Huacachina is a gorgeous desert oasis just 5-hours from Lima, Peru where you can dune buggy or sandboard and where the sun shines all year-round. Here’s how to get to Huacachina, where to stay, and what to do.
- Book a 5-hour bus ticket from Lima to Ica for 25 Soles ($8 USD) using Red Bus
- Pay 6-8 Soles ($2 USD) for a 20-minute taxi from Ica to Huacachina
- Stay at Carola Lodge, Desert Nights Eco Camp, or Banana’s Adventure Hostel
- Have the time of your life on a Dune Buggy and Sandboarding Tour for 30 Soles ($10 USD)
- BRING CASH, the ATMs in Huacachina are usually broken, but some places accept Visa credit/debit card
The first time I visited Lima was towards the end of February, during their summer. The golden sun was out, people were sunbathing at the beach, there were lots of outdoor events going on, and it was glorious. People told me that Lima was a grey city, and it has the nickname, Lima La Gris (Lima The Gray). I thought that people did not know what they’re talking about because on this trip it was all sun and fun.
After loving my trip to Lima, I decided to book a return trip this year and stay for the month of June so that I could start my new website, Lima Insider. I live in Panama most of the time where it’s hot, humid and either sunny or rainy year-round so I checked out what the weather would be like in Lima and it would be their winter. The average temperature said it would be around 55 ℉ (13 ℃) so I packed a light jacket and a couple long-sleeve shirts since that isn’t too cold (I grew up in Kentucky).
As the plane made its descent upon towards Lima, I looked out the window and could hardly see anything as the city was completely covered in a thick, grey fog. Maybe it was just a foggy day and tomorrow would be sunny.
Two weeks later and I still hadn’t seen the sun. Lima La Gris is real.
I weakly climbed out of bed as my Vitamin D deprived body looked out the window to another chilly, gray day. What time was it? 8 am, 12 pm, sunset? The time of day always looked the same and I was looking track of time as the days went on. Also, 55 ℉ (13 ℃) feels much colder when there’s no sun and you’re next to the ocean and I didn’t know how much longer I would make it. I looked at my dog Riley, who was also getting depressed and told him, WE NEED TO SEE THE SUN! (ok, I’m being a little dramatic).
I began an internet search to see if the there was anywhere I could go outside of Lima that wasn’t an eternal gray wonderland and stumbled upon the Huacachina Desert Oasis.
Is this place real or am I hallucinating from lack of sunlight?
My fingers rapidly began tapping away on Google searching for how to get there, how much would it cost, what to do, where to stay that was pet-friendly (my dog Riley would be coming), how long to stay, blah blah blah. I also verified the latest photos posted on Instagram to double check that it was warm & sunny. It looks like the real deal. BOOKED.
I would be leaving first thing in the morning on a five-hour bus ride and returning late next day. Here’s how my adventure to Huacachina Desert Oasis panned out and how it unexpectedly became the highlight of my trip.
How to get to Huacachina
To get to Huacachina you need to book a bus ticket from Lima to Ica and then from Ica you take a taxi to Huacachina. I found an amazing website called Red Bus that lets you buy your bus ticket in advance, pick out your seat, and at a DISCOUNT. I bought my ticket for 25 Soles ($8 USD) instead of the regular price of 45 Soles. They only reserve seats 45 – 49 for the discount and I don’t recommend choosing seat 48 or 49 because they don’t recline all the way back. Huacachina takes around 5 hours to get to from Lima so I recommend leaving as early as you can. Also, just buy a one-way ticket in case you get there and want to stay longer (I made this mistake). Your ticket will be sent to your email or phone number so be sure to have your confirmation handy.
If you go on Peru Bus it will depart from Terminal de Cercanias (Av. Mexico 333), a short 10-minute walk from the Mexico Metropolitano stop or a cheap Uber ride. I recommend trying to get there 30 minutes early in case you get stuck in traffic or have trouble finding it. Once at the bus terminal they have a VIP lounge you can wait at with free coffee, tea, and water.
We were guided to board the bus 10-minutes before the departure time and found my seat towards the back of the bus. Peru Bus is the fanciest bougie bus I have ever been on. The seats recline almost all the back and have a footrest, tons of legroom with space to put Riley in his carrier, a bathroom, tablets with games and movies for each person, and they served me a snack! All of this on a 5-hour bus ride that I paid $8 USD for.
About halfway during the bus ride, I saw my first blue sky in two weeks and it was like going from black and white to color on the Wizard of Oz. I was instantly in a better mood and already glad that I booked this getaway.
The bus ride does take approximately 5-hours to get to Ica with no stops. Once you arrive go outside the bus terminal and ignore anyone this is offering a taxi unless they want to take you for the street price. Grab a taxi from the street and tell them you’re going to Huacachina and negotiate the price before you get in. Anything between 6-8 Soles is a good deal.
