sand buggy mates didn't bring any money (read: nobody wants to drop anything in sand dunes and have them forever lost), and as fate had it that I had enough to pay them too. There's a part 2 to this story - because I met them again the next in Paracas, they were also taking the same bus to Lima! What a coincidence! Mr U and his wife insisted on paying me back the sand dunes entrance fee. They are a lovely couple really. Mr U and his wife were celebrating their wedding anniversary and he wanted to bring his wife to see Machu Picchu.

From memory, the tour starts at about late 4ish-5pm, but I was picked up from the hostel at about 4:00pm so that I have some time to walkabout the oasis. I didn't know of this earlier and had already made a trip there myself. It last about 1.5 hours or so, and there were 10 of us including the driver. Wow, the buggy rides were like roller coaster!

We were also brought to the top of some dunes and had some photo taking opportunities.

Then we had a sandboarding practice, from a little dune. I had done sandboarding once, many years back when I was in Perth for the first time but I remembered I sandboarded down by sitting on the board. This time, however, we were taught to lie on the board, tummy down. I did the practice run but wanted to sit out on the ones from higher dunes. The driver was not having it though and I ended up went another 2 times. Scary but not as scary as walking on the wooden plank bridge though! Just remember try to keep the mouth closed to avoid eating sand. I passed my mobile phone and leftover change to my fellow buggy dunes mate for safekeeping when I went down those sand dunes.

Sandboarded down to where the buggy is
One more on the oasis before walking down from the dunes. I think it looks better in sunset colours.

I saw someone selling papa rellenas (stuffed potatoes), S/3 (~USD 1 / ~AUD 1.50 / ~RM 4) and of course I had to try it.

I met the sand dune buggy driver and his partner on my walk back to the hostel and they gave me a lift back.

Side note: Mr U told me that Nazca Lines are amazing - I didn't have time to go... 

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