Huacachina: The Oasis of America
· 16 min. read
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Remote Year has two, separate weekend packages to experience Huacachina. The first was a direct, one-day trip. It involved leaving Lima early in the morning, taking the bus about five hours south, enjoying the day, and taking the bus back. Although fun, it would be an exhausting day on the bus.
The other option was a two-day trip, starting in Lima, going to Paracas for the night, and then heading to Huacachina. This was the option I chose. A few people wanted to do the single-day option, but the cost associated with driving only two or three people a collective ten hours wasn’t really worth it. Instead, they changed their mind and joined the two-day tour.
So, although this article is about Huacachina, it actually starts off in Paracas, where the last article ended.
That night, the majority of the remotes stayed at Kokopelli, a hostel in Paracas. Because the hostel had a unisex, shared bathroom, I got up early to try and beat the rush. However, I didn’t have a towel. I had asked reception the night before and they said there would be some available in the morning, however, when I arrived, the towels were not there yet.
So, I improvised, and used the sandy clothing from the day before as my towel. It didn’t work the best, but it was better than nothing.
After getting ready for the day, I met up with some of the other remotes and got a complimentary breakfast at the outdoor bar. Although it was complimentary, it was limited to a single serving of eggs, toast, and fruit. I had missed supper the night before, so although it was delicious, it didn’t really curb my hunger.
After breakfast, the rest of the remotes wandered out and we got ready for the day. Before heading to Huacachina, we had one more adventure in Paracas, and that was to go on a boat tour with Paracas Explorer.
Now, I’m sure the boat tour was very informative, and some people probably really liked it. But, in my experience, it wasn’t the best. I found the boat was very cramped, the audio quality was very poor and the guide was hard to understand. I am sure it was very interesting but I didn’t know what he was talking about most of the time. This is a shame because one of the most interesting things we saw that entire weekend happened on that boat tour.
Not far outside of Paracas, etched into the side of a sand dune, was a strange chandelier-shaped design. This was the Paracas Candelabra or the Candelabra of the Andes. I’m sure the guide explained it, but I had to Google what this incredible design was. The answer is, basically, nobody knows. It’s often put in the same category as the Nazca Lines, which aren’t too far away. Pottery from over 2,000 years ago was found near the site, but not much information is known about that time or the Paracas culture that existed there during it. There are other speculations that it could be the design of a trident, the symbol of Viracocha, a pre-Incan deity. Others say it could just be a waymarker for sailors, a depiction of a nearby hallucinogenic plant, or a symbol created by the Freemasons. I found the Wikipedia article on the design somewhat helpful, but the Spanish one is a little more flushed out. Other sites like Atlas Obscura, which I often source for the strange things in the world, doesn’t have much information on it. Ancient Origins has more information, but the website doesn’t seem too legitimate.
What struck me the most about it was not only its mystery but also its age. People know Peru for its ancient sites like Machu Picchu, but that was only built in 1450 BC. This makes the Paracas Candelabra four times as old as Machu Picchu. For me, this was the first time I ever saw something this old outside of Europe, and the fact that it has so many unanswered questions is fascinating.
After we drifted past the Paracas Candelabra, we spent about another hour on the water, visiting several islands and inlets, including the Ballestas Islands. However, we were told early on that due to the weather conditions out in the ocean, we couldn’t go to our usual islands. I wouldn’t have known the difference though, as the islands we did visit were filled with various birds and penguins, and we passed by several pods of dolphins. We would also visit a shipwreck that was home to several sunbathing walruses.
Due to the weather conditions out on the ocean, we would arrive back at Paracas early because the boat trip was shorter than expected. In our free time, we got some lunch at a beachfront restaurant and then headed back to Kokopelli to pack up our bags. From there, we loaded back on the bus and finally headed towards Huacachina.
For those unfamiliar, Huacachina is one of the few remaining oases in Peru. In fact, it almost dried up a few years ago due to climate change. Thankfully, the local governments stepped in and began pumping water into the lagoon to keep it filled. This then brought in plenty of tourism and kept the oasis alive. It is said that the mud and clay from the lagoon have healing properties, and people come from all over to experience it. Legends say that the lagoon was made by an ancient Peruvian princess, who now lives under the water as a mermaid.
