Famous for its desert landscape, production of Pisco and the biggest sand dunes, the city of Ica lies about 300 kilometres south of the capital city of Lima. Here you’ll find vineyards, a great museum, and it’s even close enough to visit the Nazca lines – just 1.5 hours away. There isn’t much to do in the city of Ica itself, but tourists flock to Ica every day to visit the Huacachina sand dunes located 10 minutes from the city centre.
HAUCACHINA: SANDBOARDING AND DUNE BUGGYING – Huacachina is an oasis and is only a 10-minute taxi ride from the centre of Ica (by taxi, 10 soles). Here, you can ride up the incredible sand dunes in dune buggies, and experience the best sandboarding in Peru as you travel down the dunes. It is highly recommended to take the tour of the sand dunes during the afternoon, so you can get the most spectacular photos of the sunset. There are daily departures from most hotels and hostels in Huacachina, and the tour costs around $15.
EL CATADOR VINEYARD – Ica is the home of Pisco, the Peruvian National liquor. Ica is also known for some of the most famous wines in the world. El Catador vineyard is one of the oldest family owed vineyards in Ica, and is located 10 minutes from the city centre, or 20 minutes from Huacachina. Here you can take part in a tour of the vineyard, learn about the distillery process of Pisco and wine, and even try some free samples at the end of the tour.
REGIONAL MUSEUM OF ICA: Here you’ll learn about Peruvian history and the pre-Inca cultures that once inhabited the area. There are interesting artifacts to see, including mummies, textiles, clothes, ceramics, and skulls. It’s not a big museum, so can be seen in less than an hour. Entry costs around 7.5 soles, and 4 soles for students. You can even see some Nazca line representations out the back. Some displays have explanations in English, but most are in Spanish, so it could be useful hiring an English-speaking guide to get more out of your visit.
THE GRAPE HARVEST FESTIVAL: From the 6th to the 15th of March, there is a big celebration of the wine and Pisco produced in Ica, with fairs, floats, competitions, music, Pisco and wine tasting, dancing, horse shows, and even a beauty queen pageant! The festival queen treads on grapes to extract the juices, which later will be fermented. This 10-day event attracts visitors from all-over, many visiting from Lima.
*** WHAT NOT TO MISS ***
Visiting Huacachina will be your best chance at doing some amazing sandboarding in Peru.
The famous El Catador vineyard.
There are many small restaurants around the plaza, where you can eat for a reasonable price. However, the best place to eat traditional food is La Olla de Juanita (Fundo Tres Esquinas 121), which is located 10 minutes from the city centre, or 20 minutes from Huacachina (and on the same street as El Catador Vinyard).
Also, don’t leave Ica without trying Pisco – a fermented liquor (but be sure to mix it, as it is very strong), and Pisco sour – the renowned Peruvian cocktail, made using eggs.
During the weekend, most locals go to Huacachina for a night out. There is a big party atmosphere in Huacachina, with many backpackers staying just for the nightlife! There are a few bars around the oasis, and on the weekend the biggest club in Huacachina is open (Arenas, found inside Casa de Arena Hostel, Av. Angela de Perotti).
Ica is warm and sunny all year round. The best time to visit is from May to November, when the climate is warm and does not pass 24°C. From December to April the climate is very hot and can reach temperatures of up to 30°C.
From the capital city of Lima, you can travel to Ica in 4 hours by car, and from Nazca, in 2 to 3 hours. There are public buses that leave from Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Nazca and Paracas daily that go to Ica, such as Cruz del Sur or Soyuz. There is no direct public bus company that can enter directly into Huacachina. If you arrive with a public bus, you’ll have to pay for a taxi from the bus terminal - no more than 10 soles. There is now a tourist bus that enters directly into Huacachina, called Peru Hop. They have departures from Lima, Paracas, Nazca, Arequipa and Cusco.
The most popular hostels or hotels are in Huacachina, 10 minutes away from the city centre - not many visitors stay in Ica. In Huacachina you can find many nice hostels, such as Casa de Arena (Av. Angela de Perotti) - which has a bar, pool, and dance-floor, and Banana's Adventure (at the end of Av. Angela de Perotti). Banana's has a nice outdoor area, with a bar and hammocks. For a higher-end option, choose Hosteria Suiza (Balneario de Huacachina), which has a garden and is in a quieter location.
Always stay hydrated during the day and take enough water with you. It is sunny all year round so make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
During the winter months (from May to November) temperatures can drop drastically during the night and early hours of the morning, make sure you bring a jacket or jumper.
Be safe at night – it’s better to take taxis to get around than to walk.