Searching for desert lagoons in Peru


The pro-driver part was certainly needed. Our plans of keeping it safe at only 25 percent of the truck’s ability was still exhilarating, to say the least. We had no directions, only satellite maps of this area in Ica, Peru that we consulted beforehand. We had no idea what to expect and no one knew of a road to the lagoons.

Back on top of the dunes. We dropped down into a wave sand big enough to make the truck seem pretty insignificant. The driver cannot braking nor oversteer, upon risk of rolling the car. Gearing up and down and throttle control is the way to guide your way through the sands of Peru’s desert.

We had to keep in mind that there were many more mountains of sand ahead, and we have to be out of the area before dark. In the desert, out of cell service and far from everything, is not the place to be. We were breaking the rule of being a lone vehicle, but we were finding the path and collecting GPS points to two oases I had been looking at from a satellite map. (My friend being a local land owner also helped, as there is a courtesy extended for passing through properties. Even though it is an ocean of sand, there are claims on most of the land.)

Climbing the dunes. See more photos.

Making a family trip

After having survived the preliminary scouting mission and gained the GPS points, five days later I led the next expedition, a two-vehicle mission with friends and family. This time we were following a secondary route we found on the preliminary ride. I was not yet qualified to lead the original desert roller-coaster route.

(It is important to note that a few days previous to our expedition, there was an armed robbery at a nearby farm. As in many remote locations around the world, these things happen, so be aware of what you’re doing if attempting to find the lagoons. However, the area is generally safe, and local folks were more than helpful and generous with directions.)

The sand from the desert was blindingly bright and the first route had already been obscured by the shifting sands and the GPS points were guiding the way again.

The first oasis, called Laguna Marones, was big enough to swim in, although a bit swamp-like. We opted for climbing the giant dune that rises about 130 feet above the oasis. If only we had remembered the sand board…

Not a mirage: An oasis

We were interested in lunch and spending some time in the water. So we followed the GPS points towards the larger of the two oases, known as Laguna Costa Rica. We came across a genuine discovery of pristine water and private isolation. A private lake in an ocean of sand.

The oasis is well-maintained. It has a grassy park-like spots in and around the lagoons connected by paths, walking bridges, and floating platforms with kayaks and canoes. After the 2007 earthquake, a once-dry area sank and created another lagoon adjacent the previous one, I was told.

The water was brilliant, crystal clear, fresh – and freezing. Our visit was during Peru’s winter and it is a desert. We went swimming and found the bottom to be deeper than 10 feet in some areas. (Next time we’re bringing the water polo nets and holding a proper open championship.)

Winter in the desert brings a sudden temperature drop in the afternoon that sufficiently signals the time to move on. Following a third option on the way out – or rather, making one up as we went along – we came across more roads filled with goats and friendly arms pointing to the correct dirt path between small farms, to our exit and return to civilization.