Dune Buggy Rides & Wine Tastings in Huacachina
It was time to leave Paracas and move on to the oasis town of Huacachina. My good friend, Esau, and I woke around 7 a.m. to pack up and check out of the hostel. He picked up a few chicken tamales for breakfast and we stopped in the cafe next door for coffee.
The bus from Paracas to Huacachina took about an hour. It was packed with riders but comfortable. Later, I would learn that someone stole my favorite tennis shoes right out of my bag as it rested above my seat. As always, make sure to watch your things carefully.
Day 1: Afternoon | Admire a Real Life Oasis
Ica was the first stop and then a few minutes longer to Huacachina. Just as soon as we stepped off the bus Esau and I realized our hostel was outside of town. We jumped into a moto taxi for five soles and were on our way (we overpaid).
During check in, our hostel informed us about booking the dunes tours. We could either book with the hostel for an extra fee or head back into town for a cheaper price. Esau and I decided to head back for lunch, as well as book the tour. The best price available for a two-hour sunset tour was 30 soles.
With time to explore, we found an incredible oasis at the center of town. Giant palm trees surrounded a small lake with enormous dunes as the background. People were paddle boating around the lake as kids swam near the shore. I've never seen anything like it, so magical.
The Huacachina Lagoon is green in color and thought to have therapeutic properties. Surrounding the area are a number of bars and restaurants making it a perfect little town in the middle of nowhere.
Our dunes tour began at 4 p.m. so we had enough time to eat. Esau and I left the oasis looking for a place up near the entrance of the town, the only spot with local prices.
A set menu offered seco de pollo with rice, a salad and chicha morada for ten soles. Esau recommended seco de pollo because he loves the sauce and it's tough to find. The sauce is made with onion, chili pepper, garlic and cilantro and was very delicious. He also mentioned that the low prices for “el menu” might not always apply for tourists, so keep that in mind.
Day 1: Evening | Take a Magical Sunset Dunes Tour
Esau and I were the first ones to hop in the buggy and the anticipation was killing us. When we bought the tickets, I begged the guy to give us seats in the front of the buggy. That way we'd have the best view. As we were patiently waiting, there was a sweet little girl selling soda and water. She didn't mind me taking a few photos.
After waiting for what seemed life forever, our dune buggy was packed and ready to go. Luckily, I wore sunglasses in anticipation of sand flying everywhere. Also, consider wearing comfortable clothes if you choose to sand board. You don’t want sand in all the wrong places. The two of us decided not to board in order to keep clean but our plan didn't really work anyway. Looking back, I should've tried boarding at least once. It looked like crazy fun.
As the sun began to set, he buggies lined up, one by one, all heading into the desert. Our driver started off slowly and then began to pick up speed. The hills were so big that we had to get a “running start” or we wouldn't make it up and over. The best was when the hills would drop off right at the tippy top and your stomach would fly into your throat.
Our driver even played tricks on us. Just as we were at the top of a hill about to drop off, he'd point in the opposite direction so we wouldn't expect a thing. A few times, he'd stop the buggy and we'd all get out. Most of the riders would try sand boarding but Esau and I wandered around the hills taking photos.
Each time we drove over a hill we'd fly out of our seats. The only thing keeping us in the buggy were our seat belts. The ride was incredible and I had so much fun but I think Esau got a little worked up. He was holding on for dear life!
After some time the sun began to set. As the tour wound down we had the option to stay up in the hills or catch a ride back into town. Of course, we chose to stay in the desert, relaxing in the sand and enjoying the sunset. The sky was shades of orange, pink and purple.
After the sun set, Esau and I went into town for dinner. We found a local spot serving beef with rice and potatoes for eight soles. To finish off the night, we visited a rooftop bar called Moskito. Moskito offered two for one cocktails, a classic Pisco sour with a twist, maracuya sour, for 15 soles. The drinks were great and so was the view, right over the oasis.
Sand was everywhere and I couldn't wait to get back to the hostel and shower. In the morning, we would check out and head to Arequipa. The best option was an overnight bus out of Ica at 9 p.m. so we were left with the day to explore.
Day 2 | Tour the Oldest Winery in South America
First thing in the morning, Esau and I ate a small breakfast at the hostel. They served eggs, bread, juice and tea. Around 10:30 a.m. we checked out of our room and drove into Ica for an ATM, storing our luggage at the hostel. Originally, we looked in Huacachina for an ATM but there aren't any in the entire town.
After seeing Ica I was thankful we had decided to stay in Haucachina. Ica is a busy city packed full of cars and people. I could hardly believe how crowded it felt. From Ica we hopped into a taxi to Tacama, the oldest winery in South America. The ride was less than ten miles but took forever to get there, through traffic and over bumpy dusty roads. The taxi driver ripped us off at 23 soles so ask around for a better price.
Tacama offers a few different tours. At noon was the traditional tour and the only one given in English. It's 50 minutes long and costs ten soles. If you'd like to learn more about the history and architecture there's a 40 minute tour for 25 soles. Tacama is one of the few surviving haciendas so I'd imagine it's pretty interesting. Additional tours combine both of these options.
Esau and I chose the traditional tour covering the entire wine-making process, as well as a tasting. An introductory video explained much about wine and the historical vineyard of Tacama. The vineyard grows 23 grape varieties and uses 18 of them for wines. They make both red and white wine. Tacama also uses grapes to produce a fermented alcohol called Pisco. Pisco contains a specific 42-44% alcohol and is a staple in Peru.
After the video, we made our way into the processing area. Workers were sorting grapes as we learned about the fermentation process. There were huge barrels storing wine which lead us to the wine tasting. There were three varieties available ranging from dry and bitter to super sweet. We also tried Pisco in a small shot glass. Everything was delicious.
After the tour finished up, Esau and I caught a ride with a few other tourists into San Jose, a tiny town nearby. We explored a bit and stopped for something to eat, soup and beef with sauce and beans.
Esau asked around and learned that just around the corner a "collectivo" would arrive. A collectivo is a shared ride in either a taxi or small bus. They're great because the price is super cheap. The ride took us back into Ica where we wandered the main plaza and then caught another taxi back to our hostel for six soles.
For the next few hours we relaxed at our hostel before beginning our overnight bus at 9 p.m. The Upcycled Hostel is super cute and the backdrop is amazing. All you see are giant hills of sand and blue sky.
From the hostel Esau and I took a taxi to the bus station in Ica. We reserved seats on an overnight bus to Arequipa with Cruz del Sur for 100 soles. The bus wasn't bad, a double decker, but felt cramped. They served a late dinner and breakfast too, just so so. Throughout the night I woke up a million times. The weather was rainy and it felt like our bus was whipping around sharp corners high in the mountains. I was so happy I couldn't see out the windows. The bus arrived in Arequipa 12 hours later.
The Upcycled Hostel is very clean and super cute. Everyone there was really nice and helpful; it seemed to be family owned. A dog and a few cats wander the grounds. The black cat snuck into our room and cuddle up on your bed, unwilling to leave.
Our private room was spacious with everything one would need. The showers are hot but will run out if you take too long. A light breakfast is provided and WiFi is pretty good. The hostel has a ton of outdoor space to relax and even a swimming pool. It's set against the gorgeous hills of Huacachina.