Category Archives: Peru

Things to do from Huacachina Oasis, population 400

Huacachina at sunset.

Huacachina at sunset.

Huacachina is one of the most awesome travel-bases in the world.

From this postcard perfect Oasis (literally) you are 10 feet from a cozy bar/restaurant/hotel in all directions and for a few dollars someone will take you into the dunes via buggy for a dizzying ride through mile high sand dunes. At the apex, the driver–with an odd confidence in the rider’s ability to perilously surf down a 5,000 foot dune, drops you off, gives you a board, and drives away leaving little choice other than to recklessly adventure downward. ($16)

For almost nothing the locals will provide transport to the Ica area wineries (yes, in a desert), and a hidden community of self-professed witches and shamans. ($6)

Peruvian wine tends to be very sweet. If you are not into wine you might enjoy the Pisco which every winery also boasts. Its the local firewater.

Peruvian wine tends to be very sweet. If you are not into wine you might enjoy the Pisco which every winery also boasts. Its the local firewater.

GiantCorkScrew

Land of witches, goblins, and mescaline.

Land of witches, goblins, and mescaline.

For $8 a van will take you on an imminently scenic three hour ride to a harbor (in the village of Pisco) where a speed boat will jettison you passed dolphins and surfacing Killer Whales to the Ballesta Islands (the poor man’s Galapagos). There you can confront a blue-footed booby, a hundred thousand squawking sea lions, and a pungent odor that even a mortician will notice.

seals2

Thousands and thousands of seals and sea lions.

Thousands and thousands of seals and sea lions.

seals3
For $100, you can be taken to a nearby airport (well, perhaps four hours away, actually, and “strip” might be a better word for “port”) and experience a 45 minute flight over the ancient Nazca lines.

Not the Nazca Lines, but another ancient creation viewed on the way to the islands.

Not the Nazca Lines, but another ancient creation viewed on the way to the islands.

Any of Huacachina’s dozen eating establishments offers amazing and cheap food. The most expensive hyper-exotic cocktail in any bar is about $2 or $3.

Pork straight from the spit. ($2)

Pork straight from the spit. ($2)

Steak in a cream sauce, rice, and huge potato fries. ($3)

Steak in a cream sauce, rice, and huge potato fries. ($3)

20,000 lbs of chicken. ($3)

20,000 lbs of chicken. ($3)

$1 -- 2 for 1

$1 — 2 for 1

It is awesome. You should go now. I’ll drive.

If you must wait, go in mid-March during the Ica Wine Festival. With huge complementary tasting tents it’s like a county fair–except instead of horses, they exhibit pumas and condors.

IcaWineFest1 condor puma monkeyLogistical Note:

At the time of this writing there was only one ATM in Huacachina and it is broken. Get money from the one at the bus station in Ica, and take the $2 taxi ride 4 miles to Huacachina,

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The Dakar Rally: “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.”

In 20012 and 2013, the new Dakar rally was  routed through this Peruvian desert near Ica.

In 2012 and 2013, the new Dakar rally was routed through this Peruvian desert near Ica.

Adventure Lawyer’s cocktail party factoid of the day:

The Paris-Dakar Rally hasn’t originated in Paris since 2001 (and even before then the route often avoided France entirely) and hasn’t ended in the Senegalese capital since 2007 (at which point it originated in Lisbon). Political instability in Mauritania caused the 2008 rally to be canceled, and ever since, this amateur-everyman adventure connecting old Europe to colonial Africa has bypassed both continents altogether.

Beginning in 2009, the renamed Dakar Rally (which, in a celebration of irony, is also technically not a “rally” race) takes place exclusively in South America.

Nevertheless, I still want to try it out.

The geography may have changed, but the spirit of Thierry Sabine, who founded the Rally after getting lost in the Libyan desert in 1977, lives on: “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.”

Who wants to live this dream with me?

You can visit the official Dakar Rally website here.

Water Balloons and Silly String in the Square: How to Miss Carnival in Cusco While Experiencing It All

My friends and I managed to spend a week in Cusco and its surrounding environs without quite figuring out we were there during their annual Carnival celebrations.

We thought it was odd that they seemed to throw a parade in the Plaza De Armas every single day. 

“It’s just like Disney World!  A parade for the tourists each noon!” 

We had no idea why children thought it totally appropriate to shoot water pistols and silly string at us despite our protests of confusion. There was a woman who intentionally dumped a bucket of what we assumed to be waste from her third floor window onto my friend’s head–how unspeakably rude! 

Then there were the pigs slowly roasting on spits, sumptuously decorating each colonial cobblestoned square. A Peruvian brass band or flutist was never far off. DJs and raised platforms seemed spontaneously erected among spirited crowds of midday merrymakers. Walking down any central artery risked confrontation with dancers resplendent in Inca period regalia. 

