airport_transferbarbathtubbusiness_facilitieschild_activitieschildcareconnecting_roomcribsfree_wifigymhot_tubinternetkitchennon_smokingpetpoolresturantski_in_outski_shuttleski_storagesmoking_areaspastar
Sign In
Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip
Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip
Save to wishlist

This Secret Oasis Town is Hiding Inside the Driest Desert on Earth

Picture of Harry Stewart
Updated: 23 February 2018
Nestled among towering sand dunes in the world’s most arid desert lies a hidden oasis; a lush fertile lagoon encircled by tall palm trees whose shade provides a welcome respite from the relentless sun. Yet this is no mirage. Indeed, this geological marvel is entirely real and has become one of Peru’s most magical tourist destinations.

Situated some 300 km (186 miles) from the capital of Lima and on the very edge of the Atacama desert, the town of Huacachina sprung up back in the 1940s around this spectacular lagoon when Peru’s financial elite built holiday homes to take advantage of its supposed healing properties. It fell out of favor in the 50s, but saw a revival again in the 90s as entrepreneurial locals took advantage of its tourism potential.

SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00009
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00013
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00042
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00034
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

Nowadays, Huacachina is a thriving oasis town that welcomes scores of visitors each day. Surrounding the shimmering lagoon are a series of hotels, restaurants, shops, and travel agencies, testament to how the town’s primary industry has brought new life to the region. There is no question that Huacachina’s hundred or so permanent residents depend almost entirely on tourism to survive.

SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00030
Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip | Mia Spingola / © Culture trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00032
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00045
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

Although scientists will tell you the lagoon was formed naturally, local folklore begs to differ.

SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00040
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

Legend has it that a beautiful Inca princess, who sang so hauntingly she was known as Huacca China (the girl who cries), was bathing in the region when she noticed a young hunter watching her. Upon fleeing the scene, she dropped and smashed a mirror into tiny pieces which created the lush desert oasis. Meanwhile, the mantle of her flowing cloak left behind a series of giant sand dunes.

SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00015
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00029
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00017
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

The princess subsequently became a mermaid and is said to still live in the lagoon, only occasionally venturing out to sing for lucky onlookers on a moonlit night.

SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00011
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

Aside from sitting back and enjoying the tranquil setting, the most popular tour in town involves jumping in a dune buggy to explore the surrounding dunes. These trips are not for the faint of heart thanks to reckless drivers who know how to push their buggies to the limit, at times balancing them on two wheels as passengers scream in abject terror.

SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00053
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

After a brief hair-raising ride to the top of a massive sand dune, travelers are expected to make their own way down – this time, on a sandboard. As it turns out, staying upright on a sandboard is extremely challenging, so most eventually opt to toboggan down face-first instead.

SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00028
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00008
Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip | Mia Spingola / © Culture trip

An influx of tourists has caused the lagoon’s water level to drop considerably in recent years, mostly due to new wells being dug to source groundwater, but also the result of evaporation and a consistent lack of rain. Desperate not to lose their region’s premier attraction, an alliance of concerned businessmen pooled together resources to pump water in from the nearby town of Ica, effectively preventing the lagoon from drying up completely.

SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00041
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00035
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

Huacachina is, after all, an officially recognized cultural heritage site of such importance it features on the Peruvian 50 SOL note.

SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00037
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00038
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00012
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0123-Spingola-Huacachina-00014
Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip