via Flickr/Francisco Javier Garcia Orts

Every now and then, you stumble across something that looks too beautiful to be real… but is actually, despite all odds, very real indeed. Huacachina in southern Peru is one of those places. It kinda feels like it’s straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, only better. And the craziest part? Even though it looks like it’s in the middle of a vast, sandy desert, it’s only about 10 minutes away from the town of Ica.

The Oasis of Huacachina is surrounded on either side by massive sand dunes that can reach hundreds of feet in height, making the lake feel very secluded. With a population of only 100 people, the area has always been a luxurious tourist spot for locals, and in recent years has become a favorite place for people looking to do some dune buggy cruising and sand boarding. The small community is made up of hotels, shops, and restaurants, that surround the palm-tree-lined lagoon, which by the way, is perfect for swimming or boating.

As if it couldn’t get any more incredible, the water and mud of the lagoon are rumored to have health benefits, and locals claim a dip can cure arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, and bronchitis. A local legend holds that the pond formed when a beautiful princess took off her clothes to bathe, and in her mirror, saw that a hunter was approaching. She fled, leaving behind her mirror, which turned into the lagoon, and her clothes became the sand dunes. Some still believe she lives in the water to this day, as a mermaid.

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In the 1940s and 1950s Huacachina was a popular spot for wealthy Peruvians who would make the short drive from the city to spend the weekend in paradise. Once travelers caught wind of the amazing resort people would come from all over the world to see one of the only remaining natural oases left in the world. The lagoon came under threat in the 1980s, when water stopped seeping into the lake and it started to dry up, thanks to the wells some locals had established… but rather than let this special place disppear, locals planned to pump water from a nearby farm into the pond. In 2016, a Peruvian scientist was tasked with establishing a long-term plan to protect the lake from further detriment.

In the meantime, it’s seeing a resurgence in popularity. Not hard to see why; you can spend the afternoon tackling massive sand dunes, and the evening floating on a lush oasis, drink in hand, waiting for a visit from a magical mermaid princess.

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