Somewhere that has recently begun to become a mainstay on the backpacker route in South America is Peru’s desert oasis-Huacachina. It is known for its stunning vistas, wild parties, and adrenaline activities amongst other things. The town was originally built on the site of a natural desert oasis but in more recent years as the water in the oasis has begun to decline, it is now primarily supplied with water by manmade systems.
To reach it, you will need to take a bus from Lima to the city of Ica to the south and from there it is a very short trip to Huacachina. This can be done in a taxi, minibus or you can hire your own car in Ica. Huacachina is situated only about a 10 minute drive from the centre of Ica so it is very accessible without your own form of transport, and it will not break the bank.
When you are here, the place to be is the Wild Rover Hostel. There is a chain of Wild Rover Hostels across Peru, and in each one you will be sure to find a group of likeminded travellers and often some big parties. The one in Huacachina is no different and it is here that some of the biggest parties in the oasis happen. A staple of the Wild Rover Hostels is the free shots that are given away at different points in the night.
You will be minding your own business when the beautiful words “Free Shots!” are bellowed out by one of the bar tenders. All of the travellers then proceed to line up along the bar as one bar tender will walk along the bar tipping alcohol into each person’s mouth from a great height. Only when the mouth is full of liquid will the bar tender move onto the next person. This can happen as often as 2 or 3 times in a night but really there is no schedule behind it.
On top of that, there is a dice game that is often played by the bartenders with drunk guests where from 5 dice you aim to role a 4, 5 and 6. If you are unable to do this in 3 roles, you will have to buy a round of drinks for everybody that is playing the game. Baby Guinness was always the go to when I was there as it was the cheapest. It is a great way to get free drinks if you are a lucky dice player. On the other hand, it can get quite expensive quite quickly if your luck is not there.
There are a few activities that everybody does in Huacachina. The first is the sand dune tour. You and some other travellers will be strapped into the back of a dune buggy and spend the next hour or so speeding around the sand dunes. If that wasn’t enough, many of the companies will also allow you to go sandboarding in the dunes. There are not many places in the world where you can experience such an activity and certainly not to the scale that you can in Huacachina. The dunes are massive!
This experience is a true adrenaline activity. The time that you spend flying through the sand dunes just outside the desert oasis really puts you on the edge of your seat. All of the safety measures are put in place, such as full body seatbelts, but as you sail over the top of some of those dunes, it feels as though you really are on the edge. The sandboarding is just the icing on the cake of an experience that is already a must do when in Peru. For anyone who has never heard of sandboarding, what usually happens is that you lie on what would have been a snowboard and go headfirst down the dune. This lets you get up to some serious speeds on the larger dunes. So, if you are an adrenaline freak like me then make sure to book a trip that offers sandboarding as well.
I have two main tips for you before you go on a sand dune tour. First, make sure to take something to cover your mouth and eyes as the sand really does get everywhere. Secondly, try to go in the afternoon just before sunset. Whilst I was doing it the sun went down and it was beautiful. We were able to stop and watch the sun dip below the sand dunes and the whole sky was lit up in a stunning shade of purple as it did so.
There is also the possibility to do a day trip to the Ballestas Islands. These islands are often referred to as Peru’s answer to the Galapagos and are teaming with wildlife, from penguins to cormorants. The islands are not able to be visited on foot by tourists, but boats will circle around to ensure you get the best view of the wildlife. The trips in the boats last about 2 hours as the islands themselves are 12 miles off the coast of mainland Peru. If you are someone who is into wildlife, then this is certainly a trip that you will want to be taking from Huacachina.
Such a trip would require an early wake up in Huacachina as the town closest to the islands is more than an hours drive away, and everybody wants to get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds. Therefore, if this is something that you want to do, make sure to leave the party at the Wild Rover early the night before!
What I hope I have shown to you, very briefly, is that Huacachina is certainly not somewhere that you should miss off your South America itinerary. Not only is it a true backpacker’s hub with parties and adventure activities, it also is a great centre to stay a few days and visit places such as the Ballestas Islands or the Pisco region to try some of Peru’s traditional drink.
It is definitely one of a kind and Peru’s desert oasis Huacachina should not be missed.