“Christ! These people seriously know how to get the most out of each day!”

View of Cusco Plaza De Armas from  Sacsaywaman lookout as it cleans up after a parade in preparation for yet another parade.

View of Cusco Plaza De Armas from Sacsaywaman lookout as it cleans up after a parade in preparation for yet another parade.

Henry David Thoreau must be the Mayor. 

Inspired to find our own Walden Pond, we hiked and climbed four days in the Andes mountains on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We returned by train and bus to find that the festivities continued. Scrambling to the lookout at Sacsaywaman, we stared down at yet another cavalcade spectacle galloping the city’s ancient streets.  

At dusk it could get grim–robe adorned masked marchers chanted Latin epithets. The skies smelt of incense as the cortege paced by carrying coffin-sized cathedral artifacts. (Actually, this one thing that we vaguely understood to be some religious or funerary ritual, turned out to be a provocatively morbid protest against utility rate hikes.)  

Then, abruptly, more parties.

We stayed just off the Square of the Church of San Blas and each midnight was punctuated with celebratory fireworks (which we mistook for violent gunfire) and every morning we awoke to what we assumed was some sort of daily religious market.

Everybody seemed to have money while nobody seemed to have a job. They all wept clasping crucifixes while taking a shot of Pisco or downing a third Cusqueña at half past noon. It didn’t make sense but we just went with the notion that the Cusco population was entirely comprised of very religious afternoon binge drinkers. 

Dressed as decidedly lavender Dr. Seuss characters, five representatives from the Cusco Chamber of Commerce toddled passed on stilts.   

I kind of wanted to live there. 

On the last day, after both my friends abandoned this procession of pleasures for the bleakness of reality, I finally asked someone what was going on.

“Why these are the last minutes of the last day of our Carnival!”

I nodded in resignation.  I had once again narrowly dodged an authentic cultural experience while abroad.

Sacsaywaman Sleepytime

Sacsaywaman Sleepytime

For the Best Alpaca in Arequipa–Go to Zig Zag

Dinner at Zig-Zag, one of my favorite restaurants in the world--Arequipa, Peru

Dinner at Zig-Zag, one of my favorite restaurants in the world–Arequipa, Peru

There are many reasons to visit Arequipa, Peru.

The grandeur and beauty of its Plaza de Armas rivals Venice’s Piazza San Marco and Brussels’ Grand-Place. On a clear day you can see Misti volcano as a backdrop for the Arequipa Cathedral.

The main square of Arequipa with Misti volcano.

The main square of Arequipa with Misti volcano.

You can visit the “Ice Maiden”–the 1450’s mummified remains of a twelve-year-old Inca preserved in a glass-refrigerator at the Museo Santuarios Andinos

I primarily came to visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which, while not as well known as Agra’s Taj Mahal or Rome’s Pantheon, is just as much of a must-see-before-you-die experience as any of the world’s great touristic treasures.

The miles of hauntingly beautiful courtyards and honeycombed arched alleyways of Monasterio de Santa Catalina. Along with Machu Picchu and Copper Canyon--this is one of my favorite places on Earth.

The miles of hauntingly beautiful courtyards and honeycombed arched alleyways of Monasterio de Santa Catalina. Along with Machu Picchu and Copper Canyon–this is one of my favorite places on Earth.

Beyond that, there is the food.

Chi Cha

Chi Cha

Peru is considered to be progenitor of among the world’s great cuisines–rivaling France and Singapore–and Arequipa is considered its southern culinary capital. 

Gastón Acurio, Peru’s most famous chef, owns Chi Cha. Located in a verdant-colored courtyard across the street from the Monastery, its colonial ambiance and simple menu promises an elegant gastronomic tour of authentic Inca-Spanish staples. A friend and I thought our meals were decidedly so-so. 

Zig-Zag, three blocks away, is one of my favorite restaurants in the world.

The bar at Zig Zag

The bar at Zig Zag

The interior is a cross between a Parisian cafe and an Argentine steak house.

The proprietors are so extremely committed to giving their customers a hint of the French experience that the spiral staircase leading up to the second level was designed by Gustave Eiffel!

This gave Gustave Eiffel something to do between designing the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

This gave Gustave Eiffel something to do between designing the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

 

The menu will shock a vegetarian into an epileptic rage.

In one column there is a list of animals that the internationally renowned chef is willing to kill and cook for you. In a second column you are offered the meat of each animal in quantities of 50 grams, 100 grams, and 250 grams.

A tour of butters.

A tour of butters.

