So about 4 hours after we left Lima, we arrived in Ica. The bus stop where we arrived was a bit rough around the edges, but we got a taxi and made our way to Huacachina which is one of the main reasons travelers head to Ica. [Note: The buses in South America are really nice, assuming you take a trusted line. They have seats that recline, blankets and pillows, TV’s, and small meals/snacks. I’d recommend TEPSA or Cruz del Sur as bus lines for non-Peruvian travelers.] Huacachina is just about 10-15 minutes outside of Ica, and is really one of the neatest places you could imagine.
restaurant on the oasis with jokes
Huacachina is a little oasis in the middle of a desert full of mountain-sized sand dunes. It is really something to see, and something totally different for most people. The oasis is the size a small pond – you could walk the entire perimeter in about 20 minutes. And Huacachina the ‘town’ exists as an outgrowth from this little oasis – a half circle of restaurants and hostels around the oasis, with just a couple more blocks stemming from that half circle. It really is tiny, and it does exist largely because of tourism.
We arrived around 8PM, so it was already dark out, but still plenty of time to relax and enjoy a few Cusquenas. We stayed at the Desert Nights hostel which is a neat little backpacker’s hostel. This was the only place where we stayed in true backpacker form – in a community dorm with a few sets of bunk beds and communal bathrooms, thus a very economical choice. It was a good little place with an attached bar/restaurant, and a very helpful and friendly staff. Through the hostel with the help of the staff, you could book a few different options as far as excursions and nearby places to visit and things to do. We decided to do two different activities while there and booked both through the hostel.
Our first activity was to tour a couple of distilleries / wineries in the area. We ended up on the tour with a very nice Columbian lady (who happens to know James Rodriguez for all you soccer crazies out there!) that we befriended and chatted with quite a bit. The tour lasted a few hours and took us to through two different wineries; both of the wineries were also also pisco distilleries. Pisco is a liquor that is very common throughout Peru. It is similar to what you might get with a vodka or a tequila – a clear liquor that is in the 40-50% alcohol range…turns out, it’s actually just distilled wine. It comes in many varieties; some infused with lemon or other flavors, some more sweet or more dry, and some as liqueurs (our Columbian friend bought us a coffee flavored pisco liqueur as an anniversary gift!).
tasting the vino and the pisco
we’re the three best friends that anyone could have…
Our second activity in Huacachina is a must do! We went sand-dune boarding and dune buggy riding through the mountainous sound dunes. Again we booked this through the hostel, and this was a ~2 hour adventure racing up and down the dunes in a cage-like dune buggy. At various points, our driver would stop and we would hop out of the buggy to zoom down the dunes on our wooden sand boards. It is an absolutely unique and quite exhilarating experience. We stayed out just long enough to see the sunset on the dunes – incredible!
with our dune buggy driver
After our dune buggy ride, we ate dinner and took a cab back to the bus station to get on our way to the next stop – Arequipa. This was the longest bus ride of our trip – right around 12 hours. We decided to time it so that our bus left Ica around 10pm and arrived in Arequipa around 10am the following morning. Again, the buses are very nice with their amenities, although 12 hours still felt like a long time and we were ready to be off the bus by the time we arrived.
There are a couple of other sights that people may stop in Ica to see. The first is to visit the Islas Ballestas or ‘The Poor Man’s Galapagos’ which is about an hour east of Ica in Paracas and are a part of the national reserve there. We elected not to go on this excursion, even though we originally had it tentatively scheduled in our original plans. The main attraction there is a little boat ride around the islands, and neither of us are very sea-worthy. We decided that it wasn’t worth us spending an extra night and most of a day to get over to Paracas to tour around by boat (and possibly get sick) and then head back to Ica. (This is where we picked up the 1 day that I mentioned on our original itinerary.) One day and a half was enough to do the two excursions that we did in Ica (Huacachina), and we didn’t regret skipping the island boat tour in Paracas.
The other thing that people may elect to do is to visit the lineas of Nazca. Nazca is actually located a couple of hours south of Ica, and is a potential stop on your way out of town (possibly as you head to Arequipa). These are ancient lines created in various shapes (e.g. monkey, spider) that were etched into the ground thousands of years ago. They are interesting partly due to the scale in which they were done – you need to be fairly high above ground to see the actual shapes (there are various viewing towers and several airplane tours you can book to see them). I had seen these during my previous travels, and while they are neat, we didn’t think that they warranted their own stop with all of the other things we had planned.
So our one night in Ica was enough for us, and we were on the bus to sleep our way to our next stop of Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city…