The Ultimate Guide to Ica and Paracas, Peru
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The Ultimate Guide to Ica and Paracas, Peru

As per my plan, after my stay in Cusco, I wanted to visit the city of Ica in Peru. I put my adventures, impressions, and travel tips in a post called ‘The Ultimate Guide to Ica and Paracas, Peru’. You can read more about my stay at Machu Picchu, the legendary Inca city, here. The most exciting moment of the trip to Machu Picchu was the Peru Rail train ride. You can read more about it in the post ‘Train to Machu Picchu with Peru Rail vistadome’.

Paracas was the next city after Ica to visit. I prepared mentally and logistically for the long bus trip, which took nearly 14 hours. Cruz del Sur is the best bus from Cusco to Ica. Planning a trip in Peru? Plan it better with Cruz del Sur! However, I decided to pack my backpacks as best I could. My problem as a traveler is that I get more and more new things in my rucksacks. That can’t happen under any circumstances. Of course, I don’t have a space for anything new anymore. In Peru, I decided to buy a drone.

But I explain this fact by the fact that it’s every traveler’s must-have these days. Without a quadcopter, you won’t show many magnificent places from different perspectives, you won’t shoot aerial video, and you won’t take pictures. I started looking for information on bus routes to Ica. I found the bus station in Cusco. The best idea to get to the Cruz del Sur bus terminal in Cusco was a cab. I would not have been able to walk or take the bus there. The distance from the hotel to the bus terminal is over 3 km.  

The Ultimate Guide to Ica and Paracas, Peru

Things to do in Ica

There are many things you can do in Ica. For me, one of them was to visit the Ica desert. Without a doubt, I will admit that I have not seen such a phenomenal place before. It was quite a challenge to find a hotel in Ica. This city has not a very developed hotel base. Eventually, I managed to book a hotel in the suburbs. Thanks to this, my distance from Ica oasis significantly decreased. So I am on my way!

Finally, my journey begins at the exit door from the hotel. I take a cab to the Cruz del Sur terminal.  

Bus from Cusco to Ica, Peru

The bus from Cusco to Ica, Peru left at 3:15pm. The cab ride didn’t take long. After a few minutes, I am at the Cruz del Sur bus terminal. I am just going inside. All that was left to do was check in my luggage and pick up my tag. I don’t have a ticket for the ride, just a voucher. Cruz del Sur service informed me I should go to the ticket office. There they will print out my bus ticket. So I do as he told me and go to the showed place.

The staff informed me I had to wait 15 minutes because they had other tasks. Waiting in South America is nothing unusual, everyday life. The bus was about to leave. The lady from the ticket office was still not there. I walked around the bus terminal and asked where the woman was.

Finally, she came to the office, and I got my tickets. There was already a large bus, Marco Polo G7, Cruz del Sur, at the exit. A characteristic bus, an icon of many routes in South America. A queue of passengers is forming. I already knew that shortly after I got on.

Cruz del Sur

For instance, I was surprised by the spacious and large-scale seats in Cruz del Sur bus, with countless legroom. Already noted on my ticket a VIP class ride. I took a seat on the upper deck of the bus. I put one big backpack in the luggage compartment. The seats turned out to be very comfortable and adjustable.

Thanks to that, later, it was possible to take a comfortable sleeping position. A complete surprise turned out to be the onboard entertainment system. There is a small monitor mounted at each seat. You can watch TV series and movies on it and listen to music. 

However, small refreshments are something usual on buses in Peru. These are usually a bottle of water, fruits, granola, or crackers. I can safely say that this trip has exceeded my expectations. 

Several hours of travel passed, and I felt no pain in my spine. The seats were very comfortable. I found that this was the best bus I have traveled on in my entire life. It was late evening, basically bedtime. I unfolded my seat to a comfortable semi-reclining position. I don’t know when I fell asleep. 

The falling rain woke me up a few minutes after 5 am. I grabbed my phone to see how far I was from Ica. It turned out that there were about two hours left until the end of the trip. After that, I couldn’t fall asleep anymore. 

Finally, the Cruz del Sur bus from Cusco to Ica was approaching Ica, Peru. Cruz del Sur employees opened the gate to the terminal. After a moment, the bus stopped. The unloading of luggage lasted a few minutes. I received my luggage and proceeded to explore Ica.

What to see and do in Huacachina, Peru?

I couldn’t leave Huacachina when I was planning my Peru trip. Huacachina is a small village built around an oasis and surrounded by dunes in southwestern Peru. You will definitely like this place if you are into extreme sports. Sandboarding is the most popular sport that has developed in Huacachina Oasis.

Every evening crowds of tourists head to the desert to watch Huacachina at dusk. That’s one of the driest places on the planet, I learned from local tourist guides. When we look at the weather forecast for Huacachina, there is almost no chance of rainfall.

The place lies in a desert climate zone. Due to its location, Huacachina is the point of many tours. A small settlement lies in the Atacama desert. You can see on the map below that it is a vast desert that stretches from Chile to Peru. You may be wondering why the Atacama desert is so dry.

