5 hours to get from Lima to Huacachina to see a Peru desert Oasis? With kids in tow, to do sand boarding in Peru?…yeah I can hear you…
The travel hours required to get from Lima to Huacachina may suggest it is not worth venturing on this excursion with small children to spend only 24 hours in the Huacachina oasis . Well I can assure you that it is worth it!
Certainly it is a destination that seems to attract mainly teenagers and backpackers, but in the end it is a fun place and completely different from all the others you will visit in Peru.
The Huacachina sand dunes are famous in all of South America even if Huacachina is only a small village a few km from the city of Ica, that developed around a natural desert lake.
Huacachina for us was a quick stop during our 2 week trip in Peru: we were coming from spending 2 days in Lima, and the day after returning to Lima airport to fly directly to Cusco, to spend 3 days there.
In this post I will go through the options on how to get to Huacachina from Lima, what to do while you are there (including sandboarding in Huacachina) and your Huacachina hotels options.
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HOW TO GET FROM LIMA TO HUACACHINA
There are several options.
The first thing you need to decide is are you looking for a day trip to Huacachina from Lima, starting really early in the morning and coming back quite late at night, or do you want to visit this Peru oasis and stay there overnight.
Then you will be able to decide more easily your preferred way to reach it..
Your options are:
- Lima to Huacachina bus
- organised day trips from Lima
- rented car
- private transfer
Let’s see the details:
Lima to Huacachina bus
Pubblic bus: The cheapest way
There isn’t a direct public bus from Lima to Huacachina, you will need to get on a Lima-Ica bus. Once in Ica the most practical choice is to take a taxi which, from Ica to Huacachina, costs around 7-10 soles and in around 10 minutes you’ll be there.
Cruz del Sur is a reliable company (we used them to go from Puno to Arequipa) and they have several buses leaving their Lima bus terminal early in the morning. (Each bus company has a different depot in Lima, Cruz de Sur depot is close to Miraflores)
The last Ica to Lima bus is at 8pm (always double check), this will give you enough time to explore Huacachina (and Ica if you want) and to go sandboarding.
Oltursa is another bus company that reaches Ica, but they have much fewer buses during the day.
The bus journey is around 4 ½ – 5 hours each way and the tickets start from $11. For a Huacachina day trip from Lima this will be your cheapest option.
Private bus: The more organised way with Peru Hop
Peru Hop is a relatively new private bus company that uses the hop on hop off concept like the sightseeing buses in touristic cities. You can buy a multiday ticket and move between different places as you wish within the timeframe.
Peru Hop could be a good option if from Huacachina you want to continue your journey towards the south of Peru, instead of going back to Lima. If you have one of the multiple day tickets you can decide to stay overnight in Huacachina and continue your journey the day after.
They also offer organized day trips, including Lima to Huacachina that include all the activities and transfers, but no food. This option is of course more expensive than Cruz del Sur (starting from $119), but everything is organized for you and it also include other attractions. They will pick you up at your hotel at 5:30/6:00 am and bring you back around midnight.
Organised day trips from Lima
Huacachina tours from Lima are the easiest way to discover the Peru desert and other attractions on the way. Lima day trips last around 16 hours.
The most common tours combine some of these attractions: Ballestas Island, pisco tours, Nazca flight, and of course Huacachina sandboarding.
This is a great option if you don’t have much time and you want to see as much as possible. These tours will pick you up in your hotel in Miraflores and have everything organized for you. they are not cheap but you get a lot in a short space of time!
At the end of the day they are not much different from the Peru Hop option, but you should have more flexibility and the groups could be smaller.
Here some good options:
Car rental: the more independent way
To be honest this is an excellent option, we rented a car in Cusco to drive in the Sacred Valley for 5 days and we didn’t have any problems, despite the few negative comments I found around the network.
We haven’t chosen this option in this case only because the price for 1 day wasn’t competitive enough and as we had a flight to catch, I didn’t want to risk getting into any unexpected trouble.
