The words that spring to mind when you think of Peru are undoubtedly Machu Picchu, the Incas, mountains and perhaps even spirituality. The list goes on; surfing and beaches, ceviche, even more mountains, the Amazon and an intricate balance of different cultures and histories intertwined to secure Peru’s position as a magical destination.
There is one element of the country however that does not get a mention nearly as much as its world-wonder counterparts. Between the ridges of the Andes and the Pacific coast, lies a golden stretch of land that is enough to be mistaken for the Middle East. It is here in the little known Sechura Desert, one of the most arid locations on Earth, that strange rock formations lie dotted amidst the scarce mud hut and sand fills every crevice and stretches as far as the eye can see. It is also here, in a dusty town five hours south of Lima lies a natural oasis named Huacachina.
Just off the Pan-American Highway and 15 minutes drive from the city of Ica, a traveller can be met with overwhelming heat and tough locals who have seen their fair share of sunshine and dune climbing. Protected by walls of sand the air in this small town is tranquil and warm. But instead of the barren dryness that you associate with a desert this place is lush with green palm trees, exotic flowers and birdsong - of course at its centre rests a huge green lagoon - the real life natural oasis nestled into the backdrop of desert. The novelty and beauty of this area has been wholeheartedly capitalised on as a town of hostels, tour guides and souvenir shops have flourished by the side of the green water.
Aside from the fascinating and photogenic beauty, there is one thing that this dry area of the world is renowned for. A convoy of diesel-guzzling dune cars leap onto the sand twice daily to whisk adventurers into the depth of the desert. The tours are what the town thrives from, and can be purchased for as little as $20 from every local lining the street, offering almost identical services. Climbing the first dune out of the Oasis, the cool wind rushes through your hair and you are met with a panoramic view of dunes reaching hundreds of metres into the distance and as far as the eye can see.
It is here that you can also undertake sandboarding and plunge down the side of golden dunes with nothing but an old wooden board and your own quest for adrenaline. It is nearly impossible to explain the vastness of this natural landscape and the height of the dunes themselves but it’s put into perspective at the third and final location, nicknamed ‘Death Dune’ that offers a sheer vertical drop about the size of a twenty story building. Without safety equipment and little Spanish instruction, you plummet down the dune at phenomenal speed as the sand rushes into your face. Before you know it you have skidded to the bottom with exhilarating energy - the hardest part of course is to then climb back to to the top through the slippery sand.
The end of the day is marked with a huge scorching sunset that slowly settles over the hot sand before the town’s dune buggies race you back into the cool oasis setting below. In the town, travellers can then enjoy an evening of eating and drinking at the many waterside bars or you can even contribute by helping the local NGO collect rubbish and litter from the dunes themselves. This is not a mirage, Peru truly has it all.
Words and photos by Tamara Davison in: Tamaradavison_