"Huacachina" by Babak Fakhamzadeh via Flickr Creative Commons

It's pretty common to think you're seeing a mirage at some point when you travel in South America. Teeming with tremendous ruins, beaches, and wildlife, you wouldn't blame yourself for blinking in amazement and wondering whether the sights in front of you are actually real. A large watering hole surrounding by a small community of locals and travelers, this real live oasis is no mirage.

Unlike in the movies, however, there is no struggle for salvation, shelter or water. This tropical spot in southwest Peru will have you embracing the sand, desert and surrounding dunes by rolling and surfing down the golden slopes. If you like random adventures, this journey is for you. Welcome to Huacachina, Peru.

Photo Credit: sandeepachetan.com

The Legend

Huacachina (pronounced "Wakay-China") means "to cry" and "young woman." According to local legend, there are several myths surrounding the town's origins. One states that the oasis was formed by a young Inca princess as she fled from a hunter while bathing in a lagoon. The folds from her mantle streamed behind her, creating the sand dunes. Another story tells of the princess' love for her handsome prince. His death made her cry so much her tears created the lagoon, where she remains as a mermaid. Whether you believe any of the tales or not, Huacachina is an unbelievable sight amongst the seemingly endless expanses of sand.

"Blue Buggy" by Robert Luna via Flickr Creative Commons

What to Do There

The main reason people visit Huacachina is to play in the sand dunes. You can take day trips on dune buggies out to fields for sandboarding. The journey itself is like a roller coaster, steep and bumpy, providing plenty of adrenaline spikes. If you are good at board sports, you can surf or go down belly first. Boards are generally provided by your tour company, but you will want to double check.

"Sandboarders" by Robert Luna via Flickr Creative Commons

How to Do It

Peru Hop is a new company that takes you directly to Huacachina and operates from Cusco, Arequipa, Paramas, and Lima. No other bus takes you direct. Most local buses will go to Huacachina's neighboring town, Ica, where you can pay a few sole (about 2-3 USD), to make the 10 minute drive by taxi. If you want quiet luxury after a hard day in the sun, Hosteria Suiza is perfect. It has a great backdrop and views, a pool, and entrance to the public beach. Another option is Banana's Adventure. This is a mid-range accommodation that offers tasty food, a pool, palm trees, and hammocks. Dorms and private rooms are available.

You are going to be in the desert with very little shade, so be sure to pack water and wear a hat, shades, sunscreen, and a bandana or light scarf to cover your face. Think desert ninja warrior! You only need to spend a few days in Huacachina at most so get adventurous, and relax by the pool when you need a break. From there, the mysterious Nazca Lines are the next point south.