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Did you know the oldest winery in the Americas is in Peru? Wild sea lions also make their home along the coast, there’s a hidden oasis in the desert sand dunes, and you can see all of this and more on a trip to the Huacachina Oasis!
After breathing the smog in a city of eight million people for over two weeks, I really needed to take a weekend trip from Lima to clear my mind and quiet my soal. So, I decided to visit the Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis that I had heard so much about and had a spectacular time. If you’re ready to see it all for yourself, use this guide to learn how to plan a perfect desert escape and discover the top things to do in Huacachina, Peru!
Endless sand dunes in Huacachina
How to Get from Lima to Huacachina
Huacachina is so small that to get from Lima to Huacachina you need to take the bus first to the nearby city of Ica, which is a five-hour ride from Lima.
Get the bus at the Soyuz bus station on Avenida Mexico, where the Soyuz and Peru Bus lines both run. They leave every 15 to 20 minutes on the Lima to Ica route and cost 40 soles / 12 usd per person. Photos of the Huacachina Oasis may make it seem like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but in reality, it’s only a 5-minute taxi ride from the Ica bus station.
You can also stop in the town of Pisco if you want to visit the Islas Ballestas on your way from Lima to Huacachina. To do this, get off the bus in Pisco and take a 20-minute, 25 sole / 8 usd taxi ride to Paracas, a small town with a tiny beachfront and a strip of restaurants on the water. After you visit the Islas Ballestas (which I’ll cover more below), wave down a taxi and return to the Pisco bus station, where the one-hour bus ride to Ica will only run you 5 soles / 1.50 usd more.
Important: the tours only run at 8 am and 10 am, so make sure you time your trip with them!
5 Best Things to do in Huacachina
Huacachina is a small little town built around a small little lake. The town and lake are surrounded by looming sand dunes on almost all sides, and it has a really awesome and lively atmosphere on the weekends.
This oasis has markets, shops, restaurants, palm trees, a shaded walk, and more to explore. It was never at the top of my bucket list but surprisingly it’s been one of my favorite destinations in the country. These are the top 5 things to do in Huacachina!
Adorable sea lions on the Islas Ballestas boat tour
1. Islas Ballestas Boat Tour
There are two ways to visit the Islas Ballestas.
You can do what I did, which was see them en route from Lima to Huacachina (I spent the night in Paracas and then woke up for the 10 am tour). The tour costs 25 soles / 8 usd and it’s super easy to buy tickets at any of the hostels or agencies around the square in Paracas.
Or, you can do a half-day tour from Huacachina with an agency, where you’ll pay a bit more but have the luxury of letting them plan everything for you – with this option you also can go straight to Ica and spend all your time in the Huacachina Oasis, which I recommend. If I went back, I’d do the tour with a group from Huacachina rather than plan it on my own and spend a night in Paracas.
Whichever option you choose, bring warm clothes because the boat ride is cold and the wind is strong. What else can you expect? The Islas Ballestas are called the poor man’s Galapagos, but honestly, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. The tour was just… ok.
Some factors into my less than enthusiastic review include a hangover on a choppy boat, crowded and uncomfortable seating, crappy gray weather, and worst of all the absolutely horrible and strong smell of exhaust that engulfed us whenever the boat stopped to point out birds or animals.
However, there were still a few highlights.
Most notably was the teeny tiny penguins who lived up on the rock cliffs with the birds and of course, the sea lions. These fuzzy and strange creatures were such a delight to see up close, even though in the back of my mind I felt awful for being complicit in bringing so much horrible exhaust and boat fumes into their habitats.
The boat tour was two hours total, and we saw the birds, penguins, and sea lions for about 30 to 45 minutes of the trip. If you’re really into wildlife you can also add on a second trip to the Paracas National Reserve after your island tour. It’s 5 more hours but only costs an extra 15 soles / 5 usd.
Tacama Winery, the oldest vineyard in the Americas
2. Visit the Tacama Winery
The Tacama Winery is the oldest vineyard in the Americas. It was founded by the Spanish Conquistadores in the 1540s and has been continuously run ever since. The winery is also so beautiful that it is regularly used for weddings and events, and I can definitely see why.
Take a 30 to 40 minute taxi ride from Huacachina to the vineyards and you’ll enter a whole new world. Our car wound down a long tree-covered lane lined with flowers, and the winery itself was surrounded by a lush green lawn and colorful gardens. Inside we did the 10 sole / 3 usd tour and tasting, and were able to see the old monastery, chapel, and courtyard as well.
The best part about the Tacama winery (which also serves Pisco, the national liquor of Peru) is that the bottles were delicious and cheap at only 22 soles / 7 usd each. I was in a group of four and we split a bottle of red and white while sitting out on the lawn, breathing the fresh air and watching the sun begin to set.
Sandboarders on the Huacachina dunes at sunset
3. Rine Dune Buggies and Sandboards in the Desert
The sand boarding and dune buggy tours are one of the most popular things to do in Hucachina. They leave every morning at 10:30 and every afternoon at 4:30. They cost 35 soles / 11 usd each and are two hours of riding around on the surrounding dunes and then boarding down them. Two of my friends did it and said they had a blast. I ended up opting out to go to the Tacama Winery instead, but I wish I had been able to do both!
Watching the sunset over the Huacachina Oasis
4. Enjoy the Sunset Over the Oasis
My favorite moments at the Huacachina Oasis were the quiet ones, and I really enjoyed laying back on the dunes to watch the sunset with a spectacular view and the one I love by my side (did I mention my husband and I celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary here?!). Let go of all your stresses and worries and dig your toes in the sand, because life is slow, simple, and beautiful at the Huacachina Oasis!
5. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!
After you wear yourself out climbing the dunes and enjoy a gorgeous sunset, it’s time to eat, drink, and be merry. One of the best things to do in Huacachina is simply chill out and relax. There are a few different restaurants to choose from, but I personally enjoyed the chicken wings at the Huacachina Backpackers House. Fill up on some good eats and wander around the oasis looking for any lively bar that catches your eye 🙂
Starting the night with a few card games with friends
Where to Stay in the Huacachina Oasis
We stayed in the Carola hostel which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, they have a pool and I really enjoyed spending the afternoon lounging in my swimsuit by the water and soaking up the sun.
On the other hand, they warned us they were going to be partying in their bar until 6 am and, true to their word, they blasted music ’til sunrise. If you’re looking for a party, Carola is an affordable hostel and you’ll definitely enjoy your night. If you want a good night’s sleep though, you might want to give this one a miss. Whatever you choose, click here to book your stay in the Huacachina Oasis!
I visited the Islas Ballestas, Huacachina Oasis, and Tacama Winery on a weekend trip from Lima and really enjoyed the excursion. If you’re thinking of adding this little piece of paradise to your Peru itinerary, use this guide to discover the 5 best things to do in Huacachina and have an amazing time!
PS looking for more to do in the capital city? Learn how to spend a day in the artsy Barranco neighborhood or check out my three favorite restaurants in Surco. Then, take an 8-hour bus ride to the mountain town of Huaraz for hiking, mountain climbing, multi-day trekking and more!