While you decide which animals shall be harmed for your digestive pleasures they serve you a basket of exotic breads and butters so sweet and succulent that while it might kill you, it is totally worth it.  

The wine list was largely Eurocentric, but we picked an over-sweet pour of a local red from the Ica Region of Peru. Peruvian wines tend to very sweet and our selection was not an exception.

We both chose 50 grams each of pork, beef, and alpaca with a side of cheesy Quinoa. My friend also got a local bean salad, which, while interesting to look at, proved difficult to eat. I was happy with my choice of a common Caesar salad .

From left to right: Alpaca-steak, Beef-steak, and Pork loin. The side dish is cheesey Quinoa. The sauces range from a creamy-ranch like concoction, a spicy-lime sauce, butter infused with very earthy mushroom, and a spicy chili sauce that will make a grown man cry with joy.

From left to right: Alpaca-steak, Beef-steak, and Pork loin. The side dish is cheesy Quinoa. The sauces range from a creamy-ranch like concoction, a spicy-lime sauce, butter infused with very earthy mushroom, and a spicy chili sauce that will make a grown man cry with joy.

One of the best aspects of a Peruvian meal is the sauces.  Like the French and Belgians, Peru augments its meats and vegetables with a delectable spectrum of dips and condiments. Virtually every lomo saltado will come with a uniquely spiced chili dressing, each one striving to create a different taste experience. Our meats came with a creamy-ranch like concoction, a spicy-lime sauce, butter infused with very earthy mushroom, and a spicy chili sauce that will make a grown man cry with joy.

I know I did.

It is the first time either of us had tried alpaca and we were nervous.  All of Peru is covered with these alarmingly adorable animals and we felt a degree of moral turpitude would be involved if we enjoyed it.

We did. A lot.

It’s a good thing we had already accepted that our souls were destined for hell–but at least we got to visit here, heaven, first.  

You’ll like the plaza, you’ll be intrigued by the mummy, you’ll be transformed by the Monastery–but you’ll love the food! 

Exterior of Zig Zag, one of my favorite restaurants in the world.

Exterior of Zig Zag, one of my favorite restaurants in the world.

Logistics

Address: Calle Zela 210 – 212 | Cercado (Centro Historico), Arequipa, Peru
Phone: +51 54 206020
Hours: 6 PM until Midnight
Cost: $10-$30 per person includes wine, an appetizer, a selection of three or four meats, a side of potatoes or Quinoa, and dessert.   

Peruvian historians doubt Hiram Bingham III was the true modern discoverer of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu 1

Adventure Lawyer’s cocktail party factoid of the day:

Any high school or undergraduate textbook will tell you that on July 24, 1911, Yale University’s Hiram Bingham III became the modern day discoverer of the “Lost City” of Machu Picchu. Peruvian historians and the local National Park guides don’t agree.

Though they may not have recognized the importance of what they were seeing, locals had previously guided Westerners to the site. Artifacts from “the Lost City” were even commonly sold in Cusco markets. (Cusco was the ancient Inca capital and is the nearest major city to Machu Picchu.)

Bingham was led to Machu Picchu by a local vendor of those artifacts and two local farmers who lived near the Machu Picchu site. There was even a family living at Machu Picchu when he arrived–they were the ones who procured the artifacts for the merchants in Cusco.

It’s not quite the Indiana Jones adventure depicted in Hiram Bingham’s “Lost City of the Incas!”

Even today though, it’s a great place to visit! 

My friend and I hiked to Machu Picchu via the arduous four-day Inca Trail. We both recommend you take the bus and train.

My friend and I hiked to Machu Picchu via the arduous four-day Inca Trail. We both recommend you take the bus and train.

Your Next Adventure: The Monastery of San Francisco, Lima, Peru

Tales from a crypt

Tales from a crypt

This is one of the most eminently explorable monasteries in the world.

It protects one of the largest and most important rare book collections. It boasts several masterworks from the studio of Francisco de Zurbaran. Diego de la Puente’s guinea-pig themed “Last Supper” headlines in the Baroque multimillion dollar dining hall–where the vow-of-poverty Franciscan friars once gathered to eat.

But almost all of its visitors are really there to see the half-millennia-old crypts a dozen feet below.

But they make you visit the monastery and convent first.

The Monastery of San Francisco, Lima, Peru

The Monastery of San Francisco, Lima, Peru

Exploration is supervised by one of the monastery’s many educated, enthusiastic, multilingual, and mandatory guides. The first forty-five minutes of the tour is an education in matters of Peruvian art, architecture, and seventeenth century friar culture.

