Travelers who’ve spent long periods of time in the desert have come to coin a term known as “desert hallucinations.” Having to ration their water under the hot sun for days at a time has brought all sorts of hallucinations from being rescued by soldiers, imagining transport to get home, and the most common, a perfect desert oasis.
Huacachina is a small desert city in Peru where you won’t have to worry about the damaging effects of the dry climate. The city was built around a real desert oasis, with a lagoon and palm trees at the center of it. The unique location has been a huge attraction for visitors, beginning with the wealthier Peruvians in the 1940’s. Today, international travelers from all over the world are drawn to Huacachina and it continues to move up the list as one of Peru’s bucket list destinations.
No matter where in the country you’re departing from, you must first make your way to Ica to get to Huacachina. From Ica, it’s a short taxi to the desert city that costs about 12 soles. Let’s look at some of the options from Inca’s epicenter – the city of Cusco.
Book a Flight to Lima
It’s a very long overground journey from Cusco to Ica. So, it’ll probably suit you to first fly to Lima. Flying to Lima takes about 1.5 hours and the price tag can range from $60 to $120 depending on the airline. But, your journey won’t stop there.
From Lima, you’ll have to take a bus to Ica. You have two bus options for this leg of the trip, which typically takes about 4-5 hours.
The local buses are definitely a more affordable option. Customer service is only available in Spanish, and the quality of buses varies depending on the company you travel with. Direct buses are available but prevent any opportunities to stop at some of the tour sites along the way. A bus ticket will cost about $5, or 17 soles.
*Total price: $68-$128, or 230-430 soles (including taxi)
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Peru Hop offers hotel pick-up if you choose to stay in Lima for a few days. They offer bilingual assistance and exclusive discounts on restaurants and accommodations. Another perk is the tours and stops along the way. You can choose to purchase a bus pass which allows you to hop on and off and various destinations if you want to spend a few nights in one location before moving on.
Peru Hop is also a great option to take from Cusco. It will allow you to first take the bus to Lima, and you can do the hop on-hop off option there. When you’re done exploring the capital, you can hop back on and make your way to Ica. This helps with breaking up the long trip.
*Total price varies depending on the stops
Direct Bus from Cusco
The direct bus route from Cusco takes about 20 hours across the Nazca desert and the dangerous Andes mountains. This is the most affordable option, but also a riskier one. Overall, it’ll cost about $15, or 50 soles.
*Total price: $20, or 62 soles (including taxi)
What to Do
The sand dunes tend to be the ultimate attraction factor for thrill-seeking adventurers. From sandboarding to sand buggy tours and dune hiking, you’ll be sure to get your fill.
You can choose between a full sandboarding tour that takes you to four specific locations for about 150 soles, or $50, per person. If that price seems steeper than the dunes themselves, you can also rent the boards for about 35 soles, or $10. You should be pretty satisfied with having a go at it yourself considering you’ll be surrounded by dunes to play on.
Book a Sand Buggy Tour
Between 7 Am – 6 PM, you can book a sand buggy tour. Prepare for your adrenaline to spike as the buggy makes its way up and down the dunes at high speeds. For the best deal, walk right up to where the buggies are parked and negotiate directly with the drivers.
The daytime tours take 2 hours and cost around 40 soles ($13 USD). The first and last tours of the day are the exceptions – they only last an hour and cost about 20-30 soles ($7-$10 USD.)
Hike to the Sunset
Hiking up the sand dunes for the perfect sunset view is a must. Past the water tower, you’ll find a narrow path that leads to a giant sand dune perfect for sunset viewing and is the best spot for taking photos above the city. Once the sun dips below the horizon, the city is covered in a pink-purple hue creating a magical moment.
Party the Night Away
The city was developed to cater specifically to tourists. And what do tourists like to do? Party. The hotels in the area are known for throwing the best pool and club parties. And the cherry on top is the price tag: free.
Visit the Winery
One of the oldest vineyards in South America is located just 30 minutes from Huacachina. The Tacama winery provides tasting tours for about 10 soles ($3) and includes tastings of three wines and a Pisco.
Although the vineyard is surrounded by desert and dry climate, the soil is rather fertile, and water is supplied via an irrigation canal from the Andes highlands. The winery sells a variety of wines and Piscos made of 23 different kinds of grapes.
Fly Over Nazca
The Nazca Lines are ancient drawings made of different geometrical shapes and figures, often depicting animals. The reason or purpose for the lines remains one of Peru’s biggest mysteries. The area is officially protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is best seen from above. You can book a private plane from Huacachina for a once in a lifetime experience.
Where to Stay
There are several hostels and hotels in the area to choose from.
Wild Rover is one of those party hostels that doesn’t charge an entrance fee for its pool and parties. Which basically means you’ll be sharing your pool with others who don’t actually have a reservation. However, if you’re here for the party, this might be the place for you.
Another option is Banana’s Adventure Hostel. This place has a more laid back vibe and caters to couples and travelers in their late 20’s and early 30’s. It’s perfect for those who want a great deal and a good night’s sleep.
If you’re going to choose a hotel, you might as well choose the nicest one. Hands-down it’s Las Dunas Hotel. With three pools, three restaurants, two bars, and a spa, you’ll feel like you’re at a 5-star resort. It’s perfect for a romantic getaway, or if you’re just looking to splurge a bit.
The currency in Peru is the sol. $1 is about 3 soles. Though you’re in Peru, don’t expect your vacation at Huacachina to be dirt cheap. Remember, it’s a place for tourists so you’ll need to budget accordingly.
Some bigger hotels and fancier restaurants might take credit card, but most places only take cash. Make sure to have enough on hand. Converting your money to local currency might prevent you from being overcharged.
The weather in Huacachina is hot and dry, especially during the day. Book your tours for super early mornings or early evenings to avoid the scorching sun. Don’t forget your sunscreen, sunglasses, and swimwear.