Huacachina is a tiny town in southern Peru, an hour away from the Pacific coast. The town is basically a collection of resorts and restaurants around a blue-green laguna surrounded by huge sand dunes. An antique image of the town is featured on Peru´s 50 soles bill. Its interest to tourists is three-fold: the novelty and beauty of a dry desert with huge sand dunes, plus the opportunity to sand board and to ride in four-wheel-drive dune buggies that cruise up and down the dunes at break-neck speeds. The town depends entirely on tourism; as most visitors are foreigner tourists.
Legend claims every year a mermaid living in the laguna takes one man. The inability of certain Peruvians to swim seems a more likely explanation of the yearly drownings. Other people speculate that the cause of the frequent drownings is swimmers muscles cramp when the warm water on the top of the oasis mixes with cooler water below.
Getting to Ica from Lima, most bus companies including Cruz del Sur and Soyuz have frequent trips along the route. Once in Ica it is a quick 10 minute taxi ride (drivers at the bus terminal ask for around s/. 10; from elsewhere s/. 5 seems to be the going rate (January 2017)) to Huacachina.
You can also organize a shared shuttle/bus from other locations such as Paracas, generally through your hostel or a tourist agency.
Peru Hop a new service offer direct buses to and from Huacachina daily rather than into the nearby city of Ica.
This oasis is a few kilometers from the bustling city of Ica. There are no longer municipal bus routes to Huacachina, but it is possible to find taxis during the day (8/10 soles one way) and at night (10/12 soles one way) although be warned that most taxi drivers work for commission with the hostels and will often tell you hostels are full when in fact this is not true, and they will try to sell you every tour imaginable on this journey from Ica. Take the registered official taxis to ensure your safety.
If coming into Ica from Nazca, Arequipa or Cusco, ask the driver to let you off at "desvió Huacachina" or "cruce Huacachina" - the turn off is before the center of the city/bus stations and getting off here will save you time and money.
The town is extremely small, and visitors can walk from one end to another within a few minutes.
Taxis are used to travel from Huacachina to sites in Ica, and moto-taxis can be used within Ica to affordably travel to locations that are too far too walk. Most taxis charge 2.5 or 3 soles for trips from one location in the city to another. Most taxi-motos charge 1.50 soles, making it a very cheap way to get around.
Watch the sunset from the rim of the dunes. Amazing colours and views. You can walk up for the sunrise but be careful as there are no marked paths. To hike up to the top of the biggest dune on the north of the lagoon takes no more than 25 minutes and the views are spectacular.
Sandboarding and dune buggy rides are the main attractions in Huacachina.
Tours of the Bodegas and Wineries: in Ica there are about a zillion different bodegas and wineries that produce pisco and sweet red wine. These bodegas range from the small family-run "artesanal" bodegas to huge industrial bodegas that supply the entire country with pisco and export to Europe and the US. Perhaps the best artesanal bodega is "Catador" and the best industrial bodegas are probably "Tacama" and "Vista Alegre"-
There are two museums in nearby Ica, but the one that is of most interest to visitors is probably the archaeology museum, el MUSEO REGIONAL DE ICA. The museum is full of clay pottery, mummies, and trepanned human skulls (skulls that have had holes drilled into them for surgical reasons, while the person was alive) and textiles from the various indigenous groups that have lived in the Ica region for thousands of years. The dry sand from the desert preserves the bodies and fabrics in impressive condition. The museum costs 10 soles, and is worth a visit although superior museums can be found in Lima, Arequipa, and the north of Peru.
The other museum is rarely open because the building it is located in, and its exhibits, where heavily damaged during a 2007 earthquake. It is the Museo de Piedras Grabadas, the museum of recorded stones. It is a large collection of round, smooth stones with images of fish, dinosaurs, and people carved on them. The creator of the museum claims they are thousands of years old, but virtually all scientists hold a skeptical opinion of the rocks and strongly suspect they are modern hoaxes. It is not recommended to visit this museum because to do so supports scientific hoaxes and is a waste of money.
The following activities are best done as part of an organized tour. There are numerous reputable agencies in Huacachina.
