Vineyards stretch across flat land for over a thousand acres with the foothills of the Andes Mountains silhouetted along the horizon. It’s not a sight you expect to see in Peru unless you’re aware that Pisco, the Peruvian national spirit and the key ingredient in their famous Pisco sour, is made from grapes. I spent a few nights in total relaxation at the Hotel Viñas Queirolo where I dined on local Peruvian dishes like sea bass ceviche accompanied by glasses of their own Tannats, Syrahs and Malbecs.
However, it wasn’t the picture-perfect wine region that I was most surprised to find in Peru. On the outskirts of Ica, the main winery destination, sits the Ica Desert. Twenty minutes by taxi and I was transported from the lush green vineyards to rolling sand dunes as far as the eye could see. As you leave town and the road quickly becomes surrounded by sand, you only need to drive a few minutes further before you reach Huacachina.
Like a mirage out of a movie, Huacachina’s oasis of emerald green waters surrounded by palm trees and vegetation is a surreal sight to see. On a stroll around the circumference of the water, I stopped to take it all in from the comfort of a wooden bench. On the surrounding dunes, you can see hikers making the brutal trek to the top, well worth it for the views looking back down on the oasis. ATVs make the journey look easy, albeit terrifying. From this angle, it looks like they’re dropping straight down the edge of a cliff. You can even make out the zigzagging blurs of the locals sandboarding with ease and speed down the side of the dune.
The tiny village surrounding the oasis is very much a cash cow for tourism, but not annoyingly so. It’s still quite peaceful during the day. Plenty of options for eateries, hostels, tour companies and souvenir shops circle the water. I opt for a dune buggy and sandboarding experience described as “adrenaline-inducing” and not for the faint of heart. Strapping into the buggy, helmet on, goggles secured and a bandana covering my face, the driver starts off taking it pretty easy. But soon enough we’re speeding around corners nearly on two wheels before he guns it to the top of an incredibly steep sand dune. Turning around at the top isn’t on the agenda. Instead, he lets the buggy go as far up as it can, shifts it into neutral, and we plummet backward to the bottom of the slope.
Thoroughly energized, we stop at the top of a much smaller hill where he supplies us with sandboards. If you’ve ever snowboarded, surfed or skateboarded, you should have a pretty easy time maintaining balance on the board and cruising straight down the dune. No need to steer or break—it’s more like sledding on two feet. Even those who’ve never been on a board of any kind are likely to enjoy it.
Once you’re back in civilization, you can continue your Peruvian adventure down the coast where you can explore the ancient geoglyphs of Nazca or the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” off the coast of Paracas.