Andy and I were both really looking forward to our time in Ica. All of the pictures that we had seen looked amazing and we loved our time at White Sands National Monument’s large dunes in New Mexico. We knew that if the dunes in Ica were anything like that, we would have a blast and get a lot of great photos.
Our time in Ica was filled with all sorts of excursions which was a lot of fun. We didn’t have much time to relax because there was just too much to see and do!
Bus Ride from Lima to Ica
Cruz del Sur is known as the gringo bus of Peru, the most common mode of transport for western tourists around the country. I was actually surprised that we hadn’t ridden on a Cruz del Sur bus earlier on our trip.
As to not get a bad seat on the bus, we booked our tickets several days in advance and secured 2 seats right in front of the window on the second floor. While I was excited for the view, Andy was a little more reserved, not being as comfortable with the way that people drive in this part of the world.
Before we were able to board, we went through security. This made me see why so many tourists prefer this company. In addition to Cruz del Sur taking photos of everyone in their seat (a visual aid for the police should there be any theft), something that we have had on several of our busses, they also checked carry on bags and used a metal detector on passengers before boarding.
While this made us feel a little more secure, it was also funny because their screening was not consistent. They used the metal detector on Andy but not me and only checked my purse briefly, not extensively.
We were lucky to have 2 different movies on the bus. Even though the audio was in Spanish, we were able to read the subtitles in English. As an added bonus, we were able to hear the Spanish, while reading at the English which, at least for me, helped me a little bit with my Spanish.
To better show our family what our bus rides are like, we set up the GoPro and did a timelapse of the first part of our trip. Ironically, this was the most flat, least eventful bus that we had been on. Imagine the same thing but through mountains and you’ll get an idea of our usual rides.
Huacachina Sand Dunes Buggy Ride
The afternoon that we arrived in Ica, we headed to the sand dunes. I was super excited to get into the buggy and ride fast through the dunes. We checked in at the travel agency, then sat in the last 2 seats on the buggy, all the way in the back.
We rode around the dunes pretty fast, taking sharp turns and getting good speed off the hills. It felt kind of like a rollercoaster ride which was awesome. I think because we were seated in the back, we felt even more than the people who were up front.
After a little bit of driving, we stopped to take pictures. Sadly, the pictures don’t really do the dunes justice. It looks large but it is so much bigger than it looks in pictures but with the vastness of nothingness, it is hard to get a scale.
We hopped back in then rode more before we got out the sandboards. We all started out just riding on our stomachs and I was shocked with how fast we went. They really waxed up the boards good because we were flying! After everyone got more confident, a few people tried sandboarding, like snowboarding but in the sand. I was shocked when Andy got up and did pretty well, especially considering that he had never been snowboarding before.
We then rode off to a high point in the dunes to watch the sunset. While we were waiting for the sun to set, a family asked us to take their picture. We did and then began chatting. We learned that they were not only from Michigan, but also doing the same thing as us. They sold their house and were traveling as a family. It was pretty inspirational to us to see that a family with 3 young girls can do the same thing that we are.
The sunset was pretty but sadly, we left before the colors got really great. It was alright though since we were staying close to the dunes and returned the next night to watch the sunset.
Since we didn’t end up going to the Galapagos Islands because it was so expensive, it was only fitting that we would end up at the “poor man’s Galapagos” off the coast of Peru.
Our tour left at 6:30am but the van didn’t arrive to our hostel until close to 7am. We then rode 1.5 hours to the coast where we caught our boat. The boat was much smaller than we thought it would be but was more than enough room for everyone. We were able to choose our seats and ended up choosing poorly. We picked the right side but all of the action seemed to be on the left side.
When we passed Paracas Candelabra, we were taken aback as I was not aware that we would see this. It is similar to one of the Nazca lines but off the coast. We tried to get our picture taken with the lines in the background, but as always, people that we ask to take pictures can never seem to take a good photo. At least I was able to snap a good one of Andy with the lines before we moved on to see animals.
