Ballestas islands & pisco tastings in Ica (Peru)

Never a dull moment in Peru! After doing the Inca trail in Machu Picchu and navigating the highest lake in the world (Lake Titicaca), you might have some spare time left to discover a bit more of Peru. Perhaps you already arranged the rest of your trip through an agency? If not, I recommend you to take a bus or quick flight to the south-western part of Peru (Ica-Paracas). Here you’ll find a great concentration of highlights that will keep you busy for at least a couple of days or even a week. Sure you won’t regret it.

Check out our video first!

ITINERARY

Start your trip in Paracas and enjoy a day trip to Ballestas Islands. 

If you’re into wildlife and not scared to get on a boat (mind a little motion sickness), make sure to visit the Islas Ballestas close to Paracas. This place is also known as the ‘Galapagos for the poor’ however don’t let this nickname fool you. The islands will blow your mind away with their beautiful caves, rocky arches and animal species you probably haven’t seen in the wild before.

Our trip started at the fishing village of Paracas where we took the boat to the Ballestas Islands. I was amazed by a spooky island we passed by during our boat ride. It looked deserted and the old cranes and machines installed on the rocks showed that this place was previously exploited for its precious ‘guano’ (bird poo). Our guide explained that guano had caused several conflicts between Peru and Chile leading to a war. Speaking of expensive bird poo…

When approaching the islands, you’ll start hearing noisy sea lions and watch a great variety of seabirds flying over your head or chilling on the rocks. You can even spot Humboldt penguins which are absolutely adorable! Depending on the season in which you travel you can see different species of animals. In order to spot sea lions for example, you should travel between January to March. From October to December it’s breading season for seals. Other species that can be spotted are pelicans, the peruvian booby, the guany cormorant and if you’re really lucky, even dolphins.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Cruising from Paracas’ harbour to the islands takes about 35 minutes, including making a pitstop at the famous Candelabra. This is a gigantic geoglyph carved in the sandy hills on the main land. The tours to Islas Ballestas can be booked through your hotel or local agencies, make sure to do this at least one day before departure. The small boats have no cabins which means you’re not pretected agianst the sun or wind. So wear proper clothes and bring some hats and sunscreen.

Bonus tip: visit the Paracas National Reserve and get fascinated by nature and gorgeous beaches. The most stunning views are witnessed from Playa Roja (named after its reddish colored sand shores) with miles of cliffs and coastal waters.

WHERE TO SLEEP @ PARACAS

Brisas de la Bahia Hotel
A centrally located hotel with a beautiful terrace overlooking the water. The rooms are clean and breakfast is quite extensive (buffet). It might be noisy at night because of the nightlife in the weekends, so make sure to bring your ear plugs.
www.brisasdelabahia.com


PISCO TOUR IN ICA 

Taste Peru’s national drink
After an inspiring trip to the wonders of nature in Paracas, it’s time to quench your thirst with Peru’s beloved national drink. Yes, I’m talking about Pisco! For pisco we must head south-east from Paracas (1 hour 15 minutes by bus) where the landscape turns more and more into the desert. Ica has a special climate and therefore it’s perfect for the production of grapes and wines. Peruvian wines are mainly produced in Ica, yet also the famous Pisco. Pisco is a type of brandy, which means it it’s a spirit distilled from wine or fermented fruit juice. When mixing pisco with other ingredients (lemon juice, egg white, cinamon), you can create one of my favorite cocktails: “Pisco Sour”.

We booked our pisco tasting tour through our hotel. It was quite easy since we were picked up by our driver at the hotel. He drove a mini van and we were taken to different grape vines and pisco distilleries in the area. Al tastings were included and we actually did not pay much for the 3 hour tour.

Our first stop was at El Catador, a distillery named after the pisco vineyard which has been in hands of 5 generations already. A guide showed us through the distillery and explained the production of pisco. After the tour, we had a pisco tasting of pure pisco but also very delicious liquors mixed with pisco. It was fun to hear that each year during the harvest of pisco grapes, a big feast is organised at ‘ El Catador’. Locals gather to celebrate with drinks and pressing grapes with bare feet. The whole process of pisco making is completely handmade and is part of Ica’s tradition.

Our second stop was at Bodega Lazo which also claims to have a small museum of antique and curiosities. We had fun doing a pisco tasting surrounded by old artefacts, paintings and even stuffed animals like a crocodile. Our guide had quite some humor and talked us through the history of this place.

We were lucky that our driver knew the PR lady of the famous pisco brand Porton, since people usually don’t get to visit this place that easily. Our guide explained that Pisco Porton is handcrafted at Hacienda La Caravedo which is the oldest distillery in the Americas, established in 1684 in Ica. The distillery is currently owned by the pisco connaisseur Johnny Schuler. He has dedicated his life to the pisco industry and is a great ambassador for the spirit.
We were astonished by the beautiful hacienda, the perfectly restored mansion and the traditional copper pot stills that could be found in the building. Also, there were beautiful Peruvian Paso horses getting there daily training when we arrived at the hacienda. Not to mention the Peruvian naked dogs (puppy’s!) who ran out to us when we entered the site.

www.piscoporton.com 

WHERE TO SLEEP @ ICA

Hotel Belle Sand

When visiting Ica, it’s recommendable to stay in a nice hotel in the outskirts of the city of Ica. We chose to stay in Hotel Belle Sand for its location (central) and in a nice neighborhood. Also, the hotel had a swimming pool which is great when temperatures reach above 30 degrees. We were very happy with the service of the hotel (includes breakfast) and the personal attention of the staff. Also, it was very easy to arrange an excursion through reception with pick up by a mini van! Last but not least, you can see a sand dune from the pool of the hotel which is quite magical. It reminds you that you’re in a desert area.

http://hotelbellesand.com/

VISIT HUACACHINA OASIS
During our trip to Ica, we also visited the oasis of Huacachina. You can easily take a taxi to this little village in the middle of nowhere and book a ride on a sand buggy at one of the agencies. It’s absolutely worth a trip and it’s not far from Ica. If you’re into snowboarding, you can easily try to do some dune boarding. Trust me. it’s completely different to boarding in the snow!

 

 

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