Perhaps I just wasn’t as travel saavy as I thought but I had NO idea that 4 hours outside of Lima lay rolling desert sand dunes not unlike that of the Sahara and Namibian desert. I only found out after reading blogs while planning my Peru trip but I am here to report that the coastal area of Peru is in fact, one big ass desert. Huacachina, a town 4 hours outside of Lima and 1 hour from Paracas, has the most picturesque. The type of desert you think of when you’re thinking of wandering aimlessly through sand and more sand.
Getting to Huacachina
There are numerous tour companies that offer day trips to Huacachina and a bunch of other things along the way. These tours can run anywhere from 200-500 soles depending on the operator and how the tour is run (bus vs private taxi, etc.). However, it is very possible to just come to Huacachina for the day to sandboard on the dunes, and go back to Lima on the same day.
From Lima, take the Cruz Del Sur bus to Ica at 6:30am. Bus fares are usually costs 30-40 soles (~$10), and takes about 4 hours. From Ica, there will be people trying to sell you on a variety of different tours in the area. As of 09/2016, the going rate for the standard dunebuggy+sandboarding tour of Huacachina is 40-50 soles. Do not let them rip you off!!! If they don’t offer these prices, tell them to get lost and head straight to Huacachina.
From the Ica bus station, there will be many cabs waiting outside and a taxi ride to Huacachina runs 10-15 soles.
From our hotel in Paracas, we rented a driver for the day to take us to the Tacama winery, then to Huacachina for a desert tour, and back to Paracas for 220 soles (~$65). The drive each way is 1 hour, and our driver waited for us the entire time so the price seemed fair. If I hadn’t booked it from our fancy hotel, I’m sure we could have received a better rate but split between 2 people, we couldn’t complain.
Huacachina town is a tiny town sandwiched between giant sand dunes. You can walk from one end to the other end in 10 minutes There isn’t much to see as this town looks pretty much completely made for tourism. There are tourism agencies, hotels, restaurants, bars, and more tourism agencies.
Dune buggies are literally everywhere so if you were ever worried about missing out on tours, worry not because this town lives off tourism. Aside from all that, the town is actually kind of quaint and has some character.
The buildings and sidewalks are of old colonial style architecture and in the middle of town is a large pond surrounded by palm trees and sand. Oh, and of course, the town is sandwiched between two GIANT sand dunes! From the pictures, it seems like the place is a lost oasis town in the middle of a desert. Sadly, it’s just missing the camels.
Huacachina Desert Tour
As far as booking a tour goes, literally just walk into ANY hotel, ANY restaurant, ANY tourism office. Or better yet, talk to ANYONE on the street that looks like they may be selling tours. The tours are all the same.
- You will board a medium sized or large dune buggy depending on your group size
- They will drive you around the dunes are exasperatingly fast speeds as you zoom up and down the dunes
- You’ll stop for sandboarding. Standing up or laying flat is up to you
- Stop for some views
- lasts 2-3 hours, multiple tour times per day
After reading reviews of the tours, I decided I wanted to go on the sunset tour at 4pm so we could get views of the sun setting over the dunes.
We boarded our dune buggy with six other people, and away we went up the huge mound of sand. We drove for a few minutes into the desert and in an instant, our expressionless driver unloaded on the gas and we were soaring through the dunes like a roller coaster after its long initial ascent ascent. We were going full speed up and down these dunes that it really felt as if I was going on a roller coaster. Everyone was screaming in excitement on each descent. This adrenaline induced activity continued for another half hour before we finally stopped to soak in the views.
Incredible Desert Views
Incredible. The views were absolutely breathtaking. I’ve been on various dunes before in Jordan, Namibia, Tunisia, and Morocco. The dunes in Huacachina reminded me most of the dunes in Swakopmund, Namibia. Huacachina however, is surrounded by giant mountains adding another layer of complexity to its landscape that other places I’ve been to do not have. Huacachina’s dunes are in fact much smaller than other deserts, but it is still big enough to feel like you’re the only person in the middle of a desert, surrounded by nothing but sand. However, on this day, there were numerous other dune buggies out at the same time so this was not the case!
Sandboarding in Huacachina
After some adrenaline induced driving, it was time to sandboard. The top of the dunes were a lot steeper than they looked and my initial plans to sandboard standing up were quickly dashed. I forgot how much speed you get, especially as our driver decided to wax the hell out of our boards. Think of it as extreme sledding.
Looking back on the experience, I would definitely consider staying a night in Huacachina instead of just doing the day trip. As the town is literally surrounded by sand dunes, I think it would be cool to wake up in the morning, climb to the top of a dune and watch the sunrise. Of course, that’s assuming the bars and alcohol don’t get in the way.
Those staying in and around Ica that want a different type of activity should think about visiting the Tacama Winery. This region of Peru is home to mountains, desert, and wineries (???). Yes, Peru’s wine and pisco producing regions are here. Peru is not well known for their wines and I don’t think I’ve seen much of their product outside of Peru and Bolivia but the Tacama winery is still well worth the visit. Located 20 minutes from Ica by car, it is the nicest winery in the region. Of course, this isn’t saying much after extensively touring through South Africa’s wine region but it’s a nice day trip from the surrounding areas.
Tours are free, last for two hours, and includes a mini tasting at the end. Wine and pisco are both made at this place and they made damn good pisco sours at the restaurant.
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