Updated January 21st, 2020.
Huacachina is one of Peru’s most popular backpacker spots. This small oasis located in the middle of a desert offers the perfect amount of escape from the real world whilst still providing adrenaline activities and plenty of nice places to lay your head when you’re all partied out. The nearby city of Ica rarely gets a look-in.
Read more about backpacking Peru here!
My boyfriend Tim and I were keen to explore beyond the oasis and arranged the Full Day Ica tour with the company of the same name. For those of you wanting to touch on more than just the sand of the surrounding desert, keep reading to find out about Ica’s most famous exports! Clue: it’s a backpacker favourite!
Vineyards and Dunes Tour in Ica, Peru
After being picked up by our driver we headed to the Tacama winery. It was around a half hour drive to get from Huacachina to the winery but this flew by as our driver, who was fluent in English, gave us a little history surrounding the introduction of wine into Peru and the creation of Pisco.
When Peru was still under Spanish rule, they were banned from exporting wine because this would be direct competition for Spanish businesses. The Peruvians decided to get around this rule and instead of making wine, played around with the distillation process to create Pisco. Although this was eventually discovered by the Spanish, they did little in the way of curbing its production.
Once we arrived at our destination, we waited for the English tour that would be leaving shortly. The grounds of Tacama are beautiful, the lawns are immaculately mowed and the surrounding vineyards create a picture perfect setting.
As we waited, we were lucky enough to see the traditional Peruvian Marinera dance on the lawn. In this spectacle, the man and the woman flirtatiously dance with each other by making playful gestures with handkerchiefs. As we saw, it is common for the man to be on horseback and for the horse to be performing the dance steps. This was an insight into a beautiful Peruvian art form that we hadn’t expected to see!
After watching the short show, we were greeted by our guide who took us around the Tacama winery. During our tour, we were shown how traditional wine and Pisco making processes have evolved over the years and the modern ways in which these two liquids are now produced. We were also given a brief history of the Tacama winery. This former convent is actually the oldest vineyard in South America!
After learning about the current levels of production and the export process, we moved onto the tour highlight: the wine and Pisco tasting. We tried a number of different wines, both white and red, before ending the Tacama tour with a shot of pure Pisco. Believe me when I say it is strong!
We finished up at Tacama and headed to El Catador, another winery located around ten minutes away. This visit consisted of another tour where we were able to see the press in which grapes are crushed using the old fashioned foot-stomping method. This process happens just once a year, on March 1st!
After a quick whizz around the winery, we sat down for even more wine tasting. We were able to sample Pisco creams (a lot like Baileys and highly recommended) as well as pure Pisco and cocktail samples, like Peru’s famous Pisco Sour. Feeling very happy and a little tipsy, we piled back into the car for the rest of the afternoon’s entertainment.
Sandboarding and dune buggies
After being driven back from El Catador, we were dropped off at the office in Huacachina prior to the second part of the trip. There was around a half hour break before the dune buggy was due to leave, so we had some time to let our earlier indulgence settle. Take heed when consuming copious amounts of alcohol prior to an adrenaline sport!
After this short break, we were escorted to our dune buggy. Although the wine and Pisco tasting is definitely a great way to spend an afternoon, it is the desert experience that most travellers are looking for from this area. We bundled into the buggy and took some time to fasten our four-point harness seatbelts. The emphasis on safety was certainly reassuring, especially as another buggy had just hurtled past at quite a speed. Once the driver had checked that everyone was strapped in, we were off.
For those of you who are yet to experience dune buggy transportation, let me liken it to its closest counterpart: the rollercoaster. Be prepared to be flung around a high speed while you traverse hills and bolt down slopes. Gentle it is not but it is sure to be fun! After a heart-pumping journey, we stopped to take in the majesty of the desert and snap a couple of photos.
Once our instructor had picked the perfect dune, he waxed our sandboards and showed us how to get into position. Three deep breaths and we were off, zooming down the slope. It is important to keep your elbows tucked in whilst boarding and use your feet as the brakes. For that reason, it is recommended that you wear trainers or boots.
We spent nearly two hours blasting down the dunes which increased in size as our experience grew. Sandboarding was a real hoot and we stopped just in time to sit and watch the sunset. It was the perfect ending to a great day.
Our tour with Full Day Ica was nothing short of a whirlwind. We had a lesson in wine and Pisco making, not to mention a whole education in tasting! It was great to see a different side to the dusty dunes in all of the photos too, Peru’s vineyards are beautiful and definitely an attraction in their own right.
Finishing the day zooming through the desert on a board was equally liberating and watching the sunset from the top of the dunes was an experience I won’t forget.
The Full Day Ica tour is a great choice for those visiting Peru who are short on time. The trip can be organised to include transport to and from Lima which is an easy and accessible option for people looking to sample Ica’s finest as part of a shorter trip. For those already staying in Huacachina, make sure to mention this when booking. There is a meeting place within the town for those already in the area.