Before beginning my final year of university, I traveled to Peru with two of my friends from school and one of my colleagues, when we found some cheap flights to Lima with Aeromexico, with a brief layover in Mexico City. I've always wanted to go to Machu Picchu, so this was a great opportunity for me to travel to Peru, with flights under $500! The whole trip was 10 days, from August 25 to September 4, 2017. We first flew into Lima, where we briefly spent some time in the city, and then south to Ica and Huacachina, and Paracas over 4 days, before flying to Cusco.
Our flight to Lima was overnight, and we arrived in Lima mid-day. After checking into our Airbnb and getting some food nearby, we bought some cheap wine to drink at our apartment before heading out again. The first night that we landed happened to be the big Mayweather vs. McGregor fight - which I knew nothing about but my friends wanted to watch, so we headed out in search of a sports bar to watch the fight. They were all very full because of the fight, but we eventually found one and watched the fight while drinking some very strong pisco sours.
The next day, we walked around the Miraflores area briefly, but our main event of the day was eating at Astrid y Gastón, a top rated restaurant in Lima, which I write about here. Needless to say, after that meal, we were quite full!
Ica and Huacachina
While Lima was pleasant to explore, we did not spend a lot of time touring around. The next day, we took a bus to Ica, where our Airbnb was. We booked the bus the day before at the bus station, but you can also buy bus tickets around Peru online. There are a few different companies, and from what I've heard some are better than others. The buses that we took were Cruz del Sur buses, and they weren't too expensive. Our plan was to go to Huacachina from Ica once we got there and go to the sand dunes there. The climate in Ica was very different from the climate in Lima. Since we were there in August and Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere, it was winter time in Peru, thus Lima was quite cool. However, down south in Ica, it was really hot, with temperatures in the high 20s.
Our Airbnb was on the top floor of a large house in Ica, which a nice view of the city. Our Airbnb host offered to take us out on ATVs around the sand dunes in Huacachina, which we gladly accepted as most of the other tours we had heard about were in the back of large buggies, where you didn't have a chance to drive around yourself, or have any freedom to stop. Before heading out to Huacachina, we walked around Ica briefly and got lunch at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street. Initially, I was a little sketched out by the restaurant because I was really worried about food poisoning, but the food was really tasty and did not give me any issues!
Afterwards, our Airbnb host drove us to Huacachina, about 10min from where we were staying in Ica. Huacachina is a small desert oasis surrounding a small lagoon, and is surrounded by sand dunes. The lagoon formed naturally, but as the water levels began to decrease, water is now pumped into the lagoon so that it remains aesthetically pleasing to attract tourists. The oasis is really small, you can walk around it in less than 10 minutes.
After taking a quick look around the tiny oasis, our Airbnb host took us to his two ATVs, and he drove a small buggy himself. In hindsight, this was probably a little dangerous as we didn't even have helmets! I was too afraid to drive so I rode on the back of an ATV with my friend driving. However, it was so much fun speeding through the sand dunes, as there weren't too many people around so we could go pretty fast, and sometimes we would go over hills and get a little air! I tried driving once, but got it stuck in the sand.. whoops! We also stopped on top of a large hill, and went down the hill on our bellys on a sand board. It was really scary, but fun! One of my friends wiped out and got sand everywhere, but fortunately that didn't happen to me. I didn't want to do it more than once because it was a little painful with the sand everywhere, and just too frightening for me.
Eventually, we stopped racing around long enough to sit on top of a sand dune and watch the sunset! Although it was really hot during the day, when the sun started to set it started to get a bit cooler. Albeit a little chilly, we were treated to a beautiful sunset overlooking the vast seemingly never-ending sand dunes. After the sunset, we headed back to Huacachina. This time, it was quite chilly going through the sand dunes in an exposed ATV with the wind blowing everywhere.
When we arrived back in Huacachina, we ate dinner at a hostel/restaurant called Desert Nights. They served chifas food, which is Peruvian-Chinese fusion cuisine, along with pisco sours for very decent prices! The pisco sours got us nice and warm, and we headed back to the nearby sand dunes to star gaze. In the night away from the city, the sand dunes were very dark, and it was a little scary. However, since it was so dark, we had a nice view of the stars! Unfortunately, the moon was bright in the sky, but we were still able to see a bit of the milky way!
Eventually, we made our way back to Huacachina and took a taxi back to our Airbnb. This was one of my all-time favourite experiences throughout my travels thus far and I would definitely come back here again.
The next day, we took a bus to Paracas. They let us store our bags in the bus terminal, as we were taking a bus back to Lima later in the day. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to take a boat out to the Ballestas Islands, so instead we took a cab out to the Paracas National Reserve. The reserve is really nice, and is described as "where Mars meets the sea", which is definitely an accurate description. We checked out Playa La Mina beach, but there are many many beaches within the reserve that we didn't get a chance to go to. My two friends went swimming, but as the beach was in the shade at this time of day, it was definitely too cold for me.
After checking out the park for a couple hours, we headed back to the town of Paracas and had some pizza for dinner before taking the bus to Lima for a night before heading to Cusco the next morning!