The cold ocean current cools the air above it. Cold air can’t hold as much water vapor as warm air so it dries out any water left in the air.

This mix of mountains, winds, and ocean currents makes the Atacama incredibly dry. Temperatures vary depending on the season, altitude, and time of day. There are highs of 32⁰C/89⁰F at the height of summer, to -2⁰C/28⁰F on a winter’s night. 

In the last decade, Huacachina has evolved into one of the top backpacker destinations in Peru. This unique town, located among the moving dunes, attracts its picturesqueness. 

Dune buggy and sandboarding

Of course, the oasis is beautiful, with its lagoon surrounded by palm trees and restaurants, but the main tourist attraction of Huacachina is its dunes that you can ride down in buggy and sandboard! All around the lake, you will find dozens of small agencies offering buggy tours, but I advise you to opt for the one at 4 pm because you will be able to admire the sunset from the dunes!

At 4 pm sharp, with three other couples of travelers, we embark in our buggy and harness ourselves well under the driver’s supervision. As soon as we climb the first dune, we understand that our driver intends to offer us a lot of thrills. Here I go for the succession of ascents, descents, and turns at full speed.

Huacachina sand dunes

Everyone starts to scream and laugh at the same time, and it’s excellent! I arrived at the top of a Huacachina sand dunes, and the driver stopped us because these immense dunes offered the possibility of practicing sandboarding. I take each one our board, and after some advice of the pilot on the position to adopt not to hurt ourselves, it is time to dash.

Although the driver specified that it is a small dune, the height is impressive, and the descent is done at high speed and shouting. Once I arrived at the bottom, I found myself entirely covered with sands, but I had only one desire: to start again! And I am  going to be served because during one hour, I will make five descents from the most petite dune to the highest.

It was one of the best experiences of my life.

A buggy + sandboard tour lasts 2 hours and costs around 30-40 soles per person. There are also private tours, a bit more expensive.

It is possible to rent only a sandboard (3 soles for one hour)

See the sunset on the dunes

Then comes the time of the sunset. The driver brings me back to a point where all the buggies converge, probably the best place to admire it.

The view is simply superb, and I was fortunate to enjoy this exceptional moment which unfortunately does not last long!

And know that you can also go up on the dunes for free to enjoy the sunset. In the desert, it is always incredible!

Take a boat ride on the lake

If you want to relax, you can rent a pedal boat for 2 people (20 soles) or a small boat with oars for 5-6 people (30 soles).

You can also swim in the lake, but… I don’t recommend it because it is not clean!

Visit a vineyard

Ica is the region of wine and pisco in Peru! So why not take the opportunity to visit a winery? You can visit wineries on your own or take a day trip.

Alone (without an agency)

The best option is probably Tacama, the oldest vineyard in South America for those on a budget! It costs 15 soles by cab from Ica.  The entrance is free, a tour of the winery (with three tastings) costs ten soles. On weekends there is a free Peruvian Paso horse show. 

With a guided tour

That’s a half-day tour with pick-up from your hotel in Ica or Huacachina. It takes you to visit two bodegas, including Tacama, to discover the process of making wine and pisco, with tastings included, and lunch on-site (optional).

What to see and do in Ica, Peru? 

After spending time in Huacachina, it’s time to check out the sites and attractions in Ica! You’re probably wondering what there is to see and do in Ica? The possibilities are many. It also all depends on your preferences and time. 

Ica is a small city located in southwestern Peru. The drive from Lima usually takes about 4 hours. Are you planning an extended trip to Lima? Be sure to check out my guide about Lima. Ica is very often overlooked by tourists who choose Paracas and Huacachina.

Without a doubt, these cities have their magic and fantastic location. However, it seems to me that they are very crowded with tourists. That makes the prices in these places very high. I know this from my own experience. A night in a hotel in the suburbs of Ica turned out to be twice as cheap as in Huacachina. 

I chose the hotel Hospedaje Villa del Sol, located in the southern part of Ica. The reservation turned out to be a good compromise on price. The distance between the hotel and Huacachina Oasis is only 3 km. You can get there by tuk-tuk, which costs only five soles.

Admire the natural wonders of Paracas National Reserve by booking one of the tours

Admire the natural wonders of Paracas National Reserve by booking one of the tours from Paracas.  

Paracas is a small tourist town called “El Chaco,” which is mainly the starting point for excursions to the Ballestas Islands and the Paracas National Reserve.

In itself, the city is not particularly attractive. It is relatively deserted unless you are there in high season, and most of the restaurants have somewhat limited opening hours, so there is not much to do in Paracas itself.

But there are many activities to do around! Here is my little guide to organize your visit to Paracas and not to miss anything of the must-sees, with practical information and my best suggestions of hotels and restaurants. ing one of the tours. 

Paracas National Reserve – a place you will long remember

Created in 1975, the national reserve of Paracas covers the desert of the Peruvian coast. On a territory of 65% maritime and 35% terrestrial, the reserve is an essential natural sanctuary for numerous species of plants, more than 200 species of birds, 193 species of fish, and numerous species of mammals and reptiles.