The road from Lima to Huacachina is really easy to follow with road signs along the way in case you don’t have signal on your phone. We didn’t encounter much traffic and the road is in decent condition.
More or less halfway through your journey there is a police block where they check documents and car condition. Everything only takes a few minutes.
When we rent a car, we always use economycarrental.com. They include in the final price any extra fees, like one way or drop off to a different location, so you don’t need to be worried about surprises on the final price at the check in.
Private transfer: the comfy way
This has been the option we chose to use. We didn’t want to waste money, but I figured out that with our schedule this would have been the best option for us.
You need to evaluate your situation and reflect if the money spent this way could enable you to do something that otherwise you would not be able to achieve. I think this service is perfect if:
- you don’t want to spend 16 hours on the road (especially if you have kids that by the end of the day would be super grumpy). Most Lima day tours last at least as long.
- You need to go back to Lima the day after and go straight to the airport. With the public buses the time would be tight considering the bus schedule and change of transport.
We used Taxidatum (the same company we used to pick us up from the airport when we arrived) and they asked for US $330 (in total for 5 people). We got a comfortable minivan that picked us from our hotel in Lima and brought us back directly to the airport the day after. I emailed another couple of company but they were much more expensive.
The van didn’t have child seats but as we knew we brought with us these amazing foldable child seats. When we travel we now always bring them with us because when we have long transfers we don’t want to risk to not be able to protect our kids adequately.
Things to do in Huacachina in 24h
If, like us, you decided to stay in Huacachina overnight, the first thing do when you arrive, probably around lunch time, is to check in to your hotel, and relax by the pool or eat while the sun is really high and hot.
Around 4:30 the temperature is more bearable and it is time to start your desert adventure. Huacachina is a small village but it is easy enough to spend a couple of days there without being bored
Sandboarding in Huacachina desert oasis
Sandboarding in Huacachina is one of the main reasons people come here and we were no exception.
If you arrived with one of the many Huacachina tours your sandboarding activity is probably included in your package (always double check). If you travel independently you will not have any problem to book it even just when you arrive.
You can ask your hostel/hotel for help or ask the different shops that promote dune buggy tours and usually have sand board outside.
Sandboarding prices are quite similar between the different companies, but it is good to check or ask your hotel for a more reputable/safer option, and you may want to check the sandboarding equipment.
To be honest looking at the boards outside the shops they all seem quite old, but if you are planning to sandboard with all the gear then this element is more relevant.
Most people will be sandboarding by simply sliding down while lying on their stomach, so if you are part of this category then the board’s condition is less relevant as long as it is waxed well to let you slide fast!!!
In general sandboarding and a buggy tour on Huacachina sand dunes lasts around 2 hours and costs around $15 per person. These tours usually don’t teach you how to sandboard, but if you would like to learn sandboarding in Peru you could join a tour with a teacher and learn to master a new skill.
- Usually it is better to participate in late afternoon sessions to avoid the scorching sun and appreciate the sunset in the desert, but you have options also in the morning (sunset not included though!!!)
- Wear closed shoes especially if you don’t like to go too fast as you may use your feet to try to slow down.
- Bring as little as possible with you as you will end up with sand everywhere. Better to keep your technology and valuables safe
- Shouting in terror or delight too much while you are sliding down could mean your mouth getting full of sand…keep it shut or cover it!!!!
- last but not least don’t forget the usual: water and sun-cream!
What about skiing in Peru? Yes…that’s also another option, you can do sand skiing if you prefer. A little less common to see skiers on top of the dunes, but no worries because most tours will be able to accommodate your request to ski over the sand dunes in Peru!
Huacachina sandboarding when you have kids
Initially I was quite worried that we wouldn’t be able to sandboard because Liam and Santiago are still very young (they were just 3).
