Nazca and Ica, Peru
As I peer out into the endless and shifting light crawling across the sand dunes, I enter a seemingly perfect scene for photography. Every so often the light reflects onto a corner of sand revealing the bones of the ancient Nazca or a mud brick structure that is possibly over 2000 years old. You see, Nazca is not just a tourist destination or a photographer’s dream, it is also a place of discovery where a wannabe intrepid explorer can live their dream of becoming an archaeologist if only for a few days! This is an area of Peru many forget or bypass, but those like me who spend the time to discover it will see that it is one of the most fascinating places on the planet!
The Sands of Huacachina Peru
Its funny, the more time I invest into social media like Instagram, I realise how much travelers demean a destination. Search Instagram for Huacachina and you will see countless photos of “explorers” discovering a town amidst a vast deserts of soaring sand dunes. Truth is Huacachina is this, but its also set right beside Ica, a sprawling Peruvian city.
Despite all this, Huacachina really is amazing. I spent three days exploring it and relaxing along the lagoon looking up at the towering sands. Every morning I woke up early to climb the nearby sand dune mountains to watch the changing light. It was a surreal experience and the best part is its free!
Another fun activity here is the sandboarding/Dune Buggy adventures into the sand. The drivers are border line insane and literally fly over the dunes in an adrenaline pulsing experiencing. At sunset you get to speed down the dunes on a board!
South America’s Oldest Vineyard, Tacama
Just a short taxi ride away from Huacachina is one of Peru’s desert regions best kept secrets, the oldest vineyard in South America, Tacama Vineyard. Spanish Monks have been creating wine here since the 16th century and legend has it that before it was wine the Inca cultivated coca here!
Tacama invited us to their full tour which included a guided walk through the vineyard’s grapes, production plants, historic watchtowers and ended with a wine testing in the huge basement wine cellar.
I loved coming here, the scenery is beautiful, the wine is amazing, and the house restaurant serves up Peruvian dishes on its gorgeous patio!
Flying the Nazca Lines
Another few hours up the desert road you will find Peru’s desert masterpiece, Nazca. It’s a shame as after visiting Nazca a couple times now I have seen most travellers quickly skip past the region, but this is Peru’s Desert regions most archaeological rich regions!
Among Nazca’s plethora of incredible sights is its most famous, the Nazca Lines. The Nazca Lines are pictographs cut deep into the earth by the ancient Nazca people, there are many speculations why they did this, but ultimately it remains a mystery.
In order to see the lines, you must fly in one of the small tour planes as the Nazca Lines size are immense in size and sprawled out over the desert. There are many operators here and picking the right one is essential due to the numerous safety issues many of them have.
We flew with Aeronasca, the plane was in great shape, the pilot was hilarious, and I would recommend this airline over any of the other! See Aeronasca’s website here!
Flying over the lines was exhilarating! As we glided over the desert just a mere 300 m in altitude, we would barrel over to a 90-degree angle so you can get a picture-perfect look at the lines!
Exploring Nazca’s Deserts by Dune Buggy
The outlying sights of Nazca are amongst some of the best I have seen in the whole of Peru. The best part is the only way to reach them is by 4×4 and Dune Buggy as they are in the middle of what can be called “hard core” desert terrain.
Nazca being remote as it is meaning these sights see very few tourist umbers and you can often find yourself alone at them!
I tagged along with Alegria Tours, which is Nazca’s premier tour agency (oldest and best), to discover the more unknown sights. We sped off in one of the most monstrous and cool dune buggies I have seen into the vast deserts.
The Cahuachi Pyramid
The first sights were the Cahuachi pyramid, but the remote desert road there is littered with looted graveyards. We stopped at a few to examine the textiles and bones of the mummies.
The Pyramid itself is massive and could compete with any pyramid in North/South America. Our guide explained that only a small percentage has been discovered.
Worlds Tallest Dune – Cerro Blanco
From the Pyramid we sped off towards Cerro Blanco the worlds highest sand dune standing at a whopping 3 860 feet!
It was exhilarating climbing a section of this dune in our roaring dune buggy. On one of the smaller nearby dunes we practised our dune boarding skills while the sun set.
The Mummies of Nazca, Chauchilla Cemetery
The next day with Alegria Tours we were brought to the Chauchilla Cemetery. As many of the archaeological ruins have been looted due to the increased value in shaman textiles many sights are in bad condition. This cemetery, however, has been largely kept from the looters and you can witness the burial processions of the ancient Nazca.
A few of the tombs have wrapped up shamans with meter long dread locks while others are adored with ancient pottery. This is by far one of the best examples of ancient Nazca culture in the area.
Now, Nazca might not be your picture-perfect tourist town like nearby Paracas, but that’s the allure for me. It’s a real grungy patchwork of buildings and a sketchy feeling community, but it oozes with authenticity, this is the real Peru! And those who stay long enough as I did will see this and tell others that its one of the most interesting destinations in the desert.
Where to Stay in Nazca
The main street downtown has a thoroughfare of “alright” hotels, but just on the outskirts of Nazca is an oasis paradise. The Casa Hacienda Oasis is just a short walk or taxi ride away and features a pool overlooking the desert. The rooms are super quite and the location feels extremely remote despite being so close to Nazca.
Shopping for Ceramics in Nazca
The ancient Nazca people left behind some of Peru’s most amazing ceramics. To this day they are being made the same way from knowledge on how to be passed down from countless generations to the families here. Normally I am not into the touristy stops, but the LASC Ceramic shop lets you hold and see pottery that is 1500 years old and compare it to his modern works which are basically identical.
Discovering the Nazca at Museo Antonini
This was the only museum I visited while in Nazca. Its small but contains some seriously cool archaeological findings.
The Nazca were famed for headhunting and would pierce a whole into the forehead of their freshly cut head to insert a rope and carry t around like a trophy. These heads were mummified and can be found at this fascinating museum!
There are Aqueducts located all over the Nazca region, but the Cantalloc Aqueduct is the most mesmerizing. Built by the ancient Nazca these aqueducts are still in use today and provide water to the inhabitants of the driest desert on earth! Alegria tours runs trips out to the more remote aqueducts.