But it is also an important place for the protection of the historical and cultural heritage of Paracas as it contains several archaeological sites of the Paracas civilization and other vital cultures of the region. All this without forgetting the unique landscapes of the desert coast that we find there.

Here are the main attractions of the Paracas National Reserve:

The interpretation center 

It is a small space that first projects a video -not necessarily very interesting-, then presents what the Reserve of Paracas contains: fauna and local flora, archaeological remains, geological structure, etc. From the 2nd floor, we obtain a beautiful view of the bay of Paracas, one of the most important of the Peruvian coast, thanks to its rich biodiversity. 

With a bit of luck, you can even see flamingos. Let’s be clear, it’s a pretty simple space and not necessarily a must-see, but it’s often included in organized tours, so expect to stop by for an introduction.

Julio C. Museum Tello

Inaugurated in 1964, completely rebuilt in 2012, and then re-inaugurated in 2016, the Julio C Tello Museum is today a beautiful structure that presents the artifacts of the Paracas culture, recovered by archaeologist Frederic Engel. There are 120 pieces in its permanent collection dating from the beginning of the Paracas civilization until 200. There is also a video about the Paracas, their arid environment, worldview, and everyday life.

The Cathedral

It is a rock formation located on a cliff facing the sea, given this name because of its imposing arch. Unfortunately, the great earthquake of 2007 (which affected the region enormously) destroyed most of it, and it is now just a rock. It may not be worth a detour today, but it is often part of the organized tours in the Paracas reserve. In any case, you will hear about it on the spot at one time or another.

The beaches of the reserve of Paracas

As the reserve is on the coast, there are inevitably several kilometers of beaches, which always offer a beautiful view, but are not always suitable for swimming. Playa Roja is an excellent place to take pictures, but the water is not particularly clean since it is next to Lagunillas -a fishing port. It is not the best place to swim.

El Raspon beach is smaller, and the water is cleaner and quieter. It is an excellent place to swim! The Ballestas Islands are a group of three islands, Ballesta Norte, Ballesta Centro, and Ballesta Sur, home to important colonies of sea lions and marine birds. There are about 4,000 sea lions, about 60 species of birds and 180 species of fish, and ten varieties of dolphins.

It is, therefore, a privileged place for nature lovers who wish to observe the local fauna up close. On the way, the boat makes a stop at El Candelabro, another must-see in Paracas, which takes its name from its shape, which resembles a candlestick or a trident. It is a geoglyph of 150m of length and 50m of width traced in the ground, and it is perfectly preserved thanks to the constant winds that sweep its surface and remove the excess sand.

How to visit the Ballestas Islands

You can get there with a 2-hour boat trip (30 minutes to go, 1 hour on the spot, 30 minutes back) starting from the pier in Paracas. Several agencies will request you as of your arrival by bus. That can be convenient if your hotel is outside the center of Paracas and you need transportation to get to the pier or enjoy a package with other activities. Alternatively, you can go directly to the tourist pier to buy the tickets on the spot.

The price is 40 soles (25 soles for the tour + 10 soles for the access to the reserve + 5 soles boarding tax). There is an exit at 8 am and another at 10 am. If possible, take the one at 8 am because the sea is less rough. You can book here the Ballestas Islands tour, which includes the tourist tax. 

Visit unique places in Peru with Peru Hop

Traveling in Peru can sometimes give you a headache. But there is a way! The primary means of transportation around the country are buses. Generally, they are very modern and comfortable with many amenities. Without a doubt, it’s the easiest way to travel around the country. An example is Peru Hop, a company that offers tours and flexible travel arrangements in Peru.

So how did I find Peru Hop? My idea was to travel around Peru to several destinations and on different dates. I wanted my stays in various places in Peru to be varied in time. I found this company on google. That’s why Peru Hop is the only company in Peru that offers flexible travel arrangements. What does that mean?

Peru Hop is the first bus service that offers hop-on and hop-off service from Lima to Cusco and back. Tickets offered by Peru Hop are available in many variations and combinations. Peru Hop also operates in Bolivia. It is possible to ride from La Paz to Lima in many combinations. 

You can find a map of Peru Hop connections below: 

Peru Hop Bus is not a traditional bus company like most. The company focuses all its attention on travelers

Peru Hop Bus is not a traditional bus company like most. The company focuses all of its attention on travelers. Trips are quick, and importantly, the company avoids bus stations. Travelers get off at their place of accommodation. That makes traveling with Peru Hop very safe. This aspect of travel has left me very positively enamored.

MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 

Overall, I would highly recommend Peru Hop. The trip with this company was at a high level. It is a great convenience to have a guide on board the bus. I visited all the places I had planned and made the trip in a very comfortable Peru Hop bus. All the company employees were accommodating, answering my questions and keeping me informed.

Did you like the post ‘The Ultimate Guide to Ica and Paracas, Peru’? What places in Peru would you like to visit? Share in the comments. I also invite you to read my other posts from Peru. On the blog, you will find posts from Lima, Machu Picchu, and the train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu.



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