Huacachina, a sandboarding oasis
The photos can be deceiving, this little village with a population of 200 full time inhabitants isn’t all that remote and inexplicable, in actual fact it can be found a 10 minute taxi ride away from the city of Ica with a population of a cool 1/4 million. Nonetheless this doesn’t take away from it’s wow factor (for me anyway), it actually makes it more appealing that you don’t have to trek to get there. Ica is on the main Cruz del Sur bus route which should make stopping in at Huacachina obligatory for most on the Peru tourist trail, in my opinion.
Our intention was to stay a night or two in Ica and then make our way to Huacachina, but in the end we changed out minds an hour before we pulled in to the bus station, post seven hour night bus sleep (possibly our last night bus of this trip). We instead made our way straight to Huacachina via a7Sole taxi, requesting to be dropped off at the Banana Hostel, however there was no room so we left our bags with them and ventured off to find an alternative. We ended up at Casa de Arena which is in the Lonely Planet guide and is outlined as THE party hostel, which doesn’t surprise me as there seemed to be some sort of Superclub attached to the side of the building and the outside area reminded me of Coogee Bay Hotel/Far Out Camping Ios (if you have been to either). Alas in true Rob and Nicole Travel South America fashion, we were rearing to party but had somehow missed the memo and it was now Monday evening and no one seemed to be doing anything. We have found it so strange in SA as when traveling in South East Asia or Europe you can go out any night of the week, hell who even knows what day of the week it is when you are traveling, but South America seems to be different (from what we have experienced) and the weekend is where it’s at.
The draw card for a visit to the oasis is sand boarding and dune buggying, of which come hand in hand as when you see the scale of these dunes you need some serious help getting up them. Our hostel ran their own tours three times a day and going with them for 40Soles meant a discount on the rest of our stay so we signed right on up for the 4pm tour, as we were thinking this would be a nice time of the day to get up the dunes.
The tour was two hours long and the board was included in the price, however the “sand tax” was not so we had to hand over another 3.80Soles (I am sure this price is variable) before we hit the sand. Our group of 10 then took off zooming through the dunes to meet up with 10-15 other buggies, the ride was pretty crazy and we really enjoyed it, in fact we would have preferred to instead spend the entire time in the buggy instead of having to get out and take down the sand dunes. The provided boards were pretty basic, and if you want a proper ride it is probably best to hire an actual board, boots and bindings from one of the hire shops in town. It was fun though, but the real excitement was the buggying.
Food options in town weren’t all that immense and we ended up eating at two of the same places three times a piece, one of which was La Casa de Bamboo where we had a breakfast, lunch and a dinner. The highlights were the Thai red Curry, guacamole and pita starter (the small size was pretty generous) and the vegan falafel dish, all of which were fresh and delightful, especially for a tiny town enclosed in a mountain of sand dunes somewhere in Peru, for a good price too. Just keep in mind at some times of the day the same woman will take your order, cook your food and serve it to you, only visit La Casa de Bamboo when you have the time up your sleeve and you are not starving.
The last mention goes out to the unadorned Ica, which the Lonely Planet opens in describing as “there are worse places to be stuck”, I beg to differ. Ica for us was extremely plain, and we were exceptionally happy that we didn’t end up spending a night there as originally planned. One morning we took a tuk-tuk out to the main plaza to visit a museum or two and have lunch, but ended up retreating back to Huacachina shortly after with a bag of mandarins and a bit of elation that we didn’t have to stay any longer. The town had nothing to offer, we couldn’t even find the first museum and when we stopped for a coffee ordering Cafe con leche (Coffee with Milk) no lie, out came a full to the brim tea cup of hot milk each and one small milk jug half filled with instant coffee and boiling water, I thought the guy was literally taking the piss as we were gringos in a not so much tourist town. Alas after much deliberation and broken Spanish, he came back out with a triumph spring in his step with two full to the brim teacups of boiling water, one small milk jug each of milk and then one smaller milk jug of instant coffee each. Oh God, this town was extremely backwards and for a tourist really has not much to offer.
I took to the ginormous dune behind our hostel one morning for some cardio, wow it was tough, it didn’t take me all that long but those lungs got a workout and I had to stop quite a bit along the way, as you get closer to the top, the top increasingly seems further away.