After a couple of nights in Paracas, I continued heading south to Huacachina and Nazca.
Like Paracas, the desert oasis of Huacachina is a backpacker hotspot, partly due to its close proximity to Lima. Some operators in Lima offer a full-day tour to Paracas and Huacachina, but it’s a lot to fit into one day (17+ hours). Since I was in no rush, I spent two nights in Huacachina.
I know very little about agriculture, so I was surprised to learn that the neighboring city of Ica had several vineyards. I never would have thought a desert climate would be suitable for growing grapes. Since Peru is the disputed home of pisco (Chileans would beg to differ), I went on a wine and pisco tour, which I booked through my hostel.
On the morning of our tour, a Swedish traveler and I were picked up by Carlos, our driver. Unfortunately, Carlos was suffering from a cold, but that didn’t put a damper on our day at all. He was great company and very patient, letting us set the pace for the tour.
Our first stop was a tour and tasting at Tacama, the oldest vineyard in South America. Spaniards established the winery in the 1500s. After watching a video and learning about the wine- and pisco-making processes, we sampled three wines (a white, a red, and a dessert wine) and a pisco.
Our next stop was El Catador. After leading a tour of the grounds, our guide got down to business. We got samples of:
- Pisco sour
- Passionfruit sour
- Three types of pisco, ranging from plain rocket fuel to turbo-charged rocket fuel
- Two sweet wines
- Pisco cream
Needless to say, we were feeling the effects of the wine and pisco at El Catador, but Carlos managed to wrangle me and my tour mate to our last winery. I’m sure the winery had a name, but my senses weren’t 100% sharp at this point. Carlos acted as our guide, using a hollowed-out stick to scoop wine and pisco from traditional clay storage vases.
We tried two piscos and three wines, and Carlos let my tour mate and me scoop out one of our samples. I sloshed a healthy amount of wine onto the floor rather than my cup. (The wine and pisco had absolutely nothing to do with my lack of motor skills.)
Carlos safely drove us back to our hostel, where I flopped around for 1.5 hours until I was picked up for a dune buggy tour by a driver named Alex. Dune buggies are a must for most travelers who visit Huacachina.
Let me tell you, riding on a dune buggy after an afternoon of wine tasting wasn’t the brightest idea. Alex–like all good buggy drivers–gunned the gas pedal as we approached the steepest dunes. I had a blast, but it was a small miracle that I kept everything down.
My group got a few chances to slide down the dunes on sandboards. Although they resembled snowboards, Alex recommended that we slide on our stomachs so that we could glide down the dunes faster and farther.
As Alex emphasized to our group, there’s one golden rule of sandboarding: keep your feet about shoulder-length apart. Even with Alex’s instruction, I forgot about the rule while sliding down one of the dunes. (I blame the wine and pisco.) I wiped out and earned a mouthful of sand as a result. No big deal, but I kept finding sand in my shorts and shoes for days after the tour.
Our tour ended with a view of the oasis.
Nazca isn’t as big of a backpacker destination as Huacachina, but I couldn’t leave Peru without stopping by. As a kid, I watched a couple of documentaries about the mysterious Nazca Lines, made roughly 2,000 years ago. I wanted to see the lines for myself.
The best way to see the lines is by plane. While flights weren’t cheap, they were more affordable than I expected: my 30-minute flight with AeroParacas cost 231 PEN (~$71). Three other visitors and I squeezed into a prop plane with our pilot and copilot. Our copilot helpfully pointed out the plastic bags tied in front of each of our seats.
After our plane took off, we enjoyed the scenery for a few uneventful minutes.
Soon, we understood why each of us got plastic bags. Our pilot tilted the plane to one side to allow half of the guests to see a figure and then doubled back and tilted the plane to the other side for the remaining guests. I thought the flight was a lot of fun, but it may be challenging for travelers prone to motion sickness. Luckily, no one on my flight needed to use a bag.
I was worried that it might be difficult to see the lines, but visibility was no problem. Our copilot told us when we were approaching a figure, and our pilot was clearly experienced with steering the plane.
If you get motion sickness or don’t want to spend money on a flight, you can see some of the lines from a viewpoint. I thought a flight was worth the cost, but other travelers I met were satisfied with just the viewpoint.