The final leg of this gringa’s trail in Peru included the only oasis on the continent, Huacachina, and the relatively close-by Lima, the county’s capital. Huacahina is a little village surrounding the oasis, nestled in between high dunes. It’s grown into a popular tourist destination, but remains small in size with only a few of hotels and hostels – probably because of its proximity to the city of Ica (10-15 minutes on a taxi or tuk tuk) where some prefer to stay the nights, and Lima (4-5 hours by car or bus) from where some make day trips.
Popular things to do in Huacachina are sand boarding, dune buggy tours and hiking the dunes. The latter is especially popular around sunset when people gather on top of the highest dune. The views are spectacular, and from up there Huacachina looks like a little piece of paradise with green water and greener palm trees in the middle of the masses of yellow sand. Sadly the water is not so pretty on a closer look. It’s murky and like in many places in South America, there’s trash drifting around the water, beaches and streets. There are paddle and pedal boats for hire but I’d say the water isn’t very inviting for making closer contact. It does make a beautiful visual element contrasting the surrounding desert and is a fascinating curiosity of nature.
Cañón de los Perdidos
A couple of hours drive from Huacachina into the desert meanders a serpentine canyon carved by water, wind and time named Cañón de los Perdidos, the “Canyon of the Lost”. It was named so because it was discovered when people got lost in the area, and people kept getting lost trying to find it again. This was fairly recent and it’s easy to believe when you see it. Approaching the canyon you’d never guess the desert is hiding something like it, and you don’t see it before you’re almost on the edge and suddenly see the ground opening. The tours take you for a hike under the rim along the winding bottom of the canyon and explain about the geology of the area. You can get on a tour from Huacachina and probably Ica too, but there was talk about the canyon going to be closed off form the public for preservation, so if you don’t go soon it might be too late.
The first and last stop for travellers in Peru is often Lima. Some just pass through, but like almost any metropolis of its size, Lima does have attractions to keep the curious busy for at least a few days. Lima’s most interesting area, the bohemian district of Barranco is full of street art and the most hipster cafes and bars. The more upscale Miraflores has shopping centres and department stores with the most comprehensive selection of international brands I saw anywhere in South America. The Larcomar shopping center is worth the visit just for the the views: it’s located on a steep cliff in the oceanfront. Close by is a cute mosaic covered park, Parque del Amor, that offers some colourful photo ops. Peru is known for having amazing food from the street stalls and village markets to the several Michelin-starred restaurants in Lima. Since the capital sits on the coast I wouldn’t miss sampling some fresh ceviche, the Peuvian dish made from raw fish cured in citrus juices.
Already after Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Rainbow Mountain I thought Peru to be one of my all time favourite countries to travel to, definitely in the top 3 or maybe even top 2 of more than 40. Later Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, and Huacachina just convinced me more. Peru’s ”gringo trail” might not be the road less travelled anymore, but its marvels are worth exploring for everyone looking to experience a country that’s unique and magical.