When you think of an oasis, what do you picture? For us, we think of mountains of sand towering over a small puddle of a body of water, surrounded by palm trees. We didn’t see that mental image come to life when we went to the Al Ain oasis in the UAE.
But then, we came to Huacachina and that image was our reality. The small lake of the town is surrounded by a smattering of palm trees and 2 blocks of hostels, hotels and restaurants catering to the constant flow of tourists.
The big activity in Huacachina is a two hour dune buggy/sandboarding trip. You are literally strapped into one of the bug-looking buggies and driven into the desert. Depending on your driver, the ride can be a pleasant journey with a few bumps here and there, or your throat will be sore after laughing and screaming during your roller coaster-like venture. The dune-buggying was actually my favourite part – I’m a sucker for roller coasters.
But the sand boarding was fun as well. At various hills we’d pile out of the buggy and were given a board and a candle to wax it. For Ewan and I, we exclusively slid down face first on our bellies – the easiest way in my opinion. But many snow boarders (or just brave souls) would strap the boards to their feet and actually board down standing up (though there were a few epic face plants or stunning acrobatic flips as well). Either way, it’s helpful to wear glasses and have a bandana to avoid sand in your eyes and mouth.
Somehow I managed to bruise up both of my knees doing the sand boarding, which made the boarding part less fun the second time we went out. Yes. We went two times – all on account of being stuck in Huacachina.
Miners in the south of Peru were on strike and in an effort to have the government respond to their demands, put up road blocks all over. All traffic was stuck, and we could not proceed on our route through Arequipa to Cusco. Our original plan was to spend two nights in Huacachina, but we ended up staying for five. The positive out of this was that the hostel we stayed in was clean and comfortable, and the group of tourists who were stuck in the same situation with us were a really fun bunch. The downside was that Huacachina is small and the shops and restaurants know they can get away with ‘gringo’ prices, so things were a bit more pricy than we would have liked.
Thankfully things opened up eventually, and we were able to move forward instead of having to retrace our steps back up to Lima. Several times we joked that Huacachina was like the Hotel California…you can check in anytime you like (we checked in three times!) but you can never leave. And to be honest, if you had to be stuck anywhere, Huacachina is a pretty darn nice place to get stuck!