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Picture a vast desert with gigantic sand dunes reaching up into the sky. Now picture a little lake, surrounded by a couple of buildings, nestled deep in the valley of these huge sand dunes. That is Huacachina. A perfect little oasis town in the middle of the desert!
There are lots of things to do to Huacachina, pronounced as “Whaka-cheena”, to keep you busy for a few days. It’s the adventure centre of the Ica District in Peru, offering sandboarding, sand skiing and dune buggy rides for the thrill seekers. For the less wild at heart there are pedal boats on the lake and hikes up the dunes to watch the famous sunsets.
Huacachina has a thriving backpacking scene with bus loads of tourists arriving every day. There are a wide range of restaurants and bars and the parties go on late into the night. Don’t be put off with all the tour touts. With so many adventure companies all vying for the same business the touts must work extra hard to entice you with all the things to do in Huacachina.
This town is fun central and an absolute must on any Peruvian Itinerary!
THINGS TO DO IN HUACACHINA
DUNE BUGGY RIDES
Without a doubt, the most popular thing to do in Huacachina is dune buggy rides. The drivers may seem completely crazy, but they are also incredibly good drivers, flying up the face of one dune and then plummeting down the other side. It’s an exhilarating experience, the wind flying through your hair and your tummy dropping as if on a rollercoaster ride.
Most dune buggy rides include sandboarding. They are generally older boards and are only to be used lying on your tummy to go down the dunes. The dune buggies stop 3 or 4 times at the top of big dunes and everyone gets a turn to fly down the hill on the sandboard.
Dune buggy rides go at all times of the day, but opting for the late afternoon ride is best, as you get to stop to watch the sunset over the dunes. Make sure to take something warm for after the sun sets as it gets rather nippy very quickly.
The dune buggy rides are usually 2 hours long and start from 30 soles.
SAND BOARDING / SAND SKIING
If you’ve snow skied or snow boarded then why not give it a try on sand? Skiing down sand dunes – it doesn’t get more novel than that! This is an extreme sport for those looking for a real thrill!
And no, you don’t have to walk back up to the top once you’ve skied/snow boarded down. The dune buggy will drop you at the top of the dune and collect you at the bottom. A win win!
For safety reasons, the tour companies require that you do a test run close to town. This requires a walk up the first dune, but its easily done and you get a great view over the oasis. A couple of runs down the slope and then its off to the dune buggy for a wild ride through the dunes.
When choosing a tour company, it is vital that you check their equipment and their online reviews. We decided to go with Dito Sand XSports for a number of reasons and can highly recommend them.
Their equipment was new and well looked after and their guides spoke excellent English. The owner, Dito Victor Chavez, is also the first even Peruvian to qualify for the Snow Boarding World Championships and he is busy practising for the Olympics in Beijing in 2022. Not bad for someone who learnt how to snowboard on sand!
His brilliant sandboarding ability, along with excellent service was the reason we choose their tour, but even more impressive was their social outreach program. Every Sunday, they have a group of orphans who come to Huacachina for sandboard coaching by Dito. These kids are doing incredibly well and Dito now organises a monthly competition with other sandboarding schools in the country.
The sandboarding / skiing tour and dune buggy ride starts at 3pm every afternoon and lasts for 3 hours. The first hour is for training to test your proficiency. The next 2 hours are on the dune buggy where you will get at least 4 opportunities to ski/ sandboard down the dunes.
The instructors take lots of photos and videos on a GoPro which they share with you at the end of the tour. All the equipment is provided – ski, sandboard, helmet, boots, goggles and wax to make the ski/board slide on the sand.
The cost is 150 soles (45 USD).
Dito Sand XSports Contact Details:
+51 997 221 530
HIKING UP THE SAND DUNES
Hiking up the sand dunes is no mean feat! Trust me, it looks easier than it is, but if your goal is to stand on the very tippy top of the dunes, then hiking is what you will have to do. The dune buggy’s cant ride to the very crest of the dunes, so walking is the only way.
It will save you the dune buggy ride fee and if you time it right, the incredible sunset will make it all worth it!
Make sure to take bug repellent as the sand flies can cause a nasty bite, and grab something warm if you plan to be up there after the sun goes down.
For those looking for a calmer more romantic activity, why not hire a paddle boat on the oasis? There are lots for hire all around the lake and you’ll get a unique perspective of this incredible natural wonder from a tranquil setting.
ENJOY THE LAKES HEALING PROPERTIES
Many Peruvians believe the waters of the lake have healing and therapeutic properties. You’ll find them swimming and plastering the mud on their bodies. As therapeutic as it may be, you wouldn’t catch me in the water for all the tea in China! The dark green colour made it looked rather toxic! There are some things rather left to the locals and this is one of them.
