Surrounded by towering sand dunes on the threshold of the city of Ica, Huacachina has become a hugely popular travel destination in Peru. With a contrasting blend of adrenaline activities and relaxation options in an idyllic setting, the desert oasis village is a quirky alternative to the country’s sprawling cities and trekking meccas. This Huacachina travel guide explains everything you need to know when planning your stay.
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About Huacachina: a quick overview
Huacachina is one of the only oases in the Americas, but it was relatively unvisited by international travellers until the 1990s. A major promotional campaign brought it to the world’s attention, and today Huacachina has become somewhat of a thrill-seeker’s haven.
As part of the new drive to promote tourism, Peru’s government classified Huacachina as a national cultural heritage site, and has even featured the village oasis on the country’s 50 sol banknote.
The towering dunes that surround Huacachina are the perfect setting for sand-boarding and white-knuckle buggy rides. But while adrenaline is the main draw, it also doubles up as a great spot for relaxing and socialising, with its peaceful blue lagoon and selection of bars and chill-out cafés.
The village has a permanent population of just 100 or so people, but its newfound popularity brings tens of thousands of tourists every year. As such, it’s not the right choice if you prefer quiet, non-touristy places off the beaten path – but if you’re looking for a fun stop-off on the route between Lima and Cusco, it’s the perfect place. When we stayed in Huacachina, felt a little bit like a holiday within our backpacking travel.
This cool little video by Amazing Places on our Planet will give you a taster of what you can expect to find:
Things to do in Huacachina
For a small place, Huacachina packs in a lot of activity options for travellers passing through. Whether you’re here for the chill-out, the famous nightlife scene or the white-knuckle adventure, you will find something of interest to pass your time. Read on below for our favourite things to do in Huacachina.
Take a dune buggy ride (not for the faint-hearted…)
Every day in the late afternoon, the noise of rumbling engines and screaming tourists drifts down to Huacachina from the massive sand dunes above. Look up and you will see sand dune buggies plunging up and down the hills at terrifying speed, filled with flailing passengers.
This is the most popular activity in town, and an absolute must for adrenaline junkies. There are tour agencies located all around the village that offer dune buggy tours, sometimes packaged up with other activities. Or, if you want to be organised before you arrive, you can book a Huacachina dune buggy experience online.
Have a go at sandboarding
Huacachina’s other big adrenaline draw can be found on its sand dunes. The village is renowned as one of the best places in South America for sandboarding, thanks to the high dunes that provide natural slopes over a hundred metres high.
As with the dune buggies, there’s no shortage of tour companies that offer sandboarding experiences, so take your time to choose. If this is your first crack at sandboarding though, be prepared to spend plenty of time picking yourself up from the ground. It’s not easy to stay upright!
Want to combine the two experiences? Book onto a Huacachina dune buggy and sandboarding combo tour.
Walk up the big dune – and run back down
If dune buggies and sandboarding sound a bit too intense, then you can go for an alternative adrenaline rush that’s far less scary and costs nothing.
The main sand dune that towers over the village from the north side is easily accessible by foot from the village, and you’ll see people climbing up to it at most hours of the day. The sand makes it a difficult uphill trudge, not to mention dodging sandboarders flying past in the opposite direction.
With a couple of short breaks it took us about 20 minutes to reach the top. Getting back down is far easier and more fun – you can simply run down the slope back to the village in a matter of seconds!
At the top of the dune, you get a great view back down to the village, out across the desert beyond, and over the city of Ica to the east.
See the amazing sunset
If you time your dune climb right, and you can witness one of Peru’s most stunning sunsets. The view west from Huacachina is across open desert, which is beautiful to see in shades of red and orange as the sun goes down.
Some of the dune buggy tours include a sunset view at the end, so if you’re up for the ride it will save you the uphill climb.
Relax and unwind
Long before Huacachina became a popular destination for international tourists, it was once a wellness retreat for wealthy Peruvians. These therapeutic roots are still a part of the village’s identity, and there are many ways you can choose to relax and unwind. Visit a spa, stroll around the lagoon, or go for a revitalising dip in the pool (a feature of many of the hostels and hotels in the village).
Take a boat ride on the lagoon
The big blue lagoon of Huacachina is the village’s main focal point– you simply can’t miss it. One of the more relaxing activities on offer is to hire a paddle boat and drift out onto the water. Take a book to read and get lost in the peaceful tranquility.
Go horse-riding in the desert
If you’re travelling as a couple, what could be more romantic than a horseback ride in the desert? This is another one to file under the relaxation activities, as the deep, wavy sand means that horses can only plod along slowly. It’s a lovely way to witness the sprawling desert scenery if the dune buggy rides don’t appeal.
Horse-riding tours typically last 90 minutes to a couple of hours.
Join the party scene
On the reverse side of the coin, Huacachina has developed a great reputation for a party. If you’re the kind of traveller who likes to let your hair down and have a drink and a dance, you’re in the right place.
Around the main lagoon you will find plenty of bars that stay open pumping out music until the very small hours of the morning. Several of the village’s hostel bars stay open late, so if you would prefer some peace and quiet, make sure you check this before booking.
Take a day tour to Paracas National Reserve
If you’re planning to spend more than a night or two in Huacachina, there are various options for venturing a little yonder. One of the most popular is the Paracas National Reserve, a huge protected natural area featuring marine ecosystems, archaeological sites and stunning ocean scenery.
The reserve is an hour and a half’s drive away, and can be visited on a day trip.
Take a wine or pisco tour in Ica
You won’t travel far in Peru before you come across pisco brandy, the country’s national drink. The most common way to drink it is in the form of a pisco sour cocktail.
Ica happens to be the centre of much of Peru’s pisco production, and you can take tours to see how it’s made (and of course have a taste). Vineyard tours of Ica give you a chance to sample pisco and wine from some of the best producers.