The majority of the animals that we saw were birds. From pelicans to penguins to boobies and more. With our zoom lens we were able to get some pretty good shots of everything. In addition to birds, we also saw quite a few sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks. It was a funny sight because they all were passed out cold.
Unlike the Galapagos Islands, at the Ballesta Islands you have to stay on the boat the entire time. while it would have been nice to get off the boat, I understand from a conservation standpoint. Plus, with all of the birds, it would have been hard to get any good pictures since they would probably just fly away from everyone.
As we were on the boat, we chatted with a guy named Ben who was 24 and taking time off to travel. He was previously working in consulting but was looking at changing careers. Before he began working again, he decided to take some time off to travel South America.
About 1.5 hours after we got on the boat, we returned to the shore where our van was waiting to take us back. By noon we were back at the hostel. It was a long but very efficient half day.
Winery and Pisco Tour
I didn’t even know that there were wineries in Ica before we got information on tours from our hostel, the Diamond Monkey Lodge. Since I never turn down wine, we decided that we should add this to our to do list.
Our tour included transportation to 2 different wineries where we received tours and tasted wine. Not only did the wineries produce wine, they also produced Pisco, a local liquor used to produce the traditional drink of Peru, the pisco sour.
As we toured both wineries, both of the guides let us know that locals prefered a sweet wine, not the dry wines that you find in Europe or southern Chile. At this point I mentally prepared myself for drinking dessert wines – fortunately the wine was not as sweet as I had envisioned in my head.
The first winery that we visited was a family owned winery, El Catador. During the tour we learned just how differently the wines are made here than in the US. For starters, the grapes are crushed by foot, I just hope that the person who is in charge of stomping has very clean feet! The wines are then put into these large concrete pools before they are moved along to aging barrels through a canal system. The whole process seemed foreign as it seemed personally, a little unsanitary.
The wines are then fermented in large concrete vats for only 2 weeks. This is because of the heat of the desert, something that most wine making regions don’t deal with.
After the tour, we were ready to taste some wines. I was shocked with how small the pours were. We were served the wines in a shot glass that were roughly 1/6th of the way full. This allowed us to technically taste the wines, but only 1 sip, not 2 or 3 like you get with most wine tastings. It wasn’t my favorite wine and I am not sure that I would want to drink a whole glass, but it was OK.
As we approached Tacama Winery, I could tell that the experience was going to be completely different. There was heavy security at the front gate which required us to present our passports in order to enter. Once we were further in the gates we saw security guards armed with machine guns, not something that you see in every winery.
The grounds at the winery were huge and beautifully maintained. It didn’t even seem like we were in the desert when we there there. After a short wait, we went on a guided tour. It was on the tour that we learned that Tacama winery is the oldest winery in South America. This shocked me as I just assumed Argentina or Chile, the countries that produce the bulk of the wine in South America would have the oldest winery.
After our tour we got to taste some wines. Here we got to taste several different types of wines including sparkling, white, red and pisco. We were happy that they were larger pours and were all pretty good. We briefly considered buying a bottle but decided that we wouldn’t drink it that night as we had plans to go to dinner in Huacachina. This meant that we would have to travel with the wine, something that we did not want to do. Not only was it extra weight, but extra weight that could wreck everything in our bags if it broke. If you do want to buy wine though, this is the place. They discount the wine at the winery to be cheaper than any retail stores that sell it.
Hiking the Sand Dunes in Huacachina
Since our sand dune ride cut us off before the best part of the sunset, we asked Danilo, the hostel owner who took us on the wine tour, to drop us off in Huacachina. This way we could hike the dunes, watch the sunset and have dinner before returning to Ica.
I was a little tired after having so many activities during the day but was convinced that I would hike up the dunes to watch the sunset. It was easier said than done as walking through dry sand uphill is an extremely challenging thing.
Once we got to the top, we took a few pictures while there was still some light, then sat down and watched the sunset. It wasn’t as great as the day before as there were not any clouds in the sky to make the sunset very colorful or spectacular. Still, it was a nice sunset.
