Thrills & Spills in Ica & Nazca

May 10th, 2011

By Jo Self

He loves his job, I can tell. As the three of us are screaming and laughing over the steep dunes of Ica, Mario, our guide, wears a smirk on his face that just shouts, “Yeah, I love my job.”

Dunes near Huacachina

I’m not a truly adventurous person by nature, at least when it comes to extreme sports. But yet, here I am, not only traversing the dunes forward, backward and sideways in a dune buggy, but I find myself on a sandboard, headed down in sitting position, trying so hard not to move as instructed by our dear guide. I made it. And I feel darn proud about sucking it up and tapping into the “less thought, more action” part of my brain.

Granted, Ica isn’t just all about the sand dunes. They also have the beautiful oasis town at Huacachina, a Quechua name which means, ‘The Crying Lady.’ According to the legend – as told by my guide – long ago a woman was admiring herself in her mirror when she spotted a hunter watching her. Surprised by the distant admirer, she dropped the pieces and the mirror shattered, creating the lake. As she ran, her veil, dragging along the ground, created the dunes. To this day, people say they hear a woman crying and at least one person drowns each year, which is considered to be the princess taking a sacrifice so as not to be lonely.

From Ica, I find my way to Nazca, land of the famous lines. However, I chose not to do the flight over the lines this trip as there is a lot of talk; not only about the dangers of these tours but that the prices have soared substantially. As gas prices have risen, several of the smaller companies have turned to using car fuel instead of plane fuel, which is less than safe. I erred on the side of caution and took the land tour of Chuachilla Cemetery and the Aqueducts of Cantayoc.

And in fact, Chauchilla may be one of the more interesting archaeological sites I have visited. It is a haunting place, with bones, hair and material scattered across the ground and the empty graves that were robbed many years ago. The rest of the grave sites are set up as they would have been, before being disturbed. The aqueducts are architectural and engineering feats in and of themselves. Created as a system of irrigation for the arid desert, the system works so well, it is still in use today.

Our tour was complete with a trip to Jenny´s Ceramic workshop, where the ancient tradition of pottery making from this area is still in practice today. And then a visit to a nearby mineral workshop, with a delightful presentation on how gold is mined in the area. My cohorts and I laughed quite a bit at his animated descriptions and were happy to leave a little propina, or tip, in his hard hat as we exited.


  • For a multi-destination or tailor made Peru tour it may be more convenient to book with an agency, such as this luxury Peru travel specialist.
  • If you choose to do the flight over the Nazca Lines, be sure to choose a reputable company. Contact a third party tour company or do some research before booking.
  • If you’re not up for the flight, there are plenty of land tours to choose from, including those that have miradores, or overlooks, of the lines.
  • Chauchilla Cemetery is highly recommended for a unique experience.

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