There is one place in the world that should never miss from a sandboarder’s bucket list: Huacachina, a spectacular natural oasis in Peru surrounded by dunes as high as mountains, just 5km from the town of Ica and about 300km south of the capital Lima. Ica and Huacachina have become must-go destinations for lovers of adventure sports and particularly for anyone who is passionate about sandboarding, sand skiing and sand duning.
There are plenty of sand dunes in Peru, but none quite as popular as those in the Ica and Huacachina region. Here, you can surf on some of the tallest sandhills in the world! And if you are a fan of off-roading, you can get your hands on a special local vehicle called “carro tubular” (“tubular car”), a specific type of dune buggy that allows you to run on these huge sand dunes at full speed.
Sandboarding in Huacachina
Huacachina is home to some of the largest dunes in South America, making it one of the world’s top destinations for sandboarding and sand sledding. The Huacachina sand dunes reach heights up to 500 metres (1640 feet), as big as mountains (but not nearly as huge as the nearby Cerro Blanco, one of the tallest sand dunes in the world). The entire oasis is surrounded by these giant, steep golden hills and you can spend hours – or days – hiking up and then surfing or skiing downhill.
Best sandboarding tours and rentals
If you are visiting Huacachina with a tour from Lima, Ica or Paracas, they will provide you with the equipment necessary and an instructor will guide you through you first steps on sand. Alternatively, there are a few facilities in Huacachina itself which offer sandboarding and sand skiing equipment and tours:
- Tony SandRider – offers both sandboards and sand skis for rental as well as guided tours and excursions.
- SandSnow School – a bit pricier but higher quality equipment and professional instructors. Includes GoPro aerial footage of your session, which makes for a memorable tour. Ideal for more experienced surfers / snowboarders.
If you are looking for guided tours that will take you from Huacachina from Ica or Lima and come with sandboarding combined with other activities, then we recommend having a look at what GetYourGuide and Civitatis have to offer.
What to wear
- Long sleeved shirt (for the morning and evening)
- Short sleeved shirt (for the afternoon)
- Light weight long trousers
- Closed-toe tennis shoes with socks
- Mouth scarf or foulard
- Eye goggles
While weather in the oasis is generally pleasant, temperatures in the desert can fluctuate sharply during the day. If leaving early in the morning it is best to bring a long-sleeved shirt as it will likely get chilly, same applies in the evening. In the late morning and afternoon, switch to a lightweight t-shirt and don’t forget your sunscreen! When hiking up the dunes, it is a good idea to wear closed-toes tennis shoes to protect your feet from getting scorched by the hot sand. When sliding down, you may need to wear sandboarding goggles (or cheap sunglasses) and a mouth scarf to protect you from sand. In other words: standard sandboarding gear, nothing less, nothing more.
Carro Tubulares – The Ultimate Huacachina Sand Buggy experience
Huacachina takes the experience of sand duning to a whole new level. Just at the entrance to the village you can already spots dozens of these popular tube-shaped vehicles called “carro tubulares” or “carros areneros“. The spanish word for dune buggy, “areneros”, could literally be translated to “for sand”, while “carro tubular” simply means “tubular car”. They accommodate between 6 and 9 people, so you can ride them as a small group. Always bargain on the price. You don’t have to leave a tip for the driver.
When is the best time to go sand buggy in Huacachina?
Early mornings and late afternoons are the best times to go on a sand buggy tour in Huacachina. This is in order to avoid the scorching afternoon sun and desert heat.
Huacachina Travel Guide
Huacachina is a tourist attraction in the middle of the coastal desert, an oasis with a lagoon of greenish colors whose origin is thought to be due to groundwater outcroppings that gave life to the lush vegetation that surrounds it. You get a sense of peace and tranquility driving around this oasis, because there are hardly any vehicles but you can still find plenty of hotels and pubs. Not only that, but this beautiful place is somewhat of a paradise in the middle of a desert, with a mild climate year round and natural water springs that were once believed to have healing powers.