However, we didn’t come for the lagoon. Instead, we came to Huacachina for the other amazing natural pneumonia that surrounds it: the sand dunes. Although we saw dunes in Paracas, the sand dunes in Huacachina were a different breed. These were significantly larger. They towered over the town, looming over it with their giant waves. I took my drone out to fly around the town, and it wasn’t able to go over the sand dunes. My drone can go up to 120 feet and can clear the McCallum Hill Centre towers in Regina, yet it could not clear these sand dunes. However high these dunes were, they were higher than a 30-storey building.
We had an hour or so to explore the town, and then we met back up at our hostel. We then followed Fransisco out, across town, and up into the sand to some dune buggies, which I had spotted earlier from above. Although we had walked on sand plenty of times this weekend, I found this hike up very difficult. Every step had the ground swallow your feet and attempt to drag you down. Walking on a beach is one thing, but climbing through sand is another.
When we got to our dune buggies, we were split into two groups. These dune buggies were much bigger than the ones from the day before, and a lot more loud, powerful and aggressive. But they had to be, as they had to conquer herculean sand dunes.
Much like the day before, the buggies went up, down, and sideways across the sand dunes, causing many people to scream and laugh in terror. Yesterday, I sat in the front of the buggies, but today I was in the back. I mention this because the dune buggy gets a lot more air in the back than in the front. After the first jump, my head banged against the support beams of the buggy. From that point onwards, I leaned outside the window whenever we went down a dune.
I enjoyed the dune buggies the day earlier in Paracas more, as these ones just seemed dangerous. It seemed like a roller coaster of sand, but it wasn’t comfortable and it didn’t have the (partial) assurance it was safe like a ride at an amusement park. I got out of that buggy as soon as I could… only to find myself on a mountain of sand, and a sandboard in my hand.
A sandboard is similar to a snowboard in shape and size, but it’s made out of wood and has two straps on the front of it. Snowboarding is done standing up, but sandboarding is done laying down. You could attempt to stand up going down sand dunes, but due to the softness of the sand, you would probably end up sinking. We were told that standing up could resort in the snapping of ankles, but we did see a few other people attempt it.
The way we were taught to sandboard was to lay on the board, stomach down, and grip the straps of the board with our hands. We would use our hands to secure us on the way down, and our feet to steer and brake. We were all pretty nervous to go down the first time and I even swapped boards with Hannah, as hers was missing one of the straps. This meant instead of holding onto the straps, I was holding onto the board itself. I’d consider it the equivalent to hanging ten on a surfboard.
The first dune we went down was the scariest since it was the first one. After that though, as our confidence grew, the dunes became taller and steeper. We ended up going about four times in total. (I forgot one of the video clips in my YouTube video, so you only see three clips there – see, it pays to read!) Due to my board not having straps though, my hands and arms ended up getting very sandy with each dune. I was also very bad at stopping myself with my hands, which could have led to me breaking my wrists if I wasn’t more careful.
After the fourth dune, however, I was done for the day. I was hot, and sandy, and had several spikes of adrenaline rushes. We got back on the dune buggies and rumbled across the sand. We stopped after a short while, however, and I was worried we were going to do more sandboarding. However, it was instead an opportunity to photograph the sunset and take some group photos.
We would load back into the dune buggy and head back into Huacachina. The ride back wasn’t too bad, and the walk down wasn’t as exhausting as the way up. However, once I got back down, I had to pour cups of sand out of my shoes, and empty fistfuls of sand out of my pockets. My shower in Lima would be dirty with sand for the remainder of the month.
We stopped for supper in Huacachina, where I had chicken fried rice (Peruvian cuisine is a mixture of both European and Asian dishes) and then we loaded back onto the bus. I don’t remember much about the bus ride back, but we finally got home around 1 o’clock in the morning.
It was very strange to go to work the next morning. One day ago we were surfing on sand dunes in Huacachina, bathing in sunlight, and now we were sitting in a coworking space under the constant overcast skies of Lima. It seemed ethereal and was a feeling I would have over and over again as I reminisced about the trip.
I think if I was to go back, I would spend a few days there. Some of the other remotes felt that way too. It’s a very cool town, and we didn’t get to utilize the main calling card, which was the lagoon. I could see it being an excellent, multi-day weekend getaway.
Have you ever been to, or heard of Huacachina? Would you be brave enough to go sandboarding? Let me know in the comments below.
PS: For a price breakdown of my month-long trip to Peru with Remote Year, please visit How (And Why) I Spent A Month in Peru.
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Categories: Peru, Remote Year, Travel Tips