It was too dark to see anything at this ungodly hour of the morning, but I could feel our bus winding around mountains and descending away from cold, rainy Arequipa. It’s city we love (especially the food) but we were starting to grow tired of feeling chilled to the bone. On our final day the white city blessed us with a solid blue sky and not a drop of rain. Ironically, there was also not a drop of water in the entire city. Severe flooding had caused debris to enter the water treatment facilities and staff at our hostel said they expected at least three days without municipal water. Mudslides also closed parts of the Panamerica Sur highway. Thankfully, We had no issues on our journey, arriving in sun-parched Nazca at 7am.
Flying over the Nazca lines is what almost everyone does here, but at minimum $US80 each for the half-hour flight, we decided to take the budget option, visiting the lines from the observation tower north of the city. For 3 soles each way we caught a bus going towards Ica and for another 3 soles climbed the tower where we were rewarded with a close-up view of two or three of these ancient symbols. Keep your expectations low, the rest of the lines cannot be seen from this angle.
If you only want to see the Nazca lines, you can save time by continuing on to Ica from the viewing platform. Simply wave down another bus heading north (they go past every 15-30 minutes).
There isn’t much to see in the little dusty town of Nazca. While there are some other sights to visit most them are too far to walk and are inaccessible by public transport. We booked an afternoon tour (70 S.) that combined a couple of ancient Nazca sights with adrenaline pumping dune-buggying and sand-boarding thrown in for good measure.
There are dozens of Nazca built Aqueducts most of which can only be accessed by the local farming communities, although we were able to visit one of these. Like the Incas their agricultural knowledge was ahead their time and they were able to harness the benefits of ground-water and streams from the Andes.
These Nazca Pyramids were only re-discovered in 1982 and excavation continues. A religious worship site, they were thought to have been abandoned and buried after a series of severe earthquakes were viewed as punishment by the Gods.
We continued to a cemetery, I’m not sure of the name of it, where the Nazcas mummified and buried their dead, along with clothing, food and possessions for the next life. This cemetery was looted and there are bones scattered throughout the dunes. It’s a little creepy. Some bones, skulls and clay pots have been collected and place in a pile for visitors to view but if you want to see more impressive and intact mummies you need to visit Chauchilla Cemetery, south-east of Nazca (the pyramids are northwest).
About a 2 hour bus ride north of Nazca, Ica feels like a larger, dirtier version of Nazca. We stayed in the city’s south, in a cleaner, quieter, tree-lined area and our hostel was probably the highlight of our time here. More of an Oasis than Huacachina, Ica Adventures 2 has a rooftop bar and common area to rival any hostel in South America. The area is home to several decent restaurants, nearby Plaza del Sol, a shopping centre with a decent supermarket and Teja shops. Tejas are chocolate or sugar-coated confectionary that originates in Ica.
Ica is the place to sample Pisco and Peruvian wine, with several Bodegas you can visit. Bodega Tacama is Not open on Mondays. We paid 30 soles to find this out (15 soles each way in a taxi, although the driver was super friendly and gave us a little tour of the area on the way). When we arrived at the locked gate the sign outside informed me they are open from 9:30am-4pm Tuesday-Sunday and that tours are free Tuesday-Friday and cost 10 soles Saturday-Sunday. The other one to visit closer to town is Vista Alegre, which can close at random in the afternoons. Get your hostel to call ahead just in case. You can do tours but we weren’t too enthused. Maybe hailing from the Hunter Valley makes me a wine-snob but I am yet to try a wine in Peru that I actually really like (note: they are super-sweet!).
We didn’t stay in Huacachina, preferring visit from Ica (8 soles each way by taxi), where accommodation is much cheaper and of better-quality. The word ‘Oasis’ tends to conjure up images of an isolated paradise with azul blue water and fine white sand dunes that stretch endlessly. While by definition a real Oasis, the Sahara this is not. It’s in close proximity to a large city and on the well-established gringo trail. Sadly this means it’s a little dirty, it’s overdeveloped, and there’s rubbish on the dunes. Taxi drivers and tour-selling touts surrounded as we wandered the hot streets in search of a shady spot to admire the mirky green water.
The big attraction here is the sand-buggys and sandboarding. A two hour trip on the dunes costs as little as 25 soles if booked in Huacachina. Our hostel in Ica tried to sell us the same tour for 60 soles. While the dunes in Huacachina are impressive, the dunes near Nazca were more isolated and there was only one other dune buggy tour. We had to drive for more than hour off the highway to reach them.This southern stretch between Arequipa and Lima is certainly worth a few days if you’re on the way to Lima. You certainly don’t need to go out of your way to see a few interesting sights and enjoy some cheap thrills.