When people think of Peru, I can assure you that the first thing someone will think of is Machu Picchu. But what if I told you that there was so much more to the country than that? If you are a backpacker looking for adventure, you’ve come to the right place. The little district of Ica in Peru has everything all thrill-seekers need and can be fully experienced in the short space of a weekend. From deserts dunes to sea lions, the two towns that compose this district, Paracas on the coast and Huacachina the desert oasis town, although opposites, generate an incredible duality.
Day 1: The Town of Paracas
To start the trip, you must take 4 hour bus from Lima (www.perubus.com) , costing approximately 30 Peruvian Soles (9USD) to Paracas. I’d recommend taking the night bus that leave at 3am and you will arrive fresh at 7am ready for a big day (and save on an extra night’s stay at a hostel). Paracas is a lovely little fisherman’s town, it is filled with affordable seafood restaurants and incredible beaches, but the most exciting part is that for just 30 Soles you can take a boat trip to Las Islas Ballestas to see dolphins, penguins, many species of birds and sea lions very up close and in their natural habitats!
If you’re a backpacker and you’d like to meet other travellers, I’d recommend the Kokopelli Hostel – it is located on the beach, has incredible food, very cheap rooms and I would consider it one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at. However, during the weekends, Kokopelli has very loud music until late hours of the night, so after a long day of exploring you may not want to party until 4am. If you’re looking for more comfort and a calmer experience, the La Hacienda Resort is an amazing place to spend a weekend, but a lot pricier.
I took the boat trip at 10am and returned at midday. It does get quite cold with the wind, so don’t forget to bring a hoodie and plenty of suncream to protect yourself (I got a very nasty sunburn that day). You can buy the tickets at the Kokopelli Hostel’s front desk and the tour guide will accompany you to the boat. Apart from the boat trip, you can also do lots of different types of tours around the beaches, bike trips, quadbike trips, a tour around the natural reserve among other things – just don’t forget one important thing: bargain for everything. Even if you think the price is good, you can get at least half of what the sales person asks initially.
Day 2: The Huacachina Oasis
The next morning, you will take a 1 hour trip in a mini van straight to your hostel in the Huacachina oasis for 25 Peruvian Soles (7USD) or if you’re feeling adventurous, a bus to the city of Ica for 8 Soles then a tuk tuk for 5 Soles to the oasis (total 5USD). During my trip I booked the 8 Sol bus to Ica, but ended up missing it because I thought I had bought a ticket for 8am, when I had actually bought it for 8pm (so don’t make the same mistake I did – the Peru Bus website can be very confusing).
While at the oasis, I’d recommend staying at the the Banana Hostel as it sells packages that include rooming plus the dune buggy and sand boarding trip for around 100 Soles per person (30USD), however you can definitely find cheaper sleeping arrangements if you need, like staying in Ica city centre and only spending the day at the oasis if you prefer.
The dune buggy experience at Banana Hostel happens 3 times a day (10am, 2pm and 4pm) and is both delightful and mortifying at the same time. The drivers are very good and experienced, but absolutely insane. They will drive full speed down extremely steep dunes, make the buggy fly over deep trenches and not think twice about pretending they are on a desert part of the fast and furious set – so you’ve been warned. Once they are finished with all the crazy turns and jumps, you will arrive at a series of dunes which you can ‘sandboard’ down. They start off quite small, but increase in side very rapidly as the last dune is a steep drop of almost 200m – I know, insanity right? If you don’t feel that adventurous, you can hop on the buggy and the driver will take you down another way (fine, I’ll admit that’s what I did).
In the evenings, the Banana Hostel holds BBQ nights and they are amazing! For 30 Soles (30USD) you can extinguish your hunger with an all-you-can-eat meat party or order one of their varied dish and cocktail options at the bar. Now be aware that on the weekends Huacachina is a little bit like Miami during spring break, the music and the partying will not stop until 5am, so be ready for a tiring day followed by a long long night of partying to end the trip with a bang!
Day 3: On To Other Things
On the third morning, you can take a tuktuk to Ica center, which is where all the main busses will be. Depending on your time, you can continue travelling and take a plane trip above the Nazca Lines (a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert) which are a 3 hour trip away from Ica, or take a 5 hour trip back to Lima city for 38 Soles (10USD). You will end this trip tired, aching and possibly very sunburnt, but it will have been one of the most memorable trips of your life. Make sure to take good friends and a great attitude, but don’t forget your camera!
Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself in my video below!