I arrived to Ica around 10am via my fancy Cruz del Sur overnight bus from Arequipa (12 hrs). Ica and its surrounding areas are well-known for its pisco industry and on the bus ride, we had passed many vineyards just outside the city. Pisco tasting was the number 2 reason I decided to make a stop here… sandboarding the sand dunes was number 1! (Think snowboarding but with sand.)
I took a taxi to the little desert oasis west of Ica called Huacachina (5-7 soles). Within a couple minutes, the landscape quickly shifted from the small city to the towering sand dunes that seemed to touch the bright blue sky. Golden sand mountains encircle a tiny oasis: Huacachina Lagoon.
This oasis used to be a resort destination for Peru’s elite but in recent times it has become a backpacker mecca. I stayed at the uber chill Banana’s hostel, which I highly recommend. The hostel has comfy lounge couches under thatched huts, a bamboo bar, and swimming pool. In Huacachina, it seemed to be summer all year round.
After arriving at the hostel, I booked a Pisco bodego + winery tour around noon and a sandboarding + dune buggy tour in the late afternoon (each tour cost 30 soles).
My Pisco tour was first and in retrospect, tasting a grape brandy that is 42% alcohol on an empty stomach was not a brilliant move. Pisco tasting is more like pisco shooting, as you are drinking this straight. I felt like I was taking shots of Everclear. It was not pleasant. I will stick to Pisco Sours for my pisco indulgence!
But for the pisco aficionados, El Catador was a lovely local bodega we visited on our tour. Pisco season had just finished so the entire production area was empty, but it was still interesting to see the tools for the traditional distillation processes. If you visit during March, visitors can participate in the grape stomping festival.
We also visited another bodega called Lovera were we sampled some Peruvian white wine. Let’s just say Peru’s wine industry has a long way to go.
On the return trip back to Huacachina, we stopped by the village of Cachiche, which is infamous for its colony of witches that live there. There is a very odd palm tree that grows sideways and twisted through the sand, supposedly cursed from witchcraft. Legend has it that when the seventh head of this palm tree appeared, Ica would be wiped out. The people cut the tree’s seventh head in 1997 (El Niño) due to the massive rains, although the flooding stopped before they even cut it.
After the pisco and witchcraft, it was time to hit the sand dunes! We got strapped into the monster dune buggy and roared off into the desert.
The ride was ridiculously fun. I felt like I was on a roller coaster– slower but no less thrilling.
After a few drops and spins, we stopped at our first dune to sandboard.
The boards we had were pretty ghetto – just wooden planks with Velcro straps attached. Some (more expensive) companies do provide proper boards but I doubted I was really going to be carving the sand here anyway.
I attempted to stand a couple times, but then decided to opt for sandsledding instead. We went down very steep dunes head first with only our feet digging in the sand behind us to use as brakes.
Sand got lodged everywhere but it was totally worth it! We kept going up until the sun disappeared, at which point the desert became freezing cold. Back at the hostel, it took about 2-3 showers before we were sand-free.
Huacachina was a fantastic final stop on my Peru trip before heading back to Lima (4 hr bus).
Return to the Peru Main Menu