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.
Near the city of Ica, one finds a small village oasis known as Huacachina. Although its permanent population is small, it’s become a tiny resort town for nearby families, who visit to go to the restaurants and resorts and paddle-boat around the lagoon, and for foreign tourists who visit to go sandboarding or take dune buggy rides down its surrounding dunes.
You can arrange a combination dune buggy / sandboarding tour from Ica city. The dune buggies are small, but can go quite fast, which combined with the rough terrain can mean some thrilling dune jumping! The cheapest option is to go with a group of other travelers in an 8-person dune buggy. Obviously, the more people in the group, the lower the price is.
Afterwards, one visits the dunes surrounding Huacachina, which are very large- some can take an hour to climb on foot! You get a quick lesson on sandboarding safety and techniques and can practice on smaller dunes before jumping off some of the large ones.
Most dune buggy tours last two to three hours, including an hour of sandboarding. If you can, think about choosing a late-afternoon tour, which starts around 4pm, so that you can still enjoy incredible views but are not struggling under the scorching desert sun. As an added benefit, some drivers will take you to one of the landscape’s natural lookouts to watch the sun set over the desert.
If you’d rather not take a tour, grab a taxi and rent a board off the street for a few soles (probably leaving some kind of guarantee). You can take a taxi from Ica to Huacachina for S/4 to 5 (soles). Be warned, however, that you’ll be missing what most travelers recount as the highlight of the trip to Ica/Huacachina- the dune buggy.
The town itself has little more than the surrounding desert and striking tranquil views to recommend it, because food and product prices are higher than in Ica. Also, there is only one ATM in town, at Huacachinero hostal, and it’s unreliable, so think about just bringing water, snacks, and emergency cash from Ica. Huacachina is best for a short visit, some stunning photo opportunities, and a real “desert oasis” experience; it really isn’t large enough for you to plan more than a quick daytrip.
Named after the Nazca Civilization which rose to prominence in this area, travelers to Nazca, Peru can explore the ruins, mummies, and famous marks this great civilization left upon the desert floor before they disappeared into mystery. While the town itself may seem sleepy at first glance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that it is also a popular stop for those interested in more extreme pastimes like sandboarding and dunebuggying!
What are our top recommendations for your stay in Nazca?…..
#5 The Cantalloc Aqueducts
Thousands of years ago the Nazca developed an extensive system of subterranean aqueducts to provie year-round access to water in the arid desert unlike any found elsewhere. More than 30 of these channels of have not only survived seismic activity but actually remain in use by farmers! The best-preserved channels are in the higher Nazca Valley’s Cantayo zone. You’ll find the channels lined with riverocks and manholes with descending spiral paths to be both beautiful and fascinating.
Check an Itinerary for the Cantalloc Aqueducts .
#4 Chauchillas Cemetery
Gain valuable insight into the Nazca culture by visiting the remarkably well-preserved mummies of the ancient necropolis of Chauchillas. These bodies still retain hair and soft tissue such as skin after a thousand years. You’ll see trophy heads and head jars as well. Tours to Chauchillas generally include a demonstration of artisan gold mining and the traditional method of producing the beautiful polychrome ceramics for which the Nazca were famed.
Check an Itinerary for Chauchillas Cemetery .
Exploring the Usaca Desert in dunebuggies brings off-roading fun to your trip. Despite their small size, these can go pretty fast, hitting and jumping dunes for some desert thrills. Many tours stop for guided visits at the abandoned adobe city of Cahuachi, once the religious center of the Nazca, and Estaquería, the Place of the Stakes, where it is believed mummies were painted in a dark resin and put out to dry.
Check an Itinerary for Dunebuggying in the Usaca Desert.
The most popular options for sandboarding are Cerro Blanco (White Hill), once considered a deity known as Yuraq Orjo. It’s reputed to be the world’s largest sand dune, reaching 2,087m above sea level in the Nazca Valley. One can practice on smaller dunes around the peak before taking the big leap! Another popular spot for adrenaline-seekers wishing to try sandboarding is the beautiful Huacachina Oasis, along its surrounding dunes.
Check an Itinerary for Sandboarding Huacachina Oasis .
