How to spend a day in Ica and Huacachina

No matter whether you’re based in Lima as a digital nomad, just visiting Peru or have chosen the country as your place of residence, you don’t want to spend all your time in Lima. Ica is just 4.5 hours away by bus and a perfect escape from the big city if you have little time. If you have more time or are travelling around, you can certainly extend your trip by visiting Paracas and the Ballestas Islands before and Nazca afterwards (posts about these two destinations will follow soon).

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A day in Ica and Huacachina – Summary

No time to read the complete article? Don’t worry. Here is the most important information:

  • Use redBus to book your bus ticket online.
  • Book a hotel room for one night (our recommendation: Kallma Hotel, Ica)
  • Time needed to visit the Regional Museum of Ica: 1.5 hours (Address: Cuadro 8 s/n, Ayabaca, Ica)
  • Time needed to visit Tacama and its wineries (Ruta del Pisco): 4 hours
  • Time needed to visit Huacachina without sandboarding: 2 hours

Is it necessary to book a hotel?

If you come directly from Lima, you’ll need to spend at least one night in Ica. I stayed at Hotel Kallma which is situated about 3 km from the city centre. My room was average but clean, nothing to complain about. It’s great for digital nomads, though because it has a beautiful rooftop terrace and fast internet (70mpbs download + almost 10mbps upload). Perfect conditions if you want to get some work done. Ok, I admit that the view as you can see it in the picture below isn’t that beautiful. However, if you sit down on the sofa on the left side, you’ll have a mountain view. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Hotel Kallma Ica

Part of the Hotel Kallma’s rooftop terrace.

How to get to Ica

From Lima

As I mentioned, the bus ride from Lima to Ica takes about 4.5 hours. It’s not really necessary to book in advance as there are a lot of connections. Check the redbus.pe website for detailed information and buy your ticket online if you like to. I chose PeruBus and had a smooth journey.

Contrary to what is written on the ticket (if you bought it online), it’s neither necessary to present the ticket again at the counter nor do you have to arrive one hour earlier. PeruBus has its own waiting lounge in Lima and also in Ica and an employee asks the passengers about 10 minutes before departure time to follow him to the bus. They only give this information in Spanish, though.

The buses are pretty comfortable and there’s a toilet, too – but you may only use it if you need to pee. For other necessities, please inform the staff so that they can arrange a stop at a suitable place. Their words, not mine, it made me laugh a little.

It’s a direct bus, no stops and it was pretty punctual. Getting out of Lima is the worst part. Depending on when exactly you leave, it can take up to an hour.

The bus ride will take you along the Panamericana with views of the Pacific Ocean and the desert. Make sure to book a seat on the ocean side if you’d like to enjoy the landscape.

On the ride from Lima to Ica, they offered snacks and drinks for sale. On the ride back, everyone was given a small snack and a coffee for free. Either way, you won’t starve.

On the way to Ica - Peruvian desert

On the way to Ica – Peruvian desert

From Paracas

Perhaps you visited Paracas first. In this case, you may not have to book a hotel in Ica. The bus ride from Paracas to Ica takes about one hour. Or you stay at a hotel in Ica for two nights and go to Paracas from Ica. As accommodation in Paracas can be pretty pricey, this may be the more economical option.

Visit Huacachina

Huacachina is Peru’s unique desert oasis with a beautiful lagoon and the opportunity to do sandboarding and ride up the dunes in a buggy. I always had the impression that most people go there precisely because of the sandboarding. Well,  I was pleasantly surprised that absolutely nothing was going on when I visited Huacachina in the early afternoon. I talked to one of the souvenir sellers and he told me that these activities are normally offered by tour operators and the groups either arrive in the morning or in the late afternoon.

Huacachina Lagoon

Huacachina Lagoon

So, if you prefer to visit Huacachina and just want to enjoy the village and the lagoon, doing it in the early afternoon is the best idea. The temperatures are higher than in Lima but not unbearable and the trees provide quite a bit of shadow. Just don’t try to walk on the sand with bare feet or wearing just sandals as I did. The sand is very hot and it hurts.

Huacachina is very close to Ica. You can either take a taxi or a tuc-tuc for 5 – 8 soles, depending on your starting point.

Boats Huacachina Lagoon

You can take a boat ride on the lagoon

The oasis itself is beautiful indeed. No idea how many people actually live there as it’s basically a touristic destination. It’s possible to stay at Huacachina, there are hostels and hotels.

Blossoming trees in Huacachina

Blossoming trees in Huacachina

All restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops are neatly placed around the lagoon. Some people will approach you to sell something but I didn’t encounter anyone who was very pushy.

Souvenir shop Huacachina

Souvenir shop in Huacachina – They also sell stuff which is typical for the Andean regions, of course.

Ruta del Pisco – Production of wine and pisco in the Ica region

Pisco is Peru’s national alcoholic drink. Like vodka in Russia. Pisco is produced in the Southern coastal regions of Peru (Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna). There are several places near Ica where Pisco, as well as Peruvian wine, is produced and which you can visit. Tacama is the best-known among them.

bodega near Ica

A bodega (winery) near Ica.

