Sandboarding in the desert oasis town of Huacachina Ica peru

 

Huacachina, in the Ica state of Peru, is where you see the ‘desert’ that everyone says coastal Peru is made of. With giant sloping sand dunes, bright clear skies, and the small oasis of a town that is Huacachina, you can be sure it won’t be a repeat of what you’ve seen anywhere else. In just 2 or 3 days you can get your fill of sandboarding and every other desert activity before the heat really gets to you.

 

Panoramic view of Huacachina Oasis Ica Peru

 

 

We boarded the 7am bus in the cold Lima fog and emerged four hours later into the dry desert heat of Ica. After the gray “donkey-belly” cloud covering Lima, this flashback to summer weather was everything. We grabbed a three-wheeled cart taxi and headed to Huacachina: a real-life desert oasis that looks like a mirage from a cartoon. You have to look a few times to be sure it isn’t, one quick glance and you could miss it.

 

 Oasis at Huacachina Ica Peru

 

The tiny oasis is only a hill away from Ica, but it’s completely surrounded by massive sand dunes. The town seems like a puddle of palm trees and little buildings that has run off the dunes around it and pooled in the middle. At every corner, little carts sell raspadilla (shaved ice) and people sit under palm trees or on patios around the waterfront. Almost every tiny hotel or hostel has a pool and about a million hammocks for you to be lazy in, and at night most of them offer open-bar barbecues in the warm night air.

 

Read more: Marcahuasi (Part 1): An Adventurous Definition of “Getting There”

 

On our first afternoon we ate ceviche, finished freezing cold beers and followed the few other travelers who had attempted to scale the sand dunes sans buggy. Just as we were heading up a pair of French guys came tumbling down the giant hill, sand flying everywhere, and at the end just stood up, shook off some sand, and stepped back in the pool area like it was no big deal, while laughing and probably saying something witty in French to each other.

 

 Top of the hill at Dunes of Huacachina Peru

 

So we followed their lead, and climbed towards the ridge of the dune to make our way up. People always run on the beach when they’re trying to up their workout, and if you’ve tried it you know how hard it is. The sand moves under you and you’re out of breath much more quickly. Imagine a massive, massive hill of sand…It was the workout of the year. But it was worth it almost immediately- first we got to look down at the town and get a perspective of how tiny it was in that desert. It looked like a toy diarama.  Once we made it to the first bit of the ridge, we could see for miles and miles over the other side. The sand went on forever in every direction, except one which had a tiny town sitting way out in the sand. After many breaks, trying to push each other off the sides, and playing in the sand, we reached the top just in time for sunset. As it was starting, we sat at the top closest to the sun where only three other people were waiting. As we sat in the warm wind and watched, we eavesdropped on the other three. The two girls had come together, and were asking the local man on his own if he had watched sunset from the top before. He told them that he worked in the tiny town, but lived just outside in Ica, and every day since he had begun working there, he would get off work in the afternoon, make the hike to the top, watch the sun fall, then walk down and go home for the night. Every single day. It had the most beautiful sunset, he said. They didn’t speak much Spanish so the conversation sort of ended there, but once they left we watched him, sitting alone, silently, and fully engrossed in the sunset he had seen a million times. It dropped and went from yellow to orange to burning pink. The sun finally dropped away completely but the sky remained, full of a neon pink haze that made the most unique sunset. Against the light but dramatic skyline of the dunes, it was such a breathtaking sunset. The man watched silently, fixated on it, and when the sun and all of the remaining color had left the sky and the stars became visible, he simply got up and began the long walk back down.

 

 

Sunset at Huacachina Peru

This is one of the things about Peru that never ceases to amaze me. The country has incredible landscapes, many of the ¨touristy¨ spots are still wildly unknown outside the country, and it’s the locals who make time to appreciate it every day. It’s amazing. At home in Los Angeles, I live right next to beautiful beaches, and I don’t know anyone who carves out that much time, every single day, to climb to see the same sunset.

 

Read more: Marcahuasi (Part 2): Peru’s Most Underrated Trek

 

Once the sun was entirely gone, all of the stars came out and the city lights from Ica (and a few from Huacachina) came on. Our moment was here. After wrapping our phones in layers to protect them from sand, emptying our pockets, and taking off our shoes, it was time to roll. You can run and jump straight out into the air and safely land ten feet below in a soft pile of sand. You can somersault, tumble, slide, do anything down this massive sandhill. Even though it only took ten minutes to get down and almost an hour to get up, it was the most fun I’ve had doing something so stupid in a very long time.

