Have you ever wished to see a real-life mirage? Where, inexplicably, palm trees and a body of water appear out of nowhere, surrounded by towering sand dunes. I always thought this was something only depicted on television. That is, until I took a Huacachina tour from Lima, Peru and discovered this exists in real life. A true hidden oasis tucked away in the desert of Peru.
Huacachina is a small, but quaint town. The locals cater to those who visit on a Huacachina tour to explore the sand dunes and try their luck at sandboarding. But don’t let the size or lack of big city amenities fool you. This is an experience like no other, and a must for your Peruvian travel bucket list.
Choosing the Best Tour
I found my time in Peru to be very enjoyable, and most importantly, very safe. That said, like any place, Peru also experiences some instances of peril befalling tourists.
If you want to go down the scary google rabbit hole, there’s no shortage of terrifying stories involving tour buses in Peru. Ranging from petty theft to corrupt tour companies to fatal crashes. That’s why it is very important to ensure you choose a reputable company for your tour.
For my tour, I was so glad to have found the best tour operator to utilize: Peru Hop. Travelers who fell in love with Peru and wanted to provide safe transportation in the country started the company in 2013. That means they have a personal perspective as to what tourist really want from a tour company.
Peru Hop runs a variety of different tours throughout Peru (and even into Bolivia, through Bolivia Hop). All their tours are hop on / hop off, meaning you can choose to stay as long (or as little) as you want in each of the stops on the tour you purchase. You simply let the company know when you will be getting back on the bus to continue your journey.
Huacachina Tour Through Peru Hop
When booking a Huacachina tour through Peru Hop, you have a few options to choose from. You can start in Lima and work your way south, or you can start in Cusco and work your way north. There’s a shorter 2-day tour, or you can do a longer 5-6 day tour. There’s sure to be an option for whatever your schedule and desire allows!
As I was based in Lima while taking Spanish classes Mon – Fri, I chose to go with a shorter 2-day trip starting and ending in Lima. The highlights of this tour include:
– A short stop in Paracas to visit the Ballestas Islands (aka the “poor man’s Galapagos”) where you can see penguins, sea lions, and birds in their natural habitat
– Learn how Peru’s national liquor is made from grape to bottle (plus tastings, of course!) with a Pisco vineyard tour
– A Huacachina sandboarding experience where you dune buggy up and sandboard down some of the biggest sand dunes I’ve ever seen
Sounds amazing, right? What’s even better is that you get all of the above, plus transportation, plus a bilingual guide during the whole trip for the incredible price of $139 (with accommodation) or $129 (without accommodation) per person.
Where to Stay in Huacachina
Upon arriving to Huacachina, we went straight to our accommodation for the evening to get settled in before our sandboarding excursion. We decided to stay at Wild Rover Hostel, and while it certainly has pros and cons, it was the best decision (for us) in Huacachina.
This is definitely more of a “party” hostel. It can be loud and rowdy, especially on the weekends. So bear that in mind if that’s totally not your scene. However, for us, we wanted an easy-going atmosphere to meet and hang out with other travelers. So Wild Rover was perfect for that!
The most noteworthy amenity includes an amazing pool area where you can hang out. The sand dunes are visible in the background of the property and it creates an amazing feel to enjoy your drinks and fellow travelers.
Compared to other hostels I’ve been in, the rooms at Wild Rover are very modern. And their menu doesn’t disappoint! The food is excellent, as well as the drinks. All for a very reasonable price!
Peru Hop partners with Wild Rover, and that made things even easier. The bus picked up right outside the hostel, and the hostel staff were knowledgeable about timing so you don’t miss your bus after a few drinks by the pool.
Our Peru Hop guide gave us instructions for a central meeting point and time in town to begin our sandboarding experience. Luckily the town has literally two main streets, so it was very easy to find!
Guides then led the group up a small sand dune just beyond the lake where all the dune buggies are parked and waiting. We were sorted into smaller groups of approximately 5-7 people per buggy, plus our driver. I never felt unsafe with our driver, or the conditions of our buggy. Everyone had proper safety restraints that really held you in snugly.
And from here, we were off! The drivers spent the first 10 minutes or so hitting the pedal to the medal and cutting through the sand dunes. It was quite thrilling, so hang on tight and enjoy the ride!
After the initial driving portion, we stopped at our first set of sand dunes to sandboard (we went down 6 – 9 in total). Each person was provided with a board and some wax for a smoother ride. Safety instructions were provided to the group to ensure a safe experience. These sandboards ARE NOT for standing on – they are for body boarding only. We were also briefed on how to use your feet to steer yourself or slow down. Very important in case you run into any issues as you’re flying down the hill!
I will admit, I had no clue the sand dunes were going to be as tall as many of them were! I would estimate the tallest sand dune we went down was over 10 stories tall. So, my nerves were running high (heights aren’t really my thing). But, if you follow the instructions given, you will be fine.
As we completed our sandboarding experience, the sun was setting in the distance. The drivers stopped off in a very scenic area of the dunes so everyone could have a few minutes to take some awesome pics with the buggies, your new friends, and the amazing colors of the sunset playing off the dunes! A perfect way to end our tour.
What to Do After Sandboarding
As I mentioned before, Huacachina is a small town. So, there isn’t a ton of attractions once you have completed your sandboarding experience. You will find plenty of vendors trying to sell you all sorts of stuff, like paddle boarding on the lake. But honestly, I don’t think any of that is necessary or worthwhile.
However, I would suggest the following to complete your experience:
1. Huacachina is flanked by two massive sand dunes on either side. Make sure to walk up to the top of one of them to get the most amazing photo of this amazing desert oasis. It’s not an easy feat, but it is so worth it!
2. Grab a bite and re-energize! There are many restaurants around the lake where you can find some excellent food. With everything from pizza, burgers, pasta, and typical Peruvian dishes you’re sure to find something to please every palette.
3. Head to Wild Rover (whether you’re staying there or not) and sample Huacachina’s desert nightlife. They always have a party going on with music and awesome drinks.
Of my time in Peru, visiting Huacachina rises near the top of the most memorable experiences. Topped only by Machu Picchu, but who can really compete with that?
The pictures really don’t do proper justice for this amazing hidden desert oasis. So if you have an adventurous spirit, and long for an out-of-the-ordinary experience…I really can’t recommend a Huacachina tour enough!
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