Reasoning that age had probably caught up with us, and put off by its reputation as a party zone for the international backpacking set, we almost didn’t go to Huacachina. In the end alluring photographs of majestic and mountainous sand dunes surrounding a palm-fringed oasis, and the knowledge that it was the low season, convinced us we should visit.
I wasn’t expecting reality to live up to the photos, but Huacachina doesn’t disappoint. Its quite extraordinary, the more so perhaps because it is only five minutes by cab to the thriving city of Ica – which you can see from the top of the dunes – yet feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Once the hangout for Peru’s wealthy, Huacachina has become something of a must see destination on the gringo trail offering sand boarding and dune buggy rides where once more monied travellers rode ponies. Regardless of the thrill-seeking side to Huacachina, it still manages to be a relaxed and easy going place, although I’m not sure I’d want to be there in the high season.
Preferring my own two feet to some noisy gas-guzzling dune buggy, I set off a couple of hours before sun set to hike through the desert and conquer a nearby and nearly vertical dune so I could watch the sun sink slowly over the desert. It was a magical experience, only slightly lessened by the sound of an occasional dune buggy and its screaming occupants off in the distance.
Chatting to a local resident, it seem that the water level of the oasis has dropped significantly over the last decade. At current rates the oasis will have disappeared in twenty years time. That would be a tragedy, but it isn’t the only environmental issue facing Huacachina…
If I have one complaint about Huacachina, those who visit it and run businesses there, it is this: in a once pristine environment the level of environmental degradation from discarded plastic bottles, bags and a multitude of other items is shocking. I climbed one sand dune, looked over the edge to a hollow and it was filled with plastic bottles. I just don’t get it…how hard is it not to throw rubbish into the middle of the desert?
The following morning I went for another stroll through the beautiful and peaceful desert landscape.
The only problem on the way back was the sand had gotten so hot it was like walking across burning coals for an hour!