Much of Peru’s coastline is covered in massive sand dunes – some of the largest in the world! Tucked among the dunes just outside of Ica is the beautiful desert oasis of Huacachina. While not nearly as popular as Machu Picchu, Huacachina has grown substantially more popular among those exploring Peru because of its unique beauty and the variety of fun activities to do in the area. From sandboarding and speeding around in a dune buggy to strolling around the oasis lake and watching the beautiful sunsets, there is a ton of fun to be had here.
Huacachina is a small desert oasis consisting of a palm-lined lagoon and little town surrounded by huge sand dunes. There is an interesting legend surrounding the lake. It says that a princess was walking through the desert while brushing her hair. She dropped her mirror when she was startled by a hunter who was watching her. The mirror transformed into the lake upon shattering and she jumped into it to hide. She soon found that she had been transformed into a mermaid when she had leapt into its waters. A statue of a mermaid sits in the town as a tribute to this legend.
The laguna is fed by a natural spring and people have long believed that its waters have healing properties. The oasis was once popular among the elite for that reason, and there was somewhat of a resort here. The small town we see surrounding the lake today has primarily grown due to tourism with a few hotels, restaurants, and tour offices set up in the area.
Getting to Huacachina
Though this little oasis feels quite remote, it is located not too far from Ica, which is a considerably large city and hub within the region. So, it is fairly easy to reach.
Huacachina is only a 15 minute drive from the heart of Ica. If you want the most flexibility for your visit, a car rental is a good option. There are some rental agencies in Ica, but there are definitely more options in Lima.
Alternatively, you can catch a taxi in Ica to take you to Huacachina for only a few USD. In the low season, there aren’t as many taxis rolling around Huacachina, so consider hiring a driver for the day if you are on a tight schedule. Agree on a price and confirm the time you’d like to head back to Ica if you aren’t staying in Huacachina. Many drivers we met in Peru were also glad to exchange WhatsApp numbers for us to reach them after we were done exploring for the day.
We aren’t aware of any combis or public buses that go to Huacachina from Ica or other surrounding cities.
There are the Peru Hop buses that go directly to Huacachina. We didn’t do much with Peru Hop since it was considerably more expensive than other bus transport and we tended to spend more time in each of the cites we visited instead of just passing through to see the highlights. But, it can be a good way to hit many of Peru’s highlights in a convenient manner.
A common way to reach Huacachina is by tour. There are many tour options from Lima, Paracas, and directly from Ica. If you’re limited on time or planning to take a tour from Lima, we recommend booking in advance. Various options can be found on sites like Get Your Guide, Viator, or directly on a tour agency’s site. Alternatively, you can book in person at offices in Lima, Ica, Nazca, or Paracas. We booked our tour a day in advance in Ica with Peru Your Trip.
There are a variety of itineraries offered between the many companies. Many of the tours from Lima and Paracas often include other stops, such as Paracas National Reserve. Note that private tours, tours with additional stops, and tours from outside Huacachina and Ica will be more expensive.
Some Quick Notes on Visiting
Before we get into the details of our experience, we wanted to touch on a few things. While we had a great time on our tour, we wish we would have stayed in Huacachina instead of Ica. We enjoyed exploring Ica, but the highlight of our visit to the area was definitely Huacachina and we wish we would have had more than just a couple hours to spend there. If we stayed in Huacachina, we would have had more time to explore the dunes and enjoy the scenery on our own instead of being on a tour timeline.
If you are taking a day tour from Lima or other location, this may not be an option. But if you happen to be spending multiple days in the area and have to pick between staying in Ica or Huacachina, we’d recommend staying in Huacachina. There are some accommodation options available there.
If you do stay in Ica, an alternative to a day tour from there would be to make your own way to Huacachina and find a tour once there. That way, you could explore more of the oasis before or after your tour.
Our Huacachina Day Tour
We met our tour group near Ica’s Plaza de Armas and hopped in a van. Our driver took us around Ica’s center while our guide pointed out some landmarks and told us some facts and history.
We headed further towards the edge of the city, soon reaching Parque de Las Brujas de Cachiche. This area was supposedly once inhabited by witches. Today it is a small, touristy park with some statues and vendors selling souvenirs nearby. It wasn’t an attraction we would go out of our way to stop at, but this was only a brief part of our tour. You can pay a few soles to the people there if you’re interested in learning more about the history.
After this quick stop, we headed to El Catador. Pisco originated from this region of Peru and here, we were able to learn about how it is made, see a little of the process, and taste some samples. Then off we went to Huacachina.
Our group was dropped off in town and we were given some time to buy food, walk around town, see the lake, etc. Visitors can also rent a paddle boat to go out on the lake, but we didn’t have the time to do this. We then met back up at the indicated time, eager for our dune buggy tour.
We hopped into the buggy, got a safety talk, and sped off into the desert. Our guide stopped at a few locations to let us all take in the views, snap some photos, and watch other ATVs and buggies cruise up and down the dunes.
They also brought out the sand boards for a little and we took turns flying down the sandy hillside. This portion of the tour seemed to pass too quickly and before we knew it, we were headed back to Huacachina to board our van back to Ica.
What to Bring
Water: Bring enough water for the duration of your tour. You can also buy some in Huacachina if needed.
Camera: If you want to capture your adventure.
Sun Protection: There is little shade out here, so bring your hat and sunscreen.
Sunglasses: To protect your eyes from sunlight, sand, and wind while exploring the dunes.
Layers: Nights can be chilly, especially in the cooler months, so pack a light jacket.
Cash: Some extra soles to rent a sand board or paddle boat, tip your guide, make purchases in Huacachina, etc.