The Huacachina lagoon, like many of our country’s rivers and lakes, has a legend that contributes to its allure. Many years ago, a princess of the Inca stock lived in that location; it is said that her name was Huacca China, and that she was a woman of immense beauty, with a voice so beautiful that her only song softened the hearts of men to the point where they all ended up crying at her melody.
Huacachina’s popularity as a favourite tourist destination for those visiting Ica and enamoured with the allure of water in the middle of the desert dates back to the 1940s. It is in this year that the Huacachina’s surroundings are set in such a way that there is no tourist service that is missing in the area today. Initially, the main tourist attraction was limited to the spa, but today, the desert that surrounds the lagoon serves as an attraction in itself, attracting extreme sports enthusiasts who come to sandboard or off-road on the dunes.
How to reach Huacachina
Reaching the oasis from Ica is very simple – wherever you are in town, just hail a taxi (not a tuktuk). The average return fare is 12.0 PEN, but you should be able to negotiate on the price.
A public bus ride from Paracas to Ica is inexpensive and will lasts about 1.5 hours, from there you can grab a taxi and quickly reach Huacachina. If it’s your first time in Peru, we recommend arranging your transportation through a guided tour or on one of the “hop on, hop off” buses that will instead take you directly to Huacachina and allow you to stop in other locations as well.
The best way to reach Huacachina for a day trip is to sign up for a local tour, which commonly include both sandboarding and dune buggy as activities. If you plan to stay more than a day, you can look into either public buses (e.g. Oltursa, Cruz del Sur) or private bus services (e.g. Peru Hop). The former are cheaper, but will drop you off at Ica (from which you’ll need to call a cab), while the latter may be more convenient for tourists as they will pick you up from your hotel, drop you off directly in Huacachina, and also come with a handy English-speaking guide. You should expect your bus ride to last around 5 hours.
Tours that will take you to Huacachina:
Where to stay in Huacachina
If you are planning to spend the night (or several nights) in Huacachina, excellent choice! It is worth to spend at least a few days in this mystical place in order to enjoy everything it has to offer to the fullest.
Hotel El Huacachinero – simple yet good quality accommodation in the oasis. There are no luxury hotels in Huacachina, but El Huacachinero is clean and adequate with all the facilities you need: air conditioning, wi-fi, basic breakfast and even a swimming pool. 60$ per night for a double room.
Hostel Banana’s Adventure – a very nice and comfy hostel with plenty of amenities, including breakfast, a friendly staff, music events, a bar and swimming pool. A bed in a shared 6-persons dorm costs around 25$, whereas a private room around 60$.
Desert Nights Ecocamp – if you dream of camping in a desert oasis, this is the place for you. You can get a comfy tent for as little as 50$ per night which includes breakfast and access to the pool. Tents are spatious and come with electricity and wifi.
Where to eat and drink in Ica & Huacachina
Despite its small size, Huacachina offers plenty of restaurants and bars which both locals and tourists like to hit after a long, tiring day in the dunes. Not to miss in the area:
- 8 Cepas – For a truly authentic Peruvian experience, with cuisine typical of the Ica region. Plenty of affordable food options including barbecued meat and seafood dishes.
- La Quimba Huacachina – Authentic Peruvian food with both fish and seafood as well as vegetarian / vegan options.
- La Casa de Bamboo – doubling as both a hostel and a diner, the restaurant specializes in international food with plenty of vegetarian and vegan friendly options.
Climate and best time to visit
Like most of Peru, the warmest period to visit Huacachina is between December and March, with temperatures ranging from 20°C to 30°C and a daily average of 23°C. From April to November, temperatures are slightly cooler, ranging from 9°C at night to 19°C during the day. This colder period is ideal for hiking through the desert without having to deal with the scorching sun. March is the hottest month of the year, while July is the coldest, but be wary that temperature fluctuates quite heavily during the day – even if it’s hot in the afternoon, you may need a jacket in the evening. Rain is generally not an issue, with only 2-3mm of rain per month between January and March.