SEPTEMBER 9-10, 2014
Huacachina, the desert oasis of Peru
This is not a mirage, I swear. After experiencing the Nazca lines, Jesse and I decided to take the advice of other travelers and head north to visit Huacachina, a small desert oasis nestled between large sand dunes. Located a few miles west of Ica, the town of under 100 residents was built around a small natural lake that is now a popular attraction for foreigners. When we arrived, we were so excited that we scarfed down some food and immediately began our climb up the dunes. The view was astonishing to say the least and did not disappoint. I felt like I was on top of the world, with endless waves of wind-sculpted sand dunes that extended beyond the horizon. As I stood roughly 650 feet (200 m) above the town below, tourists swarmed the resorts and expensive restaurants that were completely encompassed by sand.
Huacachina has a brief, yet interesting story associated with its discovery. According to legend, the lagoon was created by a beautiful native princess who was bathing in the pool of water. When a young hunter tried to capture her, the princess fled, leaving behind the lagoon. As her cloak flowed behind her, she created the surrounding sand dunes. Although the princess was never found, the rumor states that she had taken the form of a mermaid and lived within the depths of the lagoon today. Legend also claimed that the mermaid takes the life of a man every year. Although yearly drownings are common in Huacachina, this phenomenon is probably best explained by some Peruvians inability to swim. Many others suggest that the combination of cool and warm water causes muscle cramps and could lead to frequent drownings.
In all sincerity, that legend is one easily forgotten. The town itself became a popular destination by wealthy Peruvians in the 1940's. Huacachina has always been influenced by tourists to the point where the atmosphere of the town loses authenticity. Even the lagoon has a water generator to ensure the rate of replenishment is at a constant flow of water. In my opinion, the only reason the oasis exists is through the tourism revenue. However, it is a quite visionary legend to say the least. In fact, some locals have said that the lagoon has numerous health benefits, able to cure aliments if you swim in it. Despite these claims, I could think of numerous reasons to opt-out of going for a swim in the lagoon...the water is dark green!
Tourists looking for adventure can try sand-boarding or take dune buggy tours on the sand dunes. Although dune buggy rides are one of the top attraction in Huacachina, Jesse and I thought they were too expensive. The buggies are usually self-made and unsafe, especially when some drivers do crazy stuff to create a roller coaster experience. Although most tourists enjoyed the ride, some said that it can be incredibly dangerous at times.
After taking pictures and finding sand in every crevice of our body, we decided to stay an extra night. We later regretted our decision the next day when the town did not have the same charisma as the first day. We tried to suppress our boredom with sand-boarding, but for some reason, it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. Jesse and I rented sand-boards from our hostel for a few soles on our second day. We were under the assumption that it was basically a hotter version of snowboarding, but for us, it was harder than we thought. Every time we used our board, it was essential to thoroughly wax your board to guarantee you’ll have some sort of momentum. We were pretty disappointed to say the least by how difficult it was to maneuver the board and the general pace of sand-boarding. After all, most brochures of the town advertised professionals doing flips off ramps in the sand. From what I understand, sand-boarding in loose desert sand will always result in a short and disappointing conclusion. On top of it all, the climb back to the top after one run was exhausting and when the sun beats on you, you rather give it up altogether.
In the end, I decided to read a book all day while Jesse fell asleep on the beach.
Unfortunately, Huacachina is not always what it appears. The photos are deceiving in a sense that the town is not in the middle of nowhere, but rather close by to a large town. Huacachina welcomes over 200,000 tourists every year and as a result, there is a considerable amount of trash scattered throughout the dunes. The wind disperses the debris throughout the area, making for a very unfortunate part of our stay. I guess that is why many people will leave that part out of their travel experiences.
In our opinions, the spot is a wonderful place to unwind and relax for a day or two, but nothing more. Huacachina allowed us to slow down from our travels, but we felt that staying more than one day delayed our journey. Maybe it was just our inability to sit still for more than a few days. Nevertheless, the views of both of the lagoon and the sand dunes were spectacular. My favorite experience in Huacachina was sitting on top of the sand dunes and watching the sunset tuck behind the dunes. Even though the temperature dropped considerably, I was memorized by the endless sea of sand that glistened soft golden hues of yellow and orange. As the sun went down, the light had cast an outline of the dunes and illuminated the landscape. Although the climb to the top of the dunes was quite exhausting, there was nothing more rewarding than enjoying the view and soaking up the sun.