Online I had read many reviews by adults who criticized the reckless driving of the buggies that go on the dunes. Indeed two companies that I had contacted online to book told me that they advised against this activity for under 4 years old.
What I have done then is to get in touch in advance with the hotel (every hotel is able to organize a buggies/sandboarding excursion) and they offered us a private tour for 240 Peruvian soles (around US $60 for the 4 of us). I found it a very reasonable price, considering that this way we have been able to tell the driver to avoid driving like crazy and the boys loved it!
Our Taxidatum driver was of course spending the day in Huacachina too, so he joined us on the tour. This was great because people in Peru are always friendly, chatty, and interactive so he was also keeping an eye on Liam and Santiago and playing with them while we were going down the dunes sandboarding!!!
We stopped in 2 different places for sandboarding, and while we were sandboarding the boys were super happy playing with sand, and then the driver strapped them into their 5-point harnesses to come down the dunes and collect me and Mark…we all had such a fun time.
After that we stopped in another spot to watch the sunset on the desert, and then with another adrenaline rush we came back to the Oasis.
Climb Huacachina sand dunes
Even if you participate in a dune buggy tour, it is still fascinating to set out on foot on the dunes. If you stop to spend the night in Huacachina, I strongly recommend that you walk up the sand dunes very early in the morning. The sand is cool and the air still not too hot.
Plan at least an hour to go up on foot .. it will take you much less to come down!!!
Rent a boat on the lake
I found the lagoon really fascinating, the colors of the water with the vegetation around it and the dunes as a background are enchanting.
At the lagoon you can rent pedal boats or rowing boats (we paid 20 soles for half an hour of exercise for Mark!) … obviously we couldn’t miss the opportunity and we even managed not to drop Liam or Santiago in the water! Success!
Party in Huacachina
Partying in Huacachina is the second reason for a visit after sandboarding.
We did not actively participate, but it is easy to see the party atmosphere already from dinner time.
Most of the clubs with late-night music overlook the lake, so take this into consideration when choosing your hotel if you want a quiet night. Around the lagoon there are various shops and hostels where you can eat or drink something, but don’t forget that in the morning everything is really quiet.
Ica is only 5 km from Huacachina and is situated in a really favourable position to grow tasty grapes perfect for producing the famous Pisco.
The grapes brought here from the Spanish, adapted well to the different soil and made Ica the centre of wine and Pisco in Peru.
If you have time then a visit to one of the many vineyards can be organised all year round. Don’t miss it!!!
Hotels in Huacachina reflect the target audience, so for the most part they are lower priced accommodation such as hostels or guesthouses.
The oasis is very small so it will not be difficult to take a look at all the options if you wish, but keep in mind that some hostels do not accept children, and some guesthouses only offer solutions with shared bathrooms.
Here are the 2 best options:
HOTEL EL HUACACHINERO (where we stayed)
We were quite happy with our choice to stay at the El Huacachinero hotel.
The structure is pretty, somewhat reminiscent of American motel facilities with the rooms opening onto the internal garden with a swimming pool. The rooms and bathrooms are decidedly basic, but reasonably clean.
The swimming pool and the garden are very inviting but the breakfast very disappointing unfortunately.
Initially I had booked a triple room with bathroom (the second child could stay for free if sleeping with us) but on arrival I paid the small difference for a quadruple ( we paid in total US $90… a bit overpriced for the offer but I think I would choose the same again considering the other options).
BANANA’S ADVENTURE HOSTEL
Probably the best Huacachina hostel. The Banana’s Adventure Hostel has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Most of the rooms overlook the pleasant central swimming pool. It also offers an interesting formula, where the price of the room every day also includes an activity of your choice between Dune Buggy Tour, a Barbecue Dinner or a Wineries Tour.
I hope I convinced you that Huacachina Oasis isn’t only a backpacker or Millenial destination, but can also be a lot of fun for families!! If you are planning your trip to Peru go head and include a Lima to Huacachina trip!