A combined winery and pisco distillery tour in Ica takes about four hours. It’s a great way to spend half a day before relaxing back at the oasis village.
How to get to Huacachina
Huacachina is situated just a few minutes’ drive from the city of Ica, on the main tourist route between Lima and Cusco.
The cheapest and easiest way to travel to Huacachina is by bus. The nearest airport is some 80 kilometres away in Pisco. From Lima, the journey by road is a little over two hours, while from Cusco it’s a grinder of a 15-hour overnighter.
We travelled with Cruz Del Sur, which we found to be one of the best bus companies in South America. Its buses are large, comfortable and spacious, and its safety record is excellent. Cruz Del Sur stops at Ica on its main route along the Peruvian tourist trail; prices begin as cheap as 21 PEN from Lima and 64 PEN from Cusco. You can book here, or alternatively you can browse other bus options on Busbud.
Another bus option is Peru Hop, an open-ticket, multi-stop service that drops directly in Huacachina. Later on our trip we used its sister company Bolivia Hop and had a very good experience. The slight extra expense was worth it for the convenience and flexibility.
If you do arrive via Ica, you can take a taxi from the city bus terminal into Huacachina for around 12 PEN.
Where to stay in Huacachina
Huacachina has a range of rustic hostels and charming hotels to suit any traveller’s taste. You can begin looking straight away on booking.com, or read some of our recommendations below.
Desert Nights Ecocamp
We stayed at Desert Nights Ecocamp in Huacachina, a luxurious campground with private double-bed huts, a swimming pool, swim-up bar and free breakfast. If you’re backpacking on a budget, this is a great place to treat yourself to something a little special without spending overboard. It’s a bit more expensive than your typical hostel, but great value for what you get.
We really loved this place. Situated on the edge of the village on the lower slope of a large dune, we had an awesome view of the desert scenery. The pool was perfect for hanging out in the sunshine with daily deals on food and craft beers. One of the most memorable places we stayed in Peru.
Price: from USD $36. Facilities: swimming pool | bar | restaurant | free wifi | breakfast | kitchen | tours
Desert Nights Hostel
Desert Nights Ecocamp is not to be confused with Desert Nights Hostel, which is more centrally located, on the shores of the main lagoon. It’s right in the middle of the action and has great on-site facilities include a restaurant and a rooftop bar and kitchen.
Price: from USD $7. Facilities: bar | restaurant | free wifi | kitchen | security lockers | tours
Banana’s Adventure Hostel
Banana’s Adventure Hostel is a great choice in Huacachina if you are an active and social traveller. Every night booked in the hostel includes a free activity, and you can choose from a dune buggy and sandboarding tour, a pisco wine and tasting experience in Ica, or a BBQ dinner at the bar. The hostel has a great set-up for socialising too, with an outdoor pool, rooftop terrace and games.
Price: from USD $19. Facilities: bar | restaurant | free breakfast | swimming pool | free wifi | 24-hour reception and security | free tour included
The Upcycled Hostel
The Upcycled Hostel is in a quiet and secluded location, about ten minutes’ walk from the centre of the oasis. It’s a big, comfortable and clean space for chilling out, and a hearty breakfast is served every day. The hostel is run by a friendly family, with dogs and cats – a bonus for animal-loving travellers. Perfect if you want to be close to everything and still get a good night’s sleep.
Price: from USD $14. Facilities: free breakfast | swimming pool | free wifi | bar and restaurant | security lockers | 24-hour reception and security
Wild Rover Huacachina Hostel
If you’re in Huacachina to party, then Wild Rover is the place for you. With pool parties and club nights running every day until late, it’s one of the top spots in Huacachina to have a wild night. Accommodation is in the form of POD-style dorms, with personal light, charger and curtains.
Price: from USD $11. Facilities: bar | restaurant | nightclub | swimming pool | free wifi | kitchen | security lockers
Glamping in the desert
For a thoroughly immersive Huacachina experience you can go the whole hog and go glamping in the desert. Staying in luxury tents out on the sand brings all the comforts of a hotel, such as mattresses, sheets, furniture and water, but you also get to witness the desert sunset and starry sky up-close. This all-round experience also comes with a tour of the village and lagoon as well as a dune buggy ride and sandboarding trip, plus dinner, cocktails and breakfast back at the camp.
Included: breakfast, dinner and cocktails | stargazing in the desert | sandboarding and dune buggy ride
Safety in Huacachina
Huacachina is generally a very safe place, but it’s important to be careful. Don’t flash valuables around, and keep them safely locked up.
There have been instances of tourists being scammed by taxi drivers on the way to Huacachina from Ica. Be especially careful when finding a taxi driver – it’s best to go with one from inside the bus station.
An unsuspecting source of mishaps in Huacachina is the very thing that surrounds the village: sand. I nearly lost my iPhone when it dropped out of my pocket when running down the big sand dune. Miraculously, I found it after I climbed back up to the top. If you drop something, it will be quickly covered up by sand drafts, so make sure your valuables are secure.
Money in Huacachina
There is only one public ATM in Huacachina, and it’s not uncommon for it to run out of cash. While you can pay on card in most places, consider withdrawing some Peruvian cash as a backup before you arrive in the village.
Further reading on Peru
Are you spending a while in Peru? You might want to check out one of our other articles:
- How much does a Peru trip cost? Here’s what we spent
- Hiking the Inca Trail: a complete guide for first-timers
- G Adventures Inca Trail experience | why it’s worth it
- Inca Trail packing list: 30 things to take for trekking to Machu Picchu
- Visiting Iquitos: the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon
- Colca Canyon trek: an up and down experience
Have you visited Huacachina and have an experience to share? Let me know about it in the comments below.