When things don’t go as planned

I had planned an excursion to Tacama and had read on booking.com that Hotel Kallma could help to book such a tour. Normally, it’s not much of a problem to book something last-minute in Peru, there are always tour operators around Plaza de Armas. But sometimes, I’m lazy and the person who wrote the evaluations obviously had a good experience.

Well, I talked to the receptionist and she booked a tour for me which were to consist of visiting three “bodegas” (wineries) and would last about three hours, starting at 1 pm.

At 11: 50 am, she told me that the agency had cancelled but she had arranged something different, starting at 12 pm. I thought that she had quickly put me on another tour but at 12:15 pm, a taxi driver arrived. It’s absolutely possible to visit such places by taxi, I had similar offers in the Sacred Valley, too. However, I don’t like it because I honestly hate forced conversations with taxi drivers and they never give you much time to visit a place.

I should have said “no” the moment I saw the taxi driver but I hadn’t expected it at all and there was not enough time to arrange something else quickly.

pisco barrels

The barrels where wine and pisco are fermented.

One touristic bodega plus one museum-like place

The first place the taxi driver took me to was actually quite nice (but not Tacama) and I joined a short tour where a guide explained to a couple from Chile and a family from Colombia how Pisco is produced and what different types exist. We were given several varieties of pisco to taste. Well, while the others stayed, the taxi driver rushed me back to his car and at that moment, the tour was practically over – I just didn’t know it yet.

The next place looked like a museum. It was funny and kind of interesting but I didn’t really understand why he took me there and we only stayed for about 10 minutes. Well, and I didn’t like the taxi driver at all. He ignored most of my questions and I got more and more annoyed.

old bodega

Looks a little creepy.

Back after one hour

After about 70 minutes, we were back at the hotel. On the way back, I had told the taxi driver that I wasn’t willing to pay 45 soles (that was the price I had been quoted for the original tour) but he didn’t react at all. After dropping me off, he just drove away. At that point, I finally realized that the receptionist had made a deal with the taxi driver in advance and that I was supposed to pay at the hotel.

The receptionist was also surprised that I was back so quickly. I wasn’t totally angry but pretty disappointed and still not willing to pay 45 soles. Sure, it’s less than US$ 15 but it’s nevertheless not okay. It was a lack of communication and that’s exactly what I told the receptionist. At that point, she started to cry, I felt bad and eventually paid 40 soles.

pisco variations

Different kinds of pisco – not all of them are for consumption – hands off “cabeza”, for example (almost pure alcohol). Cachina is typical for the Ica region.

Insects 

If mosquitos or any other blood-sucking, biting insects like you as much as me, use repellent before you go. I ended up with 8 huge, scratchy and ugly-looking bites on my legs which only disappeared after a week.

Summary 

Although this tour didn’t go as planned, it was nevertheless not a really awful experience. I would have loved to see another winery and learn a bit more about the history of pisco and wine production in Peru but having my residence here and my home base in Lima, there’s always a chance to go back.

bodega shop

Bodega shop – Unfortunately, I didn’t buy anything because the taxi driver rushed me to leave. But I tried several of the creamy pisco variations and loved them.

Regional Museum of Ica

If you’re interested in the ancient cultures of Peru, a day in Ica should include a visit to the Regional Museum. They display ceramics, fabrics and human remains, originating mainly from the Paracas and Nazca cultures which were dominant in the region between 800 BC and 800 AD. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take photos inside the museum.

Museo Regional de Ica

The entrance of the Regional Museum of Ica.

As the Peruvian part of the Atacama desert has similar climatic conditions like Northern Chile (or the southwest of the US or Egypt, for example), archaeologists were able to discover very cold fabrics in amazingly good condition and it’s also a region where quite a few mommies have been found.

Before leaving, don’t forget to go visit Ica’s Nazca Lines :-). Turn to the left and then again to the left and you’ll see a small statue of Maria Reiche, the German-born scientist who did extensive research on the Nazca Lines. Then, there’s a small viewing platform from where you can have a look at miniature Nazca lines. I almost missed them but a nice officer from Ica’s tourism police told me about them and sent me back when I was already about to leave.

Nazca Lines Ica

Miniature Nazca Lines at the courtyard of the Museo Regional de Ica.

Some words about Ica as a city

Perhaps you have already noticed that a day in Ica doesn’t necessarily mean that you spend all your time in the city of Ica. To be honest, it’s not a very spectacular place and I was a bit shocked to see that it’s a noisy as Lima although it’s so much smaller.

Plaza de Armas

Like almost every Peruvian city, Ica has a Plaza de Armas, of course – the main square. Unfortunately, it’s not a very pretty one. Even less so when you already visited the Plaza de Armas of Arequipa, Cusco and Lima, for example.

Plaza de Armas Ica

Plaza de Armas Ica

Where to eat

There are several restaurants and cafes around Plaza de Armas. Lots of meat, unfortunately. I had dinner at a place called “Petros” at Jr. Libertad 173. Mainly meat on their menu, too but they arranged a mixture of a salad and so-called “Papas amarillos dorados” for me at a special price of 26 soles.