WATCH THE SUNSET
As evening draws near, the dunes become a hive of activity with dune buggies careering about, hikers summiting the highest dunes and groups of visitors finding their spot in the sand from which to watch the sunset.
As the sun dips down, so the sands change from gold to orange to red. The sunsets at Huacachina are something quite spectacular and worth the huffing and puffing to climb uphill in the sand.
PARTY IN THE OASIS
With this many backpackers, it goes without saying that the parties are legendary! The weekends are when it all happens so if you are averse to noise, make sure to book accommodation away from the bars or try and visit during the week when things are a lot quieter.
Casa de Arena and Huacaf*ckingchinas are the liveliest so if you’re looking for a place to party on a Saturday night, these are your go to spots.
Pisco is the National Peruvian drink. Made from white grapes, this brandy-like drink is the basis for the famous Pisco Sours. The district of Ica is famous for its vineyards and the production of Pisco and its only a 10minute drive from Huacachina.
If you want to learn more about the production of Pisco and of course to sample some of their finest, then why not do a tour of the vineyards.
Fancy a flight to see the famous Nazca Lines? The origins of these huge geoglyphs have stymied scientists for years. Many theories abound as to who created them and for what purpose, but nothing is clear.
Viewing these incredible shapes of birds, animals and geometric shapes, from high above is absolutely bucket list stuff. There are quite a few flight charter companies to choose from. There are lots of articles about how you must do lots of research on each airline for safety reasons, but they are all pretty much the same. A few years ago there were some fatal accidents and the airlines all clamped down to standardise the flight costs and to ensure that proper safety practices were being adhered to. Its for this reason that the prices increased and are all much of a muchness.
The planes are little six-seaters and they roll from side to side to allow everyone a chance to look down on the different Nazca lines. This can make the best of us feel a little queasy, so make sure to take airsick pills beforehand.
The flights start from $65 USD if you buy at the airport. They start from $80 USD online.
Isla Ballestas is also known as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”. These rocky islands off the coast of Paracas, are teeming with sea life, from sea lions and penguins to pelicans, seagulls and myriad of other sea birds.
The boat trip to the islands takes you past the famous Andean Candelabra, a geoglyph dating back to Pre-Inca days in the shape of a candelabra. Then boat then veers out to sea to the Isla Ballestas. You’ll know you’re getting close when the smell of the guano hits you, but you’ll be entranced at the sea lions flopping over rocks and barking when anyone comes near. The islands are bursting at the seams with squawking birds and the sky overhead is full of hundreds of flocks of gulls.
The tour takes 2 hours and is worth every minute!
The tour costs S/25 ($7.50) per person for a 2 hour boat trip, but as we are coming to realise, in Peru, everyone needs to take a cut. So first you buy your tickets, then when you get to the port, you pay S/5 for port tax, then you pay S/11 for entry to the National Park.
VISIT PLAYA ROJA
The Paracas National Park is teeming with sea life. Gulls, Turkey Vultures and even Condor’s fly overhead while sea lions and penguins laze on the vast stretches of beaches. The beaches are beautiful, long and wild. They are also mostly white except for Playa Roja which incredibly has red sand created by the erosion of porphyry rocks found in the hills of the Paracas Peninsula. Absolutely amazing to behold!
Make sure to stop at the archeological site to see 35 million year old seashell fossils. The entire region used to be under the sea and the remnants from that time are still evident.
The Paracas National Park has some stunning scenery. Sand stretching for as far as the eye can see and one of the richest eco-systems in South America.
Entry to Paracas National Park is S/ 7 ($2)
OUR TOP TIPS FOR BOOKING A TOUR IN HUACACHINA
- Make sure to shop around to get the best price and definitely try and negotiate
- Check the equipment to ensure it is up to standard. You don’t want to be using old sandboards when coming down these super steep dunes.
- Make sure your guide speaks good English
- Check online reviews about each company to make sure they have a good track record
WHERE TO STAY IN HUACACHINA
For an all-inclusive priced stay, this hostel offers it all. Daily breakfast is included as well as a daily tour. These consist of a Dune Buggy Tour, a Barbecue Dinner or a Wineries Tour. There is a fabulous swimming pool, which is greatly needed in the heat. Or chill out in one of the many hammocks.
Luxury tented camp almost on the dunes. Each comes with two double beds, a kitchenette and a shared bathroom. There is a big pool with lots of loungers and hammocks for utmost relaxation. Perfectly situated a few minutes from the centre of Huacachina.