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During the late 1940s, the lagoon at Huacachina became one of Peru's most elegant and exclusive resorts, surrounded by palm trees, sand dunes and waters famed for their curative powers. Since then the lagoon's subterranean source has grown erratic and it is supplemented by water that is pumped up from artesian wells, making it less of a red-coloured thick, viscous syrup and more like a green salty swimable lagoon; it retains considerable mystique, making it a quiet, secluded spot to relax. Mud from the lake is reputed to cure arthritis and rheumatism if you plaster yourself all over with it; and the sand around the lagoon is also supposed to benefit people with chest problems such as asthma or bronchitis.
Sand dune surfing on the higher slopes is all the rage and you can rent wooden boards or foot-skis for around $2–3 an hour from the cafés along the shoreline. Dune buggy adrenaline rides are also traditionally offered from some of the cafe's, hotels and independent kiosks and shops, while boats can also be rented. The settlement, still little more than twenty houses or so, is growing very slowly. Climb the dunes at the end of the lake and take in the views from the top early in the morning, before it gets too hot and prior to the noisy dune buggy runs.
The most stylish accommodation around is the luxurious and exceptionally elegant Hotel Mossone (Tel:056/213630, F213630, Ereservas@derrama.org.pe; Price: $50-70), once the haunt of politicians and diplomats, who listened to concerts while sitting on the colonial-style verandah overlooking the lagoon. Outside high season it is sometimes possible to get very reasonable deals, but if you're on a tight budget, the Hotel Salvatierra, Malecón de Huacachina (Tel:056/232352, Ejavosalvati@hotmail.com; Price: $10–25), is excellent value, and has an enormous amount of character, there's a good new swimming pool and Internet connections, and the owner's family offers transport to and from Ica whenever possible. The Hostería Suiza, Balconario de Huacachina 264 (Tel:056/238762, Ehostesuiza@terra.com.pe; Price: $50-70), is very comfortable, cosy, quiet and located at the far end of the lake. There are a couple of hostels with new swimming pools including the Hospedaje Titanic (Tel:056/229003; Price: $10–25) above the left end of the malecón. It's possible to camp in the sand dunes around the lagoon – rarely is it cold enough to need more than a blanket.
The restaurantTrattoria Novaro, close to the Mossone, is very popular in the evenings with its wide range of Italian and Peruvian dishes. The Mossone itself has a wonderful restaurant, too, but it's very pricey. There are a couple of other decent options: the Restaurant Moron for lunches under the bandstand beside the lake, and La Sirena serves brilliant fish and other dishes. Desert Adventures (Tel:056/228458, Web: www.desertadventure.net ) are one of the Huacachina-based 4WD desert fun rides exploring the more remote dune areas ($10 for two hours), although things have toned down a bit since a few tourists were killed in an accident. Several places (hotels included) around the lake rent sand boards and some also offer campers a room for bag storage and a shower.