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A desert oasis flanking a lagoon in Peru, adventure-centric Huacachina is pretty much unlike anywhere else on earth. Stop off for high-octane thrills, including dune-buggy riding and boarding across the sandy landscape. At the weekend, the bars along the water take on a livelier atmosphere – and a pisco sour cocktail or two is the perfect follow-up to capturing the colours of a bright orange sunset on camera. Travellers and locals alike take dips in the lagoon, which is claimed to have powers to cure complaints like arthritis and asthma.
If you're staying in town for a few days, pick a Huacachina hostel with a pool and a rooftop patio so you can enjoy panoramas of the sweeping golden sand dunes. Or go for a multicoloured spot with graffiti murals and a boldly decorated bar. Some dorms have pod-style beds for extra privacy, while other Huacachina hostels hand out free shots of pisco (Peru's national drink). A sociable place with sun loungers and a poolside bar is a solid option if you're looking to party.
The Malecón de la Huacachina, a palm-tree-studded boulevard edging the lagoon, is lined with bustling bars and restaurants alongside hotels. It's the main area of town, but in the handful of streets leading off it you'll find a choice of places to eat and relax. Just 5km outside Huacachina is Ica, a city known for its pisco wineries and the neoclassical-fronted cathedral on the main Plaza de Armas.
Sign up for a day dune buggying or sandboarding and you'll be whizzed around on an adrenaline-spiked whirlwind tour of the dunes. The drivers zoom up, down and even across the sandy peaks. Next, you'll strap yourself onto a board – usually face down – before speeding towards the bottom of a dune. Tours last about a couple of hours – try to book a session just before dusk to see the sun dip below the horizon behind the lagoon.
You can get to Huacachina directly by private bus from Lima in 5 hours or from Cusco (taking 17 hours or more) via Peru Hop. Otherwise, jump on a public bus to Ica from your destination and take a taxi for the remaining 10-minute drive. Huacachina is compact, so walking is the best way to get around – you can even head on a stroll through the sand dunes. The remaining transport options are sandboarding and dune buggying.