Oasis in the desert
Huacachina is a little known escape in Peru’s desert that gives you the option of relaxation or thrilling adventures. Supplied
Imagine being stranded in the humid, hot desert and becoming desperate for water or any sign of civilization.
You see a small oasis in the middle of nowhere and begin running towards it. Unlike in the movies, this one doesn’t disappear before your eyes. There it is, amongst the giant wind-sculpted sand dunes, an emerald desert lagoon is immersed within a sphere of exotic palm trees. Questioning your own truth as your own eyesight perplexes you is only the start of the overwhelming experience.
Located in the Ica region southwest of Peru, Huacachina is a welcoming ground for local Peruvians wanting to get away and tourists who are seeking bold adventures.
Although this oasis attracts thrill-seekers, in the early 20th century it was a popular resort for the rich in Peru. Incredibly, this lagoon is a naturally formed pool of water that has existed for many decades.
Like most natural wonders across ancient countries, legends and stories are told on how it occurred. Huacachina is made up of two Quechua words; “Wakay” meaning “to cry” and “China” which means “young woman.” Essentially the name in itself means young woman crying. As most legends are created, over time many variations are established so it’s hard to know what the locals belief. But the most prominent legend begins with a beautiful Peruvian princess and her prince. Legend has it that the prince of this landscape passed away and the princess spent years crying and pining for her love, creating the pool of water. Regardless of the legend, this natural lagoon is now rumoured to hold curative powers and both locals and tourists often bath in the waters or coat their bodies in mud to cure problems such as bronchitis, asthma, rheumatism and arthritis.
With a very small population of 100 people, this desert oasis never really gets too overcrowded and is a little secret gem that many don’t know about. The oasis has even been declared as a National Cultural Heritage Site by the National Institute of Culture, and is even printed on the back of the Peruvian (Nuevo Sol) $50 note.
Before you assume that a location with a population of 100 people probably doesn’t have a whole lot of attractions, think again. Sand boarding and four-wheel dune buggy rides are the popular adventures in Huacachina. The only way to experience the beauty of the soft dunes is to get amongst them. Jumping into an open-air dune buggy that rips around the sand dunes is surreal and mesmerizing, all packed with adrenalin. If you’re not an adrenalin junkie like many, you can opt for the slow dune buggy tour, which takes you on a relaxing exploration of the yellow hued slopes. Finish off the day by watching the sunset over the dunes, sipping on champagne. Sounds magical right?
Now if the above doesn’t really tickle your fancy and you’re after something a little more adventurous; keep reading.
When I visited Huacachina, I embarked on 24-hour adventure that I highly recommend. You’ll pile in the dune buggy for a day of exploring the dunes, stopping at the tallest of dunes. Shortly after, it’ll be sand boarding time. Before you start confidently walking to the top of the dune with your board under your arm like Tony Hawk, you won’t be riding down on your feet. After mountaineering for an exhausting 10 minutes to climb up to the lofty vantage point, you’ll be ready to slide on top of your well-waxed soundboard beneath your stomach, and you’ll fly down in less than two minutes. Boarding up to 60 km/h down silky, rolling dunes will leave you with a vacant, exhilarated mind, with nothing but a grin from ear-to-ear.
As the sun shifts behind the smallest dune and bright stars set in, we set up camp underneath the colossal night sky.
Our dune buggy drivers become our chefs and our dune buggies became our music boxes. Traditional Peruvian food was cooked for us on a large bonfire matched with traditional (and very potent) Pisco Sour cocktails. Here I was, in the middle of the barren Peruvian Desert, as the blackness of the night sets in and there was no other place I wanted to be.
With nothing but a sleeping bag laying against the natural channels of the sand dunes, I slept knowing that this little mirage I initially didn’t believe was real, and it just gave me one of the best adventures of my life.