That night, people partied at the hostel and some nearby bars. It’s a fun place to go out, but casual. Many people stay longer just to party by night and be lazy by day, but seeing how tiny it is, you’ll be partying in the ame spots. There are quite a few all-you-can-eat-and-drink barbecues, and for the unlimited drinks alone it’s worth it. Just walk around and see which hostels or restaurants are doing them that night, and it’s a fun way to meet people.

 

 Megan-Sandboarding-Huacachina---The-Borderless-Project

 

Our second and last day was focused on sandboarding and riding in the crazy dune buggies. You constantly hear them, roaring up the hills and disappearing into the desert at all times of the day, and I was dying to be on one. Every company charges basically the exact same amount, so just go with whichever one you find first. It costs us 30 soles each for one hour of sandboarding. If you want to rent boots and properly sandboard, it’s extra, and you kind of need to already know how to because it’s not usually enough time to learn and enjoy it. Otherwise, keep it simple, and join everyone else who will be sitting or laying on their boards and sliding down- and it’s really fun and not lame like it sounds!

 

Read more: Cusco Town in 5 Days

 

To our luck, we were sat in the back row of the buggy with the entertainer of the group. Aka- the guy who got incredibly high before. I just love these people… We thought we were having an adventure going sandboarding, but our buddy over here takes it up a level, of course to realize that riding in a dune buggy built in a shape made for rolling over is more intense that he had planned. But he was just loving it- I have at least 10 videos, just of him yelling, laughing like a true maniac, and pointing and laughing at anyone who screamed when we went down a hill. It’s all about the people…

 

 

Raspadilla-Huacachina-Peru---The-Brderless-Project

 

Even though we only spent the weekend in Huacachina, it was wonderful to see and plenty of time to see it all. If you want a break to rest in between travels, you can have a nice relaxing experience and be lazy by the pool for a week, but if you’re on a tight schedule two or three days is how long most people stay in Huacachina. The dunes are spectacular, and it’s different from anywhere else you’ll go in Peru. Definitely go sandboarding, don’t try to save money on boots and then try to sandboard in normal shoes, and watch at least one breathtaking sunset from the top!

 

WEATHER & WHEN TO GO:

While you can visit Huacachina any time of the year, the best time to go is from May to November, when it’s not too hot. The weather in Huacachina has the perfect amount of heat during this time, especially if you’re coming from the cooler highlands or coast. If you go during the summer, December-April, be prepared with a lot of sunscreen and water.

From May to November, the weather usually ranges between 70 to 80 degrees fahrenheit (21 to 24 celcius) during the day, but drops a bit during the night, so make sure to bring some light pants or jackets for the mornings and evenings.

HOW TO GET THERE (or get to your next spot from there):

All buses will go in and out of Ica, which is just a short taxi ride from Huacachina. Whether you are trying to get a bus from Huacachina to Cusco (so Ica-Cusco) or a bus from Huacachina to Lima (Ica-Lima), here’s where you can get started. One major word of advice- this route, while not dangerous, is known for clever thieves in the bus stations and on the buses. Never leave things in the overheard compartments, and be wary of strangers who offer to put your bags up, “accidentally spill” and then try to help you move your stuff, or tell you to put your bags aside before boarding for a “security check” (there is no security check at bus stations). Buses with a lot of stops are where most bags get swiped, keep everything close to you.

 

CUSCO-ICA (16 Hours)

http://www.cruzdelsur.com.pe/

From Cusco to Ica / Prices about 160 soles

From Ica to Cusco / Prices about 160 soles

 

http://www.excluciva.pe/online2/ (can buy online)

From Ica to Cusco / Prices about 110 (economic class)

From Cusco to Ica / Prices about 100 (economic class)

 

http://www.floreshnos.net/

No prices on website / Buses leaves every 20 minutes

 

http://www.oltursa.pe/

From Ica to Cusco / Prices about 185 soles

From Cusco to Ica / Prices about 185 soles

 

http://www.tepsa.com.pe/

From Ica to Cusco / Prices about 150 soles

From Cusco to Ica / Prices about 150 soles

 

LIMA TO ICA  (4 Hours):

 

http://www.perubus.com.pe/ Prices about 35 soles

 

From Lima to Ica (Huacachina)

From Ica (Huacachina) to Lima

 

http://www.cruzdelsur.com.pe/   Price about 40 soles

From Lima to Ica (Huacachina)

From Ica (Huacachina) to Lima