A Day Trip from Lima, Sand Dunes & Pisco in the Peruvian Desert

It’s early. Before sunrise, and we are waiting for our driver on our silent Miraflores street. We’re staying for three nights in Peru’s capital city before heading out to the jungle, Cuzco, and more.

Since there aren’t many tourist attractions in Peru’s capital city–save for eating, drinking, and admiring pre-Colubmian artifacts at Museo Larco, the opportunity is ripe for a day trip out of the city.

However you do it, whether you hire a driver and follow your own path or take a tour, the province of Ica is full of interesting things to do and see.

The first thing we’re doing today is heading out to Paracas to see the Ballestas Islands, which are home to sea lions, penguins, and other birds. The speedboat ride out to the islands is pretty, and a carving in the shape of  a cactus is carved into a nearby mountain.

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Sea lions at the Ballestas Islands.

We’re told by the boat guide that it could have been a symbol to worship peyote–a plant often used for spiritual practices–a symbol pointing north for fisherman, or something else entirely. The most amazing part is that it isn’t, and hasn’t been, restored by anyone. It has remained for hundreds of years.

Arriving at the islands, which you cannot set foot upon, you see sea lions, penguins congregating hilariously, and birds shitting everywhere. We get really close to some sleepy sea lions, and take some awesome photos. On the boat ride back, we fall asleep with the wind in our hair.

Off the boat, it is time for some pisco. We travel to Pisco Porton not too far away, where there is a grand distillery with archaic and modern methods of producing Peru’s national alcohol.

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Terrace at Pisco Porton
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Heated pisco fermentation machines.

Pisco is made from grapes like wine, but the fermented fruit is distilled into liquor instead. The result is a floral, fruity, and complex spirit that is used in cocktails or sipped straight.

This distillery, Pisco Porton, is one of Peru’s oldest. It has been operating this the 17th century. We get a personal tour from a guide and sample pisco straight from the giant vats. It is strong, warming our throats as we drink. Then we have a cocktail made from ginger and pisco before heading out to our next adventure.

After drinking some strong booze, it is only natural that we’re going to take a buggy on some dunes. Through the modest city of Ica lies Huachachina, the only natural oasis in South America.

We hop right on the buggy and go out onto the dunes. We’re not allowed to drive, unfortunately, but the driver doesn’t go easy on us. I, for one, am pretty terrified about the unknown on the other side of each dune. The ride is exhilarating, but not for the faint of heart.

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Huachachina Oasis from the view of a dune buggy.

I particularly like the sand-boarding, which is really fun and a lot faster than one would think. Out here, the dunes stretch on forever, we never see the end of them. They are by far the largest dunes we have seen yet. They dwarf the dunes we experienced in Death Valley.

To cap off the day, we have the Peruvian classic, lomo saltado, at a restaurant near above the oasis and enjoy the scenery. A strange offshoot, we can’t believe we’ll be back in Lima tonight. If you find yourself in Lima, this sort of day trip is certainly an enticing option.

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Buggy on the dunes.
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