Peruvian potatoes

Papas amarillas doradas – yummy

There’s a shopping center called “El Quinde” more or less half-way between Plaza de Armas and Hotel Kallma (and also close to the museum) where you can find a Sarcletti Café (it’s a chain). I had just an ice cream there but they also offer a nice variety of sandwiches, snacks, desserts and main dishes.

Ice cream in Ica

Sometimes, a cup with huge ice cream is a great way to end the day.

Getting around

Like everywhere in Peru, there are lots of taxis but also tuc-tucs (or mototaxis). The latter ones are slightly cheaper but it doesn’t make a real difference. As I didn’t spend a lot of time in Ica, I didn’t try to figure out how to get from one place to another by colectivo and never paid more than 5 soles for a taxi.

Taxi in Ica

Taxi in Ica

Have you visited Ica or Huacachina or do you plan to do you? Don’t hesitate to share your experiences or plans in the comments.

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How to spend a day in Ica and Huacachina
How to spend a day in Ica and Huacachina, Peru
 

22 Comments
  1. Thanks for highlighting this unique part of Peru! A Pisco production tour would have been great, sad to hear you had a disappointing experience. Did you hear of any other companies later on?

    • Booking another tour is always possible but when there’s not enough time, you have a problem. In my case, it wasn’t that bad because I don’t live far away from Ica.

  2. This is such a good summary! I’ve been wanting to go to Peru and will have to add these two cities to my list!

  3. I have never heard of Ica and Huacachina before. Ica seems to be okay to me, I am not very intrigued by the place. But I really like the winery tour you did. I was not aware of Pisco before, but I think it’s something I am surely going to try when in Peru. Can I take it home? Will the custom allow? Let me know if you have any idea about that.

    • Unless your home country has strict rules as far as bringing alcohol is concerned, buying Pisco and leaving Peru with it, is no problem. You can buy it at the duty free shop, too but it’s cheaper at the winery’s, of course.

  4. I’m hoping to explore a lot more of South America. Lima is on my list for sure, but it is good to get some information about some other towns too. All the details about getting there, insects and more are really helpful!

    • Lima is the place where everyone arrives (but building a big international airport in Cusco has been discussed for years). Hope you’ll make it to Peru soon.

  5. Thanks for sharing this overview of Ica and Huacachina. I love seeing sand dunes and would want to go down one in Huacachina. It’s too bad your tour didn’t go as planned. My Spanish is rudimentary so I wouldn’t know how to communicate my disatisfaction with the tour.

    Can we address that the possessed looking seal-crocodile thing is really weird? I mean, what is it?!

    Look forward to returning back to Peru!

    • I’ve got no idea what it is, the taxi driver just let me have a look, there was nobody to explain anything. Most of this stuff was obviously from the 19th/early 20th century.

  6. Peru is definitely in my bucket list. When you think of Peru most people think of Machu Pichu but honestly I have never heard of Ica and Huacachina. It sounds like something different to do! It’s sad that your tour didn’t go as planned, but thank you for letting us know that you can book directly through tour operators around Plaza de Arma. I’m not a fan of taxi drivers ride either!

  7. I never heard of Ica before. I laughed out loud reading your encounter with the bus staff as they will arrange for a stop for other necessities. I would love to do the winery tour myself, that is something that definitely interests me.

    • I’d find it a bit embarrassing having to ask for a stop because of other necessities.

  8. I’ve read about this oasis in the desert before and watched photos that looked really amazing. Peru is a very interesting and diverse country. I would like to go there someday and if I do, I will definitely use your advice.

  9. Peru has been on the top of my bucket list mostly because of Machu Pichi but this post showed me there are so many other things to experience. I didn’t realize Peru was such an interesting and diverse country. I’m so glad I came across this article

  10. Both Ica and Huacachina looks like really cool laidback towns. I love the lagoon oasis at Huacachina, beautiful lake surrounded by the desert sands, something I would have liked to see more in the country I live (The UAE) because we have a lot of desert but not enough oasis. I have heard not-so-positive reviews about travelling in buses in most South American countries though, in terms of the infrastructure not being great, leading to a low of uncomfortable rides and delays. Funny that they mention you can only pee on the public bus toilet and they’d have to make a stop for all other needs 😀

    • Buses in South America are actually very comfortable. In the Andean regions, rides take a long time because of the geography. Both in Peru and Bolivia, bus accidents are more frequent than they should be, unfortunately. However, most rides along the Pacific coast are pretty okay, same for Argentina and great parts of Brazil.

  11. Interesting little place. I did not like that museum the taxi driver took you to with the dead alligator skin and what looks like a dead seal or otter. Why would he take you to such a place?! The rest of it looks beautiful and it definitely wasn’t on my radar before reading this post. Looks like a fascinating place that I would love to spend a weekend in!

  12. I am actually going to visit both of these places later this month so extra grateful for the tips! I will definitely be checking out the winery tour 😀

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