Sun and sand in Huacachina
The ride from Ica to Huacachina slowly turns into desert sand dunes and I was in complete awe of where I was. I couldn’t believe that only 5-hours before I was freezing in coastal Lima and now I am soaking up the sun in the desert. It was now 75 ℉ (24 ℃) so I took off my layers of shirts until I was just down to a t-shirt and took in that vitamin D! Peru truly is a diverse country with lots of surprises.
Huacachina is most famous for its iconic natural oasis with a lagoon in the middle surrounded by palm trees and sand dunes. While the oasis is beautiful to look at, you need to know that you can’t swim in it because the water is contaminated, but they are working on a process to clean it soon. Just be sure to book a place to stay that has a pool!
Legend holds that the lagoon was created when a beautiful native princess removed her clothes to bathe, but looking into a mirror, she saw a male hunter approaching her from behind. Startled at the intrusion, she fled the area leaving behind her mirror which turned into a lake. Other versions hold that she fled, leaving the pool of water she had been bathing in to become the lagoon. The folds of her mantle, streaming behind her as she ran, became the surrounding sand dunes. And the woman herself is rumored to still live in the oasis as a mermaid. (Dilwyn Jenkins, The Rough Guide To Peru)
After reading a lot of comments on Trip Advisor I only booked one night and instantly wished I had booked two or three. Everyone seemed to say that is was best to just go for the day or one night because of lack of things to do, or that there was trash, that it was too touristy and crowded, or that it was noisy with parties at night. I quickly realized that these comments were probably from people that had limited time in Peru and were trying to do it all, not people looking to escape the cold in Lima and relax. Also, anytime you are visiting a touristy place – DON’T GO ON THE WEEKEND. I went on a Wednesday and there were hardly any people there. Huacachina is apparently a party spot for backpackers and locals on the weekend so if you want to avoid crowds and noise, just be strategic.
Where to stay in Huacachina
I stayed at Carola Lodge for $30/night via Airbnb (sign up through this link to save $25), which had a pool, lounge chairs, and amazing view of the sand dunes so I would have loved to stay there another night while reading a book or working on my website. The accommodation is brand new so everything is super clean and modern and most of the people staying here were 25 – 35-year-old travellers.
They are also pet-friendly so I could bring my dog Riley and he was a hit walking around the hotel in is his wheelchair. However, Caracol does have a nightclub so don’t stay here on the weekend if you want to sleep. I stayed on a Wednesday night and they had music going until midnight so it was fine but music will blast until 4 am on the weekends.
Another accommodation that I wanted to stay at was Desert Nights Eco Camp which is a well-designed glamping hotel but they are not pet-friendly. Or Banana’s Adventure Hostel is an oasis within the oasis and they include a free activity each day in the price.
Go on a dune buggy sunset tour
The highlight and basically only thing to do in Huacachina is to ride a dune buggy and go sandboarding/sledding in the desert. I wasn’t expecting this to be one coolest things I have ever done!
I booked a dune buggy tour through my hotel, Carola Lodge for 30 Soles ($10 USD). I don’t usually recommend booking a tour through a hotel but in this case, it was the same price as booking something on the street and I liked that it was an organized sunset tour. Plus $10 USD for a 2-hour tour is more than worth it.
The tour starts promptly at 4 pm in front of the hotel and my dune buggy group included me and five other people. There is a 4 Soles tax that is charged separately to enter the sand dunes before you get going. The tour then starts with a quick 5-minute drive up to a viewing point where you can take a picture of the oasis and then things get started.
Riding on a dune buggy through the desert is like being on a freestyle rollercoaster. We’d slowing crank our way up a hill and then fly straight down a vertical drop at full speed as adrenaline rushes through our veins. Our group was screaming, laughing, and couldn’t believe how crazy our driver was. After driving around for a bit stopped for sandboarding which ended up being just as exhilarating as the dune buggy ride.
You could attach your feet to the board like a snowboard or lay on your stomach and slide down like a sled, I chose the later. Gliding down a sand dune feels identical to sledding but without the cold. We started with a small hill where we could practice a few times and then made our way to a nearly straight drop and whizzed with speed to the bottom where our driver met us. He then drove us like a maniac back to the viewing point over the oasis where the sun was setting and the view was magical.
My experience in Huacachina was perfect and it was just what I needed to escape the cold. It’s actually a spot I would love to go back to sometime. But everyone’s situation is different so the amount of time you have in Peru is a deciding factor in how long you should stay. And remember, Huacachina is a place people go to party on the weekend! So go during the week if you want a quiet experience or the weekend if you want the party crowd.
This article was written by Joey Bonura and originally appeared on LimaInsider.com. Follow his adventures on Instagram. Club Elsewhere brings you compelling stories for and by the world. Contribute an article of your own by sending a message to the editor.
I’m Joey, a guy from Louisville, Kentucky that packed up and studied abroad in Panamá at the age of 20 and haven’t moved back since. What started as a semester trip to Panamá has turned into 7+ years of living in Latin America and becoming a full-time travel blogger. Follow me on Instagram @joeybonura for more updates on my life abroad!