If you accidentally stumbled upon the city of Huacachina, you might think that it is mirage. Huacachina is centered around a lagoon dotted with lush green vegetation – located in the world’s driest desert. Sluggish among the largest sand dunes in South America, it is the only natural oasis on the continent.
On August 15, 2020, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this image of Huacachina and surrounding sand dunes. Huacachina is located on the edge of the Atacama Desert in southwestern Peru. The city is located about 5 kilometers (3 mi) from Ika city.
Huacachina has many mythological origin stories, translating to “weeping woman” in Cachachua. One legend states that a beautiful Inkan princess, named Hayachina, was mourning the loss of her lover, and her tears formed the lagoon. One day, a warrior saw her and shocked the princess, who remained hidden in the water for hours. When she tried to leave, she was transformed into a mermaid. Another version states that the princess was holding a mirror and beaming herself when the warrior saw her. When he was shocked, the mirror fell and shattered. The glass became small pools in the desert and devoured the princess, turning her into a mermaid. Many legends say that Huacachina still lives in the pool and sets out to entice swimmers at night.
The oasis is actually formed from the water of the underground aquifers which seeps through the sand and helps promote the growth of palm trees, eucalyptus and carob trees around the pool. The lagoon, which is spread over only about 2 acres, is surrounded by businesses, hotels and restaurants on its rim. The city of Oasis has a population of about 100 years of residents. In recent years, water levels in the lagoon have decreased due to drilling and evaporation of nearby wells during hot summers. As a result, the city is flooding the lagoon from outside sources.
Located on a bus journey of about five hours from Lima, Huacachina has served as a popular tourist destination for over 70 years. The city entertained many of Peru’s financial elite in the 1940s, and today entertains thousands of tourists every year. Once called the “Oasis of America”, Huacachina was featured on 50 Nueva Sol currency notes until 2006.
The sand dunes rising beyond the oasis grow to a height of several hundred feet – as high as small mountains. They offer excellent sandboarding thrills: Adrenaline enthusiasts can slide down dunes like tubers or snowboarders. Tourists can also ride dune buggies on dunes or hikes, although sand hiking.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dupuhn using Landsat data from the US Geological Survey. Photo by Haverdale and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.