Apart from the aforementioned adventure activities, the town itself is relaxed almost to a point of standstill. Around the oasis there are crowded handouts for those on the gringo trail and holidaying Peruvians with their families. Selected hostels turn into moderate party hubs on the weekend for locals living in nearby Ica, but are otherwise relaxed, sun-drenched with all the character of a desert beach bar.
I'd arranged to rendezvous with a cool chick I met a few months ago in Puerto Iguazu. Courtney, who writes a great blog here, had been making her way down from Colombia and was as keen as me to head out on the dunes, so I kicked back by the pool with my book for a couple of days and waited for her. A touch of Peruvian belly meant that I was subdued and even the Dutch Blondies that I trekked with in Arequipa couldn't convince me to party with them – signs of a much needed detox!
Hostel tip: My oddly named hostel, Bananas Adventure, had a great offer discounting the experience if you stayed a couple of nights with them. Seeing as that was my plan anyway, it made for a pleasant surprise! Each night's dorm accommodation was just 10 Soles (~$5USD) and three hours of sandboarding and dune buggying was only a further 35 Soles (~17USD).
As for the experience itself? Wow. The dune buggy roars through the quiet streets of Huacachina and past a small checkpoint, before swerving left and over the first gigantic dune. Without warning, it is immediately as if you're lost in a giant expanse of pale golden, wind swept desert sand. Buggies disappear over distant hilltops, lending perspective to the scene that lays before you.
You're not given much time to take this in, though, as the seatbelt tightens around your shoulders and you're thrown into the first descent. The wind roars in your ears almost as loud as the exposed engine and sand flicks up and stings your eyes, ears, mouth and anywhere else it can get inside. Suddenly, after a few minutes of breathless laughter, the vehicle lurches to a halt. After struggling briefly with buckles, you jump down onto shaky knees and attempt to sandboard down the dunes themselves. For the first few dunes we lay on our stomachs, legs and knees held up behind us to give minimum friction as you fly down the slopes. Just as you think your face will bury itself in the sand at the bottom, the front of your board lifts up and you glide to a halt. Standing takes a little more practice and dedication, but the buggy convieniently being there to drive us to the top of each new dune brought more motivation than the hill climbs that we made in San Pedro De Atacama.
So, my advice? In short, if you have a day or more to spare on your trip through this part of Peru, the oasis and Huacachina are a worthwhile pause to relax and enjoy some adventures in the dunes. Enjoy the photos!