Just over four hours outside Lima, along the desert coast of southern Peru lays the Ica region. Known for its vast dessert, sand dunes, and valleys, Ica is home of the famous desert oasis of Huacachina. Built around a small natural lake in the middle of a desert, Huacachina is also known as the “Oasis of America. Legends claim that the water and mud have curative powers thus both locals and tourists often bath in the waters or plaster themselves with the mud in an attempt to cure their ailments.
Getting to Ica from Lima is quite simple. We took the Cruz del Sur Express bus to Ica for S/30 ($10), which took a little over 4 hours. The bus was comfortable, with large reclining seats, each with their own personal TV screens.
When we arrived in Ica, stepping off the bus, the first thing I noticed was the intense dry heat. I looked around to see a desert town with high sand dunes peaking out from behind the rooftops. The heat was stifling, but fortunately for us, our hotel was less than 10 minutes away from the bus station.
We decided to splurge and stay at Hotel Botique La Angostura. with rooms starting at around $58.00. 10 km away from the main square, the hotel was complete with a restaurant, pool, small gym, and a whirlpool Jacuzzi in the bathroom, where I took my first bath in over a year (woohoo!). The hotel was quiet, and the staff was friendly, so all in all I was pretty happy with our selection. You can also sign up for various tours at the front desk, including to Huacachina.
The main purpose of visiting Ica was to see the famous sand oasis of Huacachina. Through the reception desk at the hotel, we signed up for the dune bugging and boarding tour, which also included transportation. You can also take a taxi to Huacachina, and once you get there, tour guides are lined up all over the place, trying to recruit tourists, and are usually cheaper than booking it with the hotel.
The tour ran S/60 ($20) per person, and we opted for the 4:30 pm tour, the last one of the day, which was ideal because the sun was going down and it was a lot cooler. A bit after 4:30 pm, we piled into the dune buggy and buckled ourselves in. The overhead seatbelt however, was obviously not made for tall people, as it was quite snug in the crotch area.
Almost as soon as the driver started the engine, we began racing at top speed up and down the dunes. The experience was comparative to riding a roller coaster over the dunes, with everyone was screaming with their hands in the air. Not me though, I was hanging on tight!
After riding around for a bit, the driver parked the buggy and everyone got out. He then passed out long boards for sand boarding. The first time we went down the dune on our stomachs, which was a lot like sledding. The second time we went down standing up on the board, and I am happy to say that I am the only one in the group who made it all the way down without falling.
The driver made various stops along the way so we could get out and take pictures, and the final stop was at the oasis.
The entire tour lasted about 45 minutes, and by the time it was over everyone has sand in their hair and was dumping sand out of their shoes. I’m really glad I wore a hat and sunglasses because you will get blasted with winds of sand.
After the tour, we made our way over to the small town that surrounds the oasis to take a look around. The town is so small that you can make your way around it in 5 minutes. According to census records, there are about 100 people that live in Huacachina although it hosts thousands of tourists year round. It was Sunday so things were pretty dead, but we were told that on Friday and Saturday things really pick up.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel and headed back to Lima. One day in Ica was sufficient for me, but had we stayed longer I would’ve liked to have visited Paracas, a small port town known for marine animal watching and beaches, which was just about an hour away. But that will have to wait until next time!