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Huacachina: Peru’s Electric Wonderland

by Noah Wheelock

Sweet Huacachina!  No, this is not a Batman-esque euphemistic expletive, but rather the natural reaction evoked when visiting this secret South American paradise.

Huacachina is a tiny village located three kilometers from the bustling industrial town of Ica, in southern Peru.  While Ica is a dull, dirty, and eminently missable city, nearby Huacachina is an ethereal oasis in the desert, literally.  Too small to be on any map, wee Huacachina, one hundred people in population, is hidden in a breathtaking location amidst an endless expanse of Peruvian desert.

When driving down Peruvian highways, it is easy to miss that much of the country is desert.  In Ica, the idea of sand or any kind of non-industrialized life seems remote.  However, that sensation quickly disappears on the spectacular and hilarious ride into Huacachina.  The way to get there is to go to Ica and take a 3-wheeled moto-taxi, which is a claustrophobic death trap the size of a small, less-powerful refrigerator, and which powers along at maximum 20 over windy, pot-holed roads.

Within minutes, the desert springs up out of nowhere.  Skidding at precarious angles, the moto-taxi spins and slips across well-worn asphalt before creaking its way up a final, low, sandy incline to reach the stunning view of Huacachina:  A crystal blue oasis lying amongst dozens of mountainous sand dunes, each hundreds upon hundreds of feet high.

You are then dropped off at the local hostel – there is only one place to stay in the entire village – La Casa De Arena (“The House of Sand”).  The hostel is small, but is equipped with a cool, deep swimming pool, sandboard rentals with which to challenge the dunes, a barbecue and a more-than-fully-stocked wet bar.  The bar is attached to the pool, and dozens of backpackers are permanently attached to it.

In this lazy utopia days consist solely of sandsurfing in blistering sunshine – the hostel is located at the foot of the largest dune, over 800 feet high – and once firmly dehydrated from the sun, protocol is to clean the sand out of every orifice, have a cold swim, then dehydrate yourself even more with a beer at the poolside.  It is also possible to swim in the oasis, which is said to have curative powers.  Many people have a dip, though due to its slightly murky waters, most feel it safer to cure themselves only from the neck down.  Every night there is a delicious barbecue beside the pool.

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