Ica celebrates its tourism week each November with free tours, contests, food fairs, and more. Although the city hasn’t published this year’s program yet, it seems like the perfect time to explain the city’s culture and attractions for all those who’d like to explore the desert coast of Peru. Dance to the rhythms of Afro-Peruvian criollo music, sample the piscos and wines of the bodegas, watch diving Humboldt penguins, sandboard down some of the world’s largest dunes, visit a real desert oasis, and see the Cahuachi pyramids in an unforgettable journey.
What to Do in Ica
Within the region of Ica, the most popular stop is Paracas, as it can be reached by bus from Lima in four hours. Paracas National Reserve boasts pristine, sprawling beaches and rocky islands teeming with marine birds and colonies of sea lions, fur seals, and Humboldt penguins.
Continuing on from the town of Paracas to the city of Ica (buses follow this route daily as well, it’s just a few hours’ trip), there are plenty of options for travelers. You can take a bodega tour in order to see how the pisco and wines of Ica are produced. Tastings are included, which makes it a pleasant excursion. Or, you visit the Regional Museum of Ica to learn about ancient cultures such as the Nazca and the Paracas, who predated them. You’ll see mummies, the intricate woven textiles of the Paracas and the surrealistic, polychrome pottery of the Nazca.
If you prefer a more thrilling excursion, you can go on a sandboarding daytrip. Sandboarding is like snowboarding, but on sand dunes rather than snowy peaks. The area around Huacachina Oasis is a popular destination for this extreme sport because it has some of the world’s largest dunes. You can combine this with a sandbuggy (or dune buggy) ride; these are recreational vehicles with a tube frame. They are very lightweight and can be great fun for thrill-seekers and off-roading enthusiasts as they can hit the dunes at some surprising speeds!
After enjoying a stay in Ica city proper, you can continue on to the town of Nazca a couple of hours away. It boasts the famous Nazca Lines, the most popular attraction of the Ica Region. By visiting Nazca’s aerodrome, you can arrange to take a flight over the lines, an adventure which we write about in detail here.
You can visit the Cahuachi Pyramids as well, although the site is still under excavation. It was built by the Paracas, but became the ceremonial center of the Nazca civilization and may have been, according to some theories, somehow connected with the legendary Nazca Lines.
The Culture of the Ica Region
Most of the music and dance of Ica is Afro-Peruvian, referred to within Peru as creole (criollo) they mix Spanish, Andean and African influences. The dances include crowd-pleasers such as the lively hip-shaking Festejo, toe-tapping Zapateo, and the graceful national dance, Marinera. The rhythmic music is marked by the cajón peruano, thebox-shaped percussion instrument known as the Cajón (Spanish for crate or drawer) has been the most widely used Afro-Peruvian musical instrument since the 1700s.
What to Eat & Drink in the Ica Region
Ica’s most famous product is also Peru’s banner export: the Peruvian grape brandy known as pisco. Made from regional grape varieties, distilled in copper stills, and never diluted after distilling, it can pack a punch for newbies but is the perfect souvenir from Ica. The region also produces many sweet wines as well as cachina, a fermented juice of grapes and varied other possible ingredients that can even include tarot root (yucca) and can be sweet or dry.
There’s lots of tasty food options for travelers. Think about trying Carapulcra, a spicy pork and hen stew with dehydrated potatoes, or Picante de pallares verdes, a spicy butter bean stew. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, save room for Ica’s tejas– you’ll want to try these colonial-era candies. The classic is candied fruit covered with a caramel and fondant, but there are other variations, such as tejas de almendras, with almonds rather than fruit, or chocotejas, which are covered in chocolate.