“The City of Eternal Sun” as it has come to be called, Ica is a travel destination you can count on to inspire and excite the whole family or group. From speedboat tours to wildlife-rich rocky havens and desert scenes as primed for a high-speed dune buggy thrill ride as they are for an unforgettably romantic picnic at sunset, Ica’s many attractions can make for some challenging schedule decisions. Knowing this, we’ve pulled together six of our most-recommended Ica experiences to help you narrow down your Ica itinerary.
- The Ballestas Islands
Paracas, located on Ica’s scenic coastline, is your home base for a visit to the Ballestas Islands, a vibrant wildlife sanctuary sometimes referred to as “The Poor Man’s Galapagos” for its affordability and wealth of wildlife. The islands are reached via a speedboat tour, usually lasting a total of two hours. From the speedboat, enjoy up-close sightings of sea lions, fur seals, pelicans, dolphins, red-footed Guanay cormorants, and the endangered Humboldt penguin. An added bonus, en route to the Ballestas you’ll pass The Candelabra, a mysterious geoglyph carved into a cliffside 1,000 years ago by the same Nazca culture behind the enigmatic Nazca Lines.
- Tambo Colorado
Tambo Colorado, a former Inca administrative and ceremonial center, has the appeal of being an off-the-beaten-path archaeological site and the reputation for being one of the best-preserved Inca sites on the Peruvian coastline. It’s located in the Pisco River Valley, about 22 miles inland from the town of Pisco. The impressive complex consists of a number of adobe structures, including the former ceremonial throne of the Inca, around a trapezoidal plaza. The complex’s outer walls still retain some of the red, white, and yellow coloring the Incas put there, and from which the site’s name is derived.
- Wine & Pisco Tastings and Tours
Although Ica (the town) is synonymous with desert, it is considered Peru’s main wine- and pisco-producing region. A visit to one, or a few, of the area’s pisco cellars and bodegas is the ultimate introduction to Peru’s sweet wines and renowned pisco. At many of the bodegas, they are still using the same methods to make the wine as they used during colonial times, fermenting the crushed grapes in oblong clay jars known as botijas. A few of our favorite bodegas and cellars include: Tacama and Ocucaje for wine, and Viñas Quierolo and Caravedo for pisco.
- Hacienda San Jose
Once one of the richest slave plantations in Chicha if not the entire Peruvian coast, Hacienda San Jose today is a combination hotel, restaurant, and museum. Not to be missed is the guided tour by candlelight through the hacienda’s slave tunnels and catacombs, a truly eye-opening experience that puts into perspective the life and times of Peru’s slave days at one of the country’s largest and most prosperous plantations. It is said that around 1,000 slaves once worked its sugar and cotton fields.
This experience combines the up-close nature of a tour of the Ballestas Islands with the relaxing calm of a kayak around the peaceful waters of Paracas Bay. Owned and operated by an ecotourism outfit that also runs a scallop farming business and eco-lodge, Intikayak is deeply connected to the Paracas National Reserve and its abundant wildlife. On the kayak tour, you’ll visit a conchas de abanico (Peruvian scallops) hatchery followed by a rest on Athens Beach where your guide will point out the various species of seabirds, including boobies, pelicans, black skimmers, cormorants, Inca terns, and many more. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a pod of dolphins.
- A Sunset Picnic on the Dunes
Picture this: The golden skies shimmer as the sun makes its descent below the desert horizon. You and your loved one(s) are seated on large cushions beneath a breezy canopy, a glass of wine in hand, a delicious meal before you. The setting sun adds new dimension to the dunes that lay outstretched in every direction from your dune-top dinner perch. A sunset picnic on the dunes of Ica could quite possibly become one of your greatest trip, and life, highlights. To arrive at your picturesque dining spot, you’ll board a high-speed dune buggy for a roller coaster-like ride to the top of the area’s highest dune, arriving just in time to catch the full sunset show.
- The Paracas National Reserve
The Paracas National Reserve is a pristine subtropical coastal desert located just south of Pisco. The Reserve protects one of Peru’s most biologically productive marine areas and thus is healthily populated with a rich diversity of marine and birdlife, including American flamingos and hawksbill sea turtles. Besides great wildlife viewing opportunities, the Reserve is better known for its dramatic beach landscapes like the red sands of Playa Roja and the spectacular cliffs at The Cathedral. A tour of the Reserve also includes a visit to the turritelas, or fossilized remains of ancient sea snails now embedded in the ground, serving as a reminder that the area was once underwater. This is a great option for those looking for a more slow-paced tour in a beautiful setting.
For more information about any of these Ica experiences, please get in touch with one of our Explorandes Travel Specialists.