The first thing that you should know about Ica, Peru. It’s pricey! I arrived in the middle of the afternoon on a Soyuz bus from Lima. The ride cost 40 soles (~13 USD), but was a comfortable ride with some nice beach views along the way. Arriving at the Ica bus station, the first thing that most people will want to do is go straight to the oasis town of Huacachina. Being surrounded by taxi drivers, my newly made friends from Germany and New Zealand and I reluctantly climbed into one of the cabs and were off the the oasis.
*A good tip for cheap travel in and around Ica is to take the mototaxis instead of taxis. They are a little less safe, but more fun and often half the price of taxis!
Arriving at our hostel, we were immediately offered a deal for S./ 10 off of the room price if we went sandboarding with our hostel’s dune buggy drivers. We were paying S./ 30 for the night at the hostel (rather expensive for the giant dorm room with every bunk bed occupied), and the dune buggy tour would cost another 30 soles after the discount. We went for the deal, knowing that we were already in the cheapest hostel in town and that all the sandboarding agencies charged about the same.
Climbing in to the dune buggy, I was greeted by a French couple, soon to be my newest travel partners (I am writing this article after a day at a running at the bulls festival with them, article soon to come!). Within a few minutes, we were off to climb the dunes. As soon as we got off of the roads and on to the sand, our dune buggy driver accelerated past the rest of the buggies and launched us over the first of many adrenaline-packed ascents. His claim to being the craziest driver in Huacachina seemed to hold true for the day.
Honestly, I think everybody in our buggy agreed that the most fun part of the day was riding the buggy, not the sandboards. Sandboarding was fun, but not that fun. The drivers all ask you not to try to stand up, and just to lay on the boards and go down the dunes. The boards that they give you are very worn down and create a lot of resistance on the sand so you don’t go as fast as you might hope. You also eat a lot of sand!
But the view from the top of the dunes is incredible. On one side of the horizon, there is nothing but dunes as far as the eye can see, like an alien landscape. On the other side, the strange oasis town of Huacachina and Ica in the distance.
After discovering that standing on the sandboard really is neither hard nor anything special, we saw a beautiful sunset on top of the dunes and then descended upon the oasis town. We went so fast on the descent that I began to think about my skydiving experience, as the speed and wind resistance on the buggy was very similar. So yeah, the buggy is A LOT of fun!
Outside of sandboarding, drinking Pisco Sours at the many happy hours around the oasis lake (dirty and smelly, by the way), and relaxing poolside at your hostel are about the only activities that Huacachina has to offer. Ica, however, has lots of restaurants that are much more reasonably priced and the same goes for the hostels. Still, I think I would take my experience of staying up all night and drinking by the pool with other travellers over a quiet night in Ica for less money. Huacachina also has a very laid back vibe to it (and a budding Rastafari community) that was a nice break from the travel crazies.
BUT. If you are a fancy wine person, Ica is the name of the game in Peruvian wines, and there are tons of winery tours all over! There are some less classy options as well. As a British couple from my hostel told me, “we got all out smashed for so cheap on the wine tour.” Those damn brits are pretty wild folk.
So after a day in Huacachina, or Huaca-f*ing-china!, I headed to the bus station to buy a ticket to Cusco, where I ran into the French couple who persuaded me instead to go with them to Ayacucho (where I am now). From the bus station, we took another bus first to Paracas to visit some beautiful beaches. We paid a really cool taxi driver named Johnny to drive us around to the different beaches. For the money we paid Johnny, I could’ve taken or left the tour, but I won’t complain. The beaches were very beautiful and Johnny was quite a character.
If you plan ahead better than I did, the Islas de Ballestas in Paracas are commonly referred to as “the poor man’s Galápagos’,” with hundreds of species of birds, sea lions and penguins all over. I was bummed to miss out on this tour, but after a late night of drinking in Huaca-f-china, the 6 a.m. departure was not happening.
Ica is a great place from which to head to Cusco, or one of the in-between mountain towns if you want to break the long drive up. As such, that is how I found myself now sitting in a hostel in Ayacucho! A write-up on my experience at a patron saint festival here and their running of the bulls soon to come!