After a short ride on PeruHop from Paracas, we arrived in Huacachina mid afternoon. Most of the travelers on the bus followed the recommended schedule of immediately joining a tour to the sand dunes and then they would depart the following morning. Keeping to our slower pace, we planned an extra night which allowed us to push the tour to the following day. Because Will was still recovering from being sick, this really worked in our favor.
We grabbed a room at PeruHop’s recommended hostel, Casa de Arena Lodge, and tried to relax before finding dinner. We were immediately uncomfortable in our room due to a strong stench of paint fumes. We noticed an employee was spray painting the banister outside of our room and the gaps in the window were inviting the fumes into our room. We moved to seating around the pool and noticed the majority of the hostel was under construction with loud banging, dust flying and even cement dripping everywhere. Without finding a quiet corner, we headed out to explore the town.
Huacachina, called the Oasis of America, is completely surrounded by sand dunes. A small lake sits in the center of town and it is surrounded by hotels and hostels that each have their own pool, restaurant, and travel agency. Walking through the less than 500 meter long town, we did not see any homes or local hangouts. Huacachina is a ten minute drive from the bustling city of Ica so it was our guess that working locals just commute in everyday.
During our walk, we noticed the Banana’s Adventure Hostel which looked very inviting with palm trees surrounding their pool, several hammocks for relaxing and zero construction. We learned that they had a package deal that would include a bbq dinner and breakfast with our room. We decided to keep it in mind if we had a horrible night at Arena.
Based on TripAdvisor reviews, we went to Casa de Bamboo for dinner. The courtyard for this guesthouse was quiet but the food was great. I had vegetable quinoa and Will ordered their set menu which came with juice, pesto pasta and a brownie sunday. The portions were surprisingly filling and everything was prepared perfectly.
When we returned to Arena Hostel, the bar by the pool was blasting typical hits while a few people enjoyed some drinks. We headed to bed hopeful the bar would calm down at a reasonable time. When the volume increased, we found sets of earplugs to ensure a good night of rest. But we were still awoken by several partiers multiple times throughout the night. The same lack of seals that filled our room with paint fumes seemed to cause voices passing our room to echo. The worst was at about five in the morning when our American neighbors returned drunk and angry. We could hear every word of the jealous rage prompting their fight. We woke grumpy and ready to switch hostels.
Before the sun heated the sand too much, we hiked the closest dune. The climb was tedious with the sand slipping below our feet, but we found that following the footsteps of those that climbed before us made it a little more bearable. About 30 minutes later, we were on top of the highest dune around with amazing views of the area. From that vantage point, you could really see how surrounded the oasis was and also how the oasis was changing. Several of the buildings at the edge of the dunes were slowly being engulfed by the sand. We heard from one of the PeruHop guides that the lake is also slowly disappearing and they have to add water to keep it alive. So it’s possible this oasis might not exist in the future.
After our morning adventure, we moved into the Banana’s Adventure Hostel. Although the room was a bit small and we had to share a bathroom was one other room, it was much nicer. We were on the second floor with huge windows that provided a wonderful breeze. It was much cleaner and much quieter without construction noise. With the ability to get comfortable, we found plenty of time to organize our photos and document our travels.
That evening, we joined the next PeruHop group for our tour on the sand dunes. We all boarded a dune buggy and headed out of town. The buggy tore through the sand and hopped over the dunes causing us to come out of our seats and hang on to our seat belts. Then the carts dropped us off at the top of a dune where we would ride sandboards down. Will did a great job actually sandboarding but I opted for the safer version. Because I have never tried snowboarding, I did not want to risk an injury in the middle of Peru. We all had a lot of fun playing in the sand for a few hours.
We completed our fun oasis day with a BBQ dinner at the hostel. They served us a chicken breast and a hotdog plus sides of salad, vegetable curry, rice, fries, and chicken wings. It was a wonderful feast which they even topped off with a beer. With full stomachs, we slept great especially because the bar stopped serving at a reasonable hour. We woke to a peaceful morning at Banana’s. The included breakfast was perfect with eggs and bread. We relaxed in the hammocks before catching the next PeruHop bus to Arequipa.
After a short drive through Ica, we visited a winery called El Catador which was included in our bus ticket. The winery not only focuses on wine but also makes several varieties of pisco. Pisco is a colorless brandy made from grapes. Peru and Chile are the only places it is made and it causes much tension about who made it first or who makes it better. We’ve only tried the Peru version and it is very nice. We sampled El Catador’s wine and pisco which we enjoyed and wanted to purchase a bottle but did not want to carry it for the next month.
A few more hours on the bus led us to our next included stop: the Nazca Lines. I had already visited this area while traveling for work several years prior, but I was excited to share the attraction with Will. The bus stopped at a tower viewpoint where a few of the lines are visible from the highway. At the top, we admired the ancient artwork which is best seen by areal views. The PeruHop tour guide spoke of the many theories on how the lines were formed but stressed that the best theory is that the artwork was a form of ritual to the gods to request various good fortunes. Because the viewpoint is limited, it was a short stop before we continued our overnight journey to Arequipa.