[The view from the beach side of Huacachina Lagoon!]
The geography of South America and Peru puts the Atacama Desert in the middle of the country. The best place to see it is in Huacachina, the area around a small lagoon about 10 minutes away from the small city of Ica. At Huacachina, you can relax around the beach and slide down sand dunes like you would snow. If you have some time, Ica is home to vineyards that serve all kinds of pisco, brandy made almost exclusively in Peru and Chile.
Things to Know About Ica and Huacachina
Because of the dry climate, the city-town combination is dusty. Be prepared for that. Even though you will arrive in Ica, you can easily take a taxi about 10 minutes to Huacachina. Huacachina is really pretty tiny, just a couple of restaurants and hostels around the lagoon. Unfortunately the lagoon is not large enough to swim in, but you can relax on the beach.
Huacachina provides a nice place for you to rest! Peru doesn’t have many real beaches, so walking in the sand in Huacachina is the closest you will get. The sand dunes provide land for fun activities, like dune buggying and watching stunning desert sunsets.
Ica is pretty tiny with not much to do. You can go to their main square and a museum or two, but that’s really it.
[Recommended Read: Itinerary: Hits and Misses of Three Weeks in Peru]
Day 1: Ica
I stayed in Huacachina because I thought it would be better than Ica, but I don’t have much of an opinion on it. You do have to travel into the city if you want to go to Ica, but Huacachina is better if you want to just relax.
Places I went and sights I saw:
Ica’s Plaza de Armas, Ica Regional Museum, Huacachina Lagoon
The Plaza de Armas, though tiny, was pretty lively the day I went. There happened to be a small ceremony of sorts, where children and middle/high school bands paraded town the main street of Ica. I wasn’t sure what it was but I always like local culture!
The Regional Museum was pretty extensive considering the low numbers of visitors. They had lots of information about the Nazca lines, which was good because I planned to go to Nazca next. Taking it easy at the Lagoon was also a welcome break in my travels.
Ica is tiny, and the information about Nazca can be found in Nazca itself. While I would definitely recommended dune buggying in Huacachina, this day I spent in Ica can be forgone without much regret.
[Recommended Read: Everything You Need to Know About Peru]
Day 2: Pisco + Dune Buggying!
If you have any interest at all in weirder/more unconventional experiences, you have to spend a day like I did here! I spent the morning at a pisco vineyard. Pisco is made with grapes like wine, but the processing is different, and vineyards all have English-speaking guides to show you around. I spent the afternoon driving over uninhabited desert, boarding down sand dunes, and admiring the sunset over the hills of sand.
Places I went and sights I saw:
El Catador pisco vineyard, Huacachina Sand Dunes
Basically everything. I had some difficulty navigating, but arrived at the pisco vineyard. A tour guide approached me when I wasn’t sure where to go to ask if I would like a tour. I agreed, and got a private tour of the grounds and equipment that they used to create pisco. Afterwards, I got to taste different kinds of pisco – including a peaches and cream one that tasted like a smoothie with vodka! I decided to grab some lunch on the grounds before heading back.
I booked the sand dune/dune buggying tour with my hostel; they brought a group of us out to the middle of the desert on a buggy. It was immensely fun riding up and down the hills, then sandboarding down them. At the end of the tour, the small group of us were treated to pisco sour (a type of pisco) at the hostel where we chatted until late into the night.
This is nitpicky, but I originally told my taxi driver to go to another pisco vineyard. He stopped in the middle of our trip, talked to people on the phone, and proceeded to say a plethora of Spanish words I didn’t understand to me. It was really bizarre, but I think he thought that original vineyard was too far and wanted to suggest this one instead or charge me extra. I’ve never had another taxi experience quite like that one.
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