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Beyond the Desert Sands: Exploring Ica, Peru

The province of Ica Peru is a treasure with amazing wildlife, desert oasis, ancient mysteries, and home of pisco distilling. Located along the central coast, approximately 300 km south of Lima, this region is a canvas of diverse landscapes, each offering a unique flavour to your Peruvian adventure.

two white row boats with green awnings pulled up on a sandy shore. one boat has a Great Egret perched on the bow
Huacachina Oasis

Most first-time visitors to Peru choose it as a destination where they can experience the thrills of the Incan city of Machu Picchu and the sites of the Sacred Valley. Once immersed in research and planning, it soon becomes apparent that Peru is so much more than Incan treasures.


Today's post is intended to get you to consider including the towns of Paracas, Huacachina, Nazca, and Pisco in the province of Ica to your itinerary to experience a glimpse of the Pre-Columbian civilizations who tamed the desert into thriving agricultural fields as well as the effects of Spanish conquerors and colonialists. It is a place to marvel at unique landscapes and abundant wildlife; try out a couple of adrenaline-pumping experiences; and get an inside peek at how Peru's National Drink, pisco is created.

 

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Ica Peru Highlights

Pisco: Spirit of the Valley 

A great place for your first stop is Pisco. Beyond the eponymous spirit, Pisco is a gateway to the lush valleys and thriving vineyards that produce some of Peru's finest grapes. The Pisco Distilleries in Pisco offer a journey through the craftsmanship behind this iconic spirit, allowing visitors to savour the essence of Peru in every drop.


For more information check out Sipping Sunshine: Visiting a Pisco Distillery

Rows of clay urns standing upright in wooden frames under a bamboo shelter

Paracas: Coastal Charms 

Continuing south along the coast is the town of Paracas, a coastal paradise where the desert meets the sea. The Islas Ballestas, often referred to as the "Galapagos of Peru," or the "Poor Man's Galapagos" are home to a vibrant array of marine life and seabird colonies. I was thrilled to see penguins and blue-footed boobies.

A mother Blue-Footed Booby with 3 fluffy white chicks on a nest in a stony crevice

You will also be able to see ancient geoglyphs etched into the landscape by the Paracas people who inhabited the area from about 900 BCE to 100 CE. For more detailed information, see my post, Paracas and Ballestas Islands.


Huacachina: Oasis of Thrills 

Move inland and south to find Huacachina, a literal oasis in the middle of huge dunes rising like mountains around an emerald-green lagoon. This is a must for adventure enthusiasts with thrilling sandboarding escapades and dune buggy rides, followed by a night of clubbing.

aa view of a dune with multiple dune buggies aat the top and groups of people boarding down the front.
Dune Buggies and Sand Boarding at Huacachina

More details about the activities and places to stay and eat, see my post Huacachina Peru: Desert Oasis


Nazca: Mystical Marvels 

Keep heading further south and you'll discover Nazca, a place where ancient mysteries come to life. The Nazca Lines, etched into the desert floor, are an archaeological mystery that has puzzled minds for centuries. Take to the skies on a small Cessna to witness these colossal geoglyphs in all their glory. For me, this was a bucket-list experience.

A dog etched into the desert floor
The Dog geoglyph

For more information on what to expect when flying over these incredible geoglyphs, check out Flying over Nazca.


Getting There: Lima to Ica

For the savvy traveller looking for real-time options and schedules, I highly recommend checking out Rome2Rio. This website has up-to-date information on various transportation modes, with schedules, rates, and routes.


Fly

The main airport in Ica province is Ayacucho which is a long way from the locations discussed in this post. From there, public bus rides can be arranged. This might be a good option if you are choosing to stay in Ayacucho but the location and transportation organization is not very convenient for most tourists.


Public Bus

If you prefer the laid-back approach, public bus options are readily available from Lima. Reliable and affordable, these buses offer a comfortable but long ride from Lima to Ica, giving you the chance to sit back, relax, and take in the ever-changing scenery.

map showing location of Pisco Paracas Huacachina and Nazca

Tour Companies

Now, for those who fancy a guided journey, tours are the way to go. I opted for Peru Hop when making my way from Lima to Cusco, and it was a game-changer. With stops in Paracas, Huacachina, Nazca, and Pisco, it's a curated adventure that introduces you to the places of interest along the way, choosing how long you want to stay at each stop. They assist with booking excursions and accommodations. I chose to linger in Paracas, captivated by its coastal charm. I soaked in the oasis vibes of Huachachina for a couple of nights.


What to Eat in Ica, Peru

This is a coastal region, so first on the menu should be the iconic ceviche. Fresh from the bountiful Pacific, this dish is a symphony of flavours featuring marinated seafood, zesty lime, and a dash of spice. In Ica, the ceviche is an art form, with local twists that showcase the region's unique seafood offerings.

marinaded shrimp in bread
Shrimp Ceviche

Delicious anticuchos are skewers of marinated and grilled meats often accompanied by a side of potatoes or corn. Sometimes on restaurant menus but always available in markets and from street carts. There are many different types of meats used so you might want to ask before buying.

Skewers of beef on a bed of rice with roasted corn on the cob as a side

Tips for Travellers

There are areas of Peru that are volatile politically. It is important to check your country's travel advisories before booking or departing for your trip. While Ica is not currently on the list, it's essential to stay informed about your surroundings and news events. Solo travellers, in particular, might find solace in group tours or services like Peru Hop, which not only offer a hassle-free way to explore but also provide a sense of camaraderie along the way. Trust your instincts when choosing where to stay and how to get around – whether it's a cozy guesthouse in Paracas or a desert oasis retreat in Huachachina, let your comfort guide your choices.


Speaking from my own experience, I felt incredibly safe throughout my time in Ica and throughout Peru. Locals are warm and welcoming. The Peru Hop guides and my guesthouse hosts went out of their way to ensure my safety. That being said, it's always wise to stay vigilant, be aware of your surroundings, and take necessary precautions, just as you would in any destination.


Final Thoughts

Whether you're drawn to the thrill of sandboarding down colossal dunes, eager to savour the flavours of Pisco on a sun-kissed terrace, or yearning to trace the lines of ancient geoglyphs in the desert, Ica invites you to discover, indulge, and immerse yourself. As a saying seen on a wall plaque at a market said, "Travel far, travel wide, but always let the spirit of Ica be your guide."


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