Huacachina: oasis in the desert

The desert of Peru stretches from Chile almost all the way to Lima, and one of the few cities in the desert is Ica, a colonial Spanish city known for its wine and a cool museum with pre-Incan mummies with elongated heads.

But where you really want to be is Huacachina. It’s a true oasis town, with around 100 residents, about 4 kilometers from Ica. We hopped off the bus in Ica, got a taxi for 10 soles, and arrived at one of the several hostels in Huacachina by 10 am. Legend states that a young Incan princess was bathing when stumbled upon by a hunter. Shocked, she ran away, leaving her cloak in the bath. It grew until it became the oasis. For many years Peruvians visited the oasis, believing it had healing powers. Now the secret is out, and backpackers come to enjoy the sand dunes, paddle around the small oasis, and enjoy the hot climate.

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Jordan was terribly sick and spent the whole day in bed recovering from a virus and fever. So Sarah Ann and I explored the tiny town (five minutes walking and you’re done) and booked the most popular tour: sand buggy and sandboarding. We were advised to take the 4 pm tour by some backpackers we met, because it ends with the sunset at 6. I’m so glad we took their advice!

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We walked into a random tourist office, talked about pricing with the guy, and got our two-hour tour for 12 USD apiece! For perspective on price, our hostel was selling the tour for 16 USD apiece, and it included boot bindings for the sandboarding.

I had done sand dunes in Dubai with Jordan, but this was more fun because it was an actual dune buggy (rather than a 4×4) where you could feel the wind in their face and see the sand flying past.


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Our driver gave us ample time to take photos in the desert. Then we went sandboarding! Wow, that was intense. We stuck to laying on stomachs or just sitting on the board.

IMG_2984Our driver took us to three or four different dunes, ranging from small to large. By the end, at the largest one (easily 70 feet tall I think) several of the passengers didn’t want to risk it. I had already wiped out on a medium-sized hill, so I thought my dignity was gone, so I might as well. I whizzed down that thing at around 40 miles an hour–and I’m not exaggerating! At the bottom the sand had been swept into ridges, which knocked the air out of my chest when I went over them. Before I had regained my breath, the dune buggy flew down a shallower slope and the driver said, “Vamanos! Now! The sunset!”

I wasn’t sure I would ever catch my breath again. Did you know running up sand dunes is really difficult? But the sunset was more than worth it.

IMG_3020We were both very impressed. I hadn’t seen such a spectacular sunset in a long time. The clouds looked like crushed velvet and the sand below like brushed satin.

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By the end of the night, Jordan’s fever had dropped to a low-grade, which made all of us sigh in relief. There was no pharmacy in town, so we had been giving him ibuprofen and tylenol, hoping that the heat and lack of air conditioning wouldn’t make his fever worse. He made a full recovery by the next morning, even though he was still tired, and we left Huacachina behind (it really is good only for one or two days) and headed for Lima, a five hour bus trip.

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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