Huacachina is a tiny village in Peru, containing a famous oasis and for which tourism is the main industry. It is located in the coastal region of Peru, close to Ica, after which the region is named, and is most of a day’s drive by bus South of Lima, a similar distance North of Nazca, and is not far from the Pan-American highway, the main route through Peru.
The coastal region of the South of Peru is a vast desert. The deserts in this area have several names, depending on the location, but they are all a continuation of the same desert of which the Atacama in neighbouring Chile is the most famous part (famous for being the driest place on the Earth). So the Oasis at Huacachina is a spectacular sight – a very rare place of greenery in an otherwise relentlessly bleak landscape.
It is a tiny location, although it does have a few restaurants, bars and clubs; these are very cheap by UK standards (but expensive for Peruvian) – we ate for less than £10 per person for a lunch with wine. Vegetarians here will generally get a dish of rice and beans (you’d better get used to that if you are veggie in Peru!), but meat eaters should try the coastal fish dish ceviche (don’t eat this outside of the coastal regions – it’s raw). We passed through here en route South, but you can stay here – tourism is the main industry here.
As well as palm trees and a lake, it is home to a thriving adventure sport industry – people come here for the sand buggy rides and to try the sand boarding, which cost about US $65 (about £30). Most of our group opted for the adventure tour, but a couple stayed to look at jewellery and to visit a nearby museum.
The sand buggies are like skeletal jeeps – all of the doors, roof and hood are missing, replaced with a brightly coloured roll-cage. The tyres are more or less slick. The buggies contain three chairs up front and three raised rear seats, with high head rests and full body harnesses to keep you secure.
You start the exhilarating trip in a much calmer manner by driving slowly through urban roads: the sense of poverty here amongst the majority of the population outside the immediate tourist hotels was very tangible. Then you turn off-road and take to the dunes and the adrenaline adventure starts as the driver hurls you around, doing fast turns, taking you up and down what feel like impossibly steep hills (giving you the feeling you are about to roll!) and hurtling towards what appear to be cliffs, but are just the lip of another steep hill. It is a breathtaking experience.
These steep and high dunes shift over time, so the trails you follow are only occasionally visible in front of you, and not well-carved. Once you have lost sight of the town, it feels like the dunes go on for ever – it would be extremely easy to get lost here were the vehicle to break down. For the most part, the sand is firm enough to drive on – it does not feel like cycling on the beach does.
Then, when you reach a particularly tall dune, the driver tells you about the other half of your trip: “who wants to go sandboarding?”
Sandboarding, like the name suggests is where you take a board (like a snowboard) and ride it down one of the steep dunes. Then when you get to the bottom, you go back round and start again. There are several ways that you can ride the dunes, but the easiest for beginners is to lie on your stomach on the board and go down head first down the steepest part of the dune. This leaves you streamlined and with your weight positioned so that you don’t “dig-in”, meaning you can pick up a fair bout of speed by the time you reach the bottom a hundred or so of feet below – we had a bit of a competition to see who could get furthest without falling off (which many people did). As this desert is close to the equator, the sand here is extremely hot, so a few people got burns when doing this.
Much harder to do, but just as much fun, is riding the board standing. Only about half the group braved this option, most of whom were experienced skiers. This kind of boarding requires careful waxing of the board before you start (with a candle of all things) to enable you to smoothly ride the snow. I was very worried when I tried this that I would not be able to stay standing at the speeds I had reached when travelling head first on my stomach. As it transpired, this was not an issue – my balance was absolutely terrible and so I kept sliding down only twenty feet or so before the board dug into the sand and I had to dig it out again with my bare hands – not the easiest thing to do when the sand is so hot! But on the plus side, it meant I got the whole way down without falling off once.
After this, we raced down on foot back to the oasis for a well-deserved lunch. That’s when I discovered that running in sandals in a near-equatorial desert is a very bad idea – the sand gets between your feet and the sandals and burns the soles of the feet – so make sure you wear shoes that cover your feet if you do this!
In conclusion, this is a great place to go for a spot of rest and relaxation, but even better for adventure sports.