The hardest thing for me about taking pictures of the dunes is how you can’t really see the scale of them. They were absolutely massive but in the pictures they don’t look that large. I believe that you can’t tell the scope of the dunes because everything around the dunes is more dunes. Without any trees or anything to give you scale, it all blends together. Either way, I wish that there was a better way to convey the size of the dunes within the pictures.
During the hike down, I grabbed a plastic bag that I had seen blowing across the dunes. I did my part in making this beautiful place a little more beautiful by picking up a bag full of trash and taking it down with me. If only more people did the same thing, there wouldn’t be so much litter from careless tourists in such an amazing place.
Spending Time in Huacachina
Before and after our hike up the dunes, we spent some time in Huacachina. It is a pretty cool town with vast sand dunes all around and a small oasis around a lake. It looks like something out of a movie, or something man made but it is all natural.
This is where most of the backpackers stay and I can see why. It is a cute town that is very walkable and has a lot of things to do. After we spent some time there I told Andy that I wished that we had booked a place there. After checking out prices though, I realized that lodging was quite a bit more expensive and the food was significantly more than Ica.
Besides all of the adventure sports that they have in the dunes – dune buggies, sand boarding, etc, there were a lot of different shops and restaurants.
The final thing that we did required a 2 hour ride from Ica. I’m grouping Nazca into Ica as it was all within the same trip for us. Our hostel host, Danilo, got us on a collectivo (a shared van) from Ica to Nazca. Even though we purchased 4 seats – 2 for us and 2 for our bags, it was still cheaper than the Cruz del Sur bus. When we arrived, we would meet up with his friend who works for AeroParacas, the most reputable company who flies over the Nazca lines.
We were picked up at the bus station and taken to the office where we completed a little bit of paperwork and paid the balance of our tour fee to bring us to a total of $90 per person for the flight. This fee included our transportation from the bus terminal to the office as well as the office to the airport and back. Ironically everything was priced in US dollars, not Peruvian Sols. We took dollars out of the ATM, something that you can do in Peru and paid our fee.
After the paperwork was completed we took a shuttle bus to the airport where we presented our passports and were weighed. After that was completed we paid a 25 sol or $7.50 airport tax each. This isn’t included in the tour fee, likely to make the price seem lower. Then we waited to be called for our plane.
Once we were called we went through screening, with the security guards checking our baggage and walking through a metal detector. We cleared that then headed out to the plane.
Our plane was a 6 seater, room for 2 pilots and 4 passengers. We took a few pictures outside of the plane then boarded according to our weight to best balance the plane. Andy and I were in the very back. We had headphones on which blocked out the engine noise and allowed us to hear the pilot who was calling where the different lines were located.
As we were in the air I kept thinking how hot it was and I never get hot. There was very minimal airflow from the outside and no air conditioning. By the time we landed I think everyone was a bit sweaty.
I had been warned that the flight had a lot of turns and was told to take some motion sickness pills. Since the older I get, the more prone I am to motion sickness, I not only took motion sick pills, I took the pills we got before our boat ride which contained 2x the active ingredients. Even with the pills, I still felt a little bit off after the flight.
The flight was a short 30 minute flight which went by really quickly. Even though it was pretty expensive, I’m glad that we did it. Going by plane is the only way that you can really see the Nazca lines. There is a viewpoint where tourists with lower budgets can pay a small fee to see 2 of the lines, but it is impossible to see the rest without an aerial perspective.
After we got off the plane I realized that we did not sign any disclaimers of any sort. This made me laugh as I could only imagine how many waivers would have to be signed to do this same exact activity in the US.
Ica was the first place that we booked organized tours. Everywhere else we had done everything on our own. While I as resistant to this at first, I realized that taking a break from doing a ton of work to organize everything on our own was quite nice.
We were told by friends that we could do Ica in a day but we were pressed for time even after spending 2 full days there, there was just so much to see and do! It was by far one of our favorite cities on our trip thus far, leaving us little time to relax but many fun memories.
If we were to do Ica again, we would consider staying 3 nights in Ica and 1 day in Nazca to give ourselves adequate time to see all of the sights without having as long of days as we did.