According to myth, the lagoon at HUACACHINA, about 5km southwest of Ica, was created when a princess stripped off her clothes to bathe. When she looked into a mirror and saw that a male hunter was watching her she dropped the mirror, which then became the lagoon. More prosaically, during the late 1940s, the lagoon became one of Peru’s most elegant and exclusive resorts, surrounded by palm trees, sand dunes and waters famed for their curative powers, and with a delightfully old-world atmosphere. Since then the lagoon’s subterranean source has grown erratic and it is supplemented by water pumped up from artesian wells, making it less of a red-coloured, viscous syrup and more like a green, salty swimmable lagoon; it retains considerable mystique, making it a quiet, secluded spot to relax. The curative powers of the lagoon attract people from all over: 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 respiratory problems, so it’s not uncommon to see locals buried up to the neck in the dunes.

The settlement, still little more than twenty houses or so, is growing very slowly, but one end of the lagoon has been left fairly clear of construction. 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. On the Salvaterra side of the lake there’s a great little library – Biblioteca Abraham Valdelomar – with a strong ecological focus.

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