Near the entrance to the Huacachina promenade are a number of kiosks. Some are selling souveneers, jewelry, t-shirts and other touristy knicknacks. Others sell tasty jams made from fruits in the area (such as mangos, figs, or guanabana) and some liquers from Ica such as pisco and wine. Apart from these small shops, there are only tiny convenience stores. Virtually all items are more expensive than when purchased in Ica.
The only ATM in the town is located at the Huacachinero hostal. It frequently is out of cash. Many places in Huacachina accept Visa/Mastercard but best to ask beforehand. Ica, located a few kilometers away, has a number of ATM machines as well as money-changers who will convert your dollars into soles and vice versa in exchange for a small commission.
There are numerous restaurants in Huacachina, all of them overpriced when compared to normal Peruvian prices.
The Casa de Avinoam, the restaurant located in the Carolas del Sur Hostal, has delicious thin-crust pizzas. Pizza prices range from about $6 USD for a personal pizza to $15 for a large family-sized pizza.
The restaurant at Desert Nights Youth Hostal is quite popular too.
For those craving tasty ethnic food, head to Bamboo Cafe, located in a small lot in between Carola del Sur and Hosteria Suiza. They serve a flavorful Thai curry, decent falafel (popular with the Israeli and Arab travellers), and other ethnic and peruvian dishes. The Bamboo Cafe is also a great retreat for those who have been travelling for months and are in need of a bacon butty with brown sauce, marmite or a full English breakfast.
In Ica, there are quite a few decent restaurants. One of these is the restaurant "El Otro Peñoncito" which has a very pleasant, upscale decore and serves a variety of italian and peruvian dishes. It is slightly expensive by Peruvian standards, unsurprising since much like the restaurants in Huacachina it exists to serve food to tourists.
A great, cheap restaurant to eat lunch is McGrille, on Avenida Cutervo. It has cheap but tasty menus at lunch time (from around 12:40 to 3:00pm) that only cost 7 soles per person during the week and 9 soles on weekends and holidays.
Valentino's Cafe-Bar, across the street from McGrille, has tasty fixed-price lunches for 9 soles and free WIFI for customers. The lunches here will be higher quality than similarly priced lunches in huacachina.
Like just about everything else, the alcohol is overpriced in Huacachina.
Most of the larger hotels have their own bars, including Casa de Arena and Huacachinero. One of the only bars that is not associated with a hotel is Da Silva House, located alongside the Casa de Arena hostel. Cocktails here cost between $3 and $5, and the owner prepared many types of mixed drinks and cocktails.
Many visitors to Huacachina decide to visit the wineries and pisco bodegas that are located all over Ica. These wineries grow their own grapes, crush them, and convert them to wine or pisco. They will show you their vineyards, their fermentation machines and wine-making process, and then give you a small sample of their products. You are of course encouraged to then purchase the wines and piscos. Many of these tours are free (the bodegas make their money from wine sales), but your taxi driver or tour guide will charge you to take you around to various bodegas.
During late February and early March, is the grape harvest when grapes are crushed by foot. Visitors are encouraged to take off their sandals and shoes, wash their feet, and then help crush the grapes. While perhaps not the most hygienic method of alcohol preparation, this is a very popular activity.
Bodegas are split into two categories: artesenal and industrial. Artesenal bodegas are small, family-run operations that only produce a small amount of wine or pisco. Industrial bodegas produce large quantity of product that is intended for national distribution or international exportation.
Taxis leave Huacachina at all hours of the day and night. If you plan on leaving the area in order to go to Lima, you can also take Soyuz (cheap but sometimes quite dangerous) or Cruz Del Sur. If you are going to Arequipa, options are Cruz del Sur and Cial (the budget option). To take these buses, take a taxi from Huacachina to their bus terminal in Ica (around S./12 as of August 2016). It is important to use a registered taxi as there have been some reports of theft in taxis between Huacachina and Ica. This is rare but caution is advised.
Peru Hop departs directly from Huacachina. They operate 7 days a week and can take you in all directions, to Arequipa or Cusco, or to Paracas and Lima in the north. There bus south goes towards Arequipa via Nazca.