#1 Nazca Lines
Of course any list on activities in Nazca must culminate with the world-famous and enigmatic Nazca lines, whose original purpose and method of construction still incite debate. Tours include an introductory video and then half hour flight in light aircraft, from where you’ll be able to see the animal figures and geometric shapes which sprawl over miles of the desert floor, so large that they can only be seen from the sky. Among other figures, you’ll be able to spot the monkey, lizards, spider, dogs, hummingbirds, the condor, and plants and flowers.
Check an Itinerary for a Flight Over the Nazca Lines.
All About Pirwa Nazca Backpackers!
Pirwa Nazca Backpackers located only a few blocks from Nazca’s Main Square, just 5 minutes from the bus terminal and 10 minutes from the airport. You’ll be able to take advantage of the sunny climate in the outdoor patio, where you can throw a barbecue and relax in the hammocks. After a day of exploration, you can retire to a comfortable bed in a room with private bath (whether private room or shared dormitory) with 24/7 hot water access. You’ll find that Fernando and the rest of the Pirwa Nazca family are eager to help travelers feel comfortable and to assist with trip planning, be it transport, guided excursions, or lodging reservations in other cities. We hope you’ll come visit us in Nazca during your trip through Peru!
If you’re anywhere near the south coast of Peru in November (say…Lima, which I know you are), you might want to check out the Semana Turística de Ica 2011 (Ica Tourism Week). The event kicks off on November 12 and continues through to November 20, with a schedule of sufficient diversity to attract a mixed crowd.
Saturday, Nov 12th
- Dancers have competed for the
opportunity to perform for you on the first day of the Marinera Dance Finals at Ica’s Coliseo Cerrado at noon.
- This is also the 1st day of the International Sandboarding Competition Open at the Balneario de Huacachina at 3pm.
- Also, drop by Hotel Real Ica in the evening at 9pm for the Perol Fiesta in honor of the Queens of Marinera at Hotel Real Ica at 9pm.
Sunday, Nov 13th
- Stop by the Regional Museum of Ica at 10am for a FREE visit.
- Enjoy the second and last day of the Marinera Dance Finals at 1pm.
- The second and last day of the International Sandboarding Competition at 3pm, again at the Balneario de Huacachina.
Thursday, Nov 17th
- Sand Buggy Excursion at Huacachina Oasis, be there at 10:00am
Friday, Nov 18th
- This is Parade Day! Find them along
Matias Manzanilla in front of the USI at 10am
- At noon the Food & Wine Festival Opens, as well as the Art Fair and the World’s Largest Pisco Bar. It all takes place on the Ica Fair Grounds.
- At 2pm a Touristic Walk through the city of Ica begins in the Plaza de Armas (Main Square)
- XI National Creative Pisco-Based Cocktail Competition at 5pm at Hotel las Dunas
Saturday, Nov 19th
- Start the day right with the Winery Walk in Southern Winery Zone at the Ica Fair Grounds at 7am.
- The ICA PURO SABOR Food Festival continues, along with the Art Fair and Giant Pisco Bar, all starting around 10-10:30am at the Ica Fair Grounds.
Monday, Nov 20th
- The ICA PURO SABOR Food Festival continues, along with the Giant Pisco Bar at the Ica Fair Grounds, all day long beginning at 10:30am.
- Along with these events, there’ll also be a Peruvian Paso Horse Show
Even as Tourist Week passes, the “Ica Pisco Jubilee Feast” will continue through the 25th in vineyards throughout the region, so make sure to check for special events during your stay.
Pirwa Travel can Get You There!
When not sampling regional dishes at the food festival or watching the unique talents of sandboarders and marinera dancers, you can take advantage of your time in Ica by contracting some of the following tours with Pirwa Travel:
Paracas National Reserve & Ballestas Islands
This is THE tour if you’re passing through Ica. Large sea lion and humboldt penguin colonies numbering in the hundreds- an overwhelming sight that you wouldn´t have guessed you could see in South America!
Visit industrial and artisan vineyards and wineries to learn about Peru’s most prized export- Pisco, a Peruvian grape-based brandy. You’ll not only get an intimate look at the production process, but your visits will be topped off with pisco tastings so that you sample the wares!
Usaca Dune Buggy & Sandboarding Tour
Indulge in the thrill of dune buggy offroading,
stopping at sites thousands of years old: Chauchi Religious Center and Estaqueria, which offers a vital clue to the process of creating the famous Nazca mummies. Not only will you gain an insight into the enigmatic Nazca Civilization, but there’ll be another stop as well, one that will allow you to practice the unique and adrenaline-filled sport of sandboarding!