The “Last Supper” depicts a tanned Jesus and his disciples eating local indigenous cuisine. This is because the missionaries wanted Christ to seem relatable to the Peruvian natives. When that didn’t work, the Church instigated an aggressive recruitment campaign–The Inquisition.

In the cloisters, artistic renderings recount Saint Francis of Assis’s ambitious trip to Egypt to propose a peaceful resolution to the Crusades–if the Sultan would only convert! Then there is a valiant but failed attempt to inspire care about Baroque wood-sculpting while misidentifying Saints decorating the Choir.

Library

Since I was not allowed to take a picture of the library, this picture is, um, borrowed from http://www.beautiful-libraries.com which borrowed it from http://www.flikr.com which was uploaded by someone also not allowed to take a picture of the library.

Upstairs, after passing under a Moorish-style Nicaraguan-cedar cupola, is a collection of more than 25,000 delicate tomes–including the first Spanish dictionary published by the Royal Spanish Academy. They must not be photographed, touched, or be subject to the wrong type of light, thereby preserving these unobserved treasures for future generations not to photograph, touch, or expose to the wrong type of light. (Actually, professors are allowed to examine the books under strict protocols and supervision. Permission should be requested far in advance.)

Then you come to a chilled and darkened arch.

(Well, you come to it after you double-back downstairs, cross a wondrous and verdant courtyard, and duck below some cloisters.)

The closest you'll get to the Temple of Doom.

The closest you’ll get to the Temple of Doom.

Cold cobblestone steps descend deep beneath the monastery to the labyrinthine and claustrophobic catacombs of Saint Francis. According to enthusiastic docents, the craniums, clavicles, femurs, tibias, and tarsals of 70,000 nobles, clergy, and victims of the 1656 great Lima earthquake decorate the walls, fissures, ossuaries, pits, and floors of what was Lima’s first cemetery.

Other sources assert a more humbling number of 25,000 very permanent inhabitants.

Whatever the number, it is a near-endless parade of quicktime-doused skeletal remains positioned in sundry geometric patterns.

Legend claims that somewhere in this dreary bony abyss, is a network of secret passages to the Cathedral located at the Plaza de Armas–which hosted the Tribunal of the Inquisition.

If you tip your guide a dollar he wont notice if you venture in alone.

Logistics

The Monastery is open daily from 9:30 AM to 5:45 PM and admission is about $2. It is located only two blocks from the Lima Plaza de Armas and Peru’s Presidential Palace. The excellent, enthusiastic, and museum-required guides are friendly and multilingual. Tipping is not required but you know what to do if you want the prohibited, yet obligatory, photograph of the catacombs.

Also, and this is very important, bring your own toilet paper. I choose not to offer any further guidance on why I make special mention of this.

The monastery’s official website can be found here.

For more information about motifs in seventeenth century Baroque woodcarving, visit here.

Your next adventure: Ica, Peru

The Oasis village of Huacachina, one of the many splendid diversions of the Ica Region of Peru.

If you can only visit one area in Peru it should be–well, Cusco, obviously. Enjoy the antiquity museums, an amble among Incan ruins, some of the world’s finest food, and if there is time, buy the obligatory fedora and take the bus and train to Machu Picchu.

Your next travel destination, however, should be Ica.

Ica is one of the most wonderfully situated locales in the world. Ica offers wine, witches, sand dunes–which you buggy ride up and sandboard down–and an easy gateway to the Nazca Lines and the marine and evolution wonder-world of the Ballesta Islands. You can enjoy all of this comfortably for about $40 a day.

Peruvian wine tends to be very sweet. If you are not into wine you might enjoy the Pisco which every winery also boasts. Its the local firewater.

Peruvian wine tends to be very sweet.

The outskirts of Ica is wine country. There are dozens of verdant vineyards open free to the public. You can easily while away an afternoon sampling very sweet varietals, snapping idyllic pictures of a farmer’s children stomping grapes, wondering where their feet have been–wishing you had used the spit bucket.

WineryOutside GiantCorkScrew

That's a lot of grapes!

That’s a lot of grapes!

The fastest way to drink a  shot of pisco.

The fastest way to drink a shot of pisco.

Land of witches, goblins, and mescaline.

Land of witches, goblins, and mescaline.

Visit witches and goblins.

If you are interested in paranormal superstition, folklore, or enjoy the effervescence of being totally creeped out, visit the friendly witches of Cachiche and enjoy an amble through Witch Park. Have a fun suspension of disbelief as the locals explain the mythology surrounding an acre of sideways growing trees.

The ancestors of Cachiche originally fled Spain for Lima to avoid religious persecution. When Lima also persecuted them they hid in the backcountry of Ica and would kill soldiers who would search the forests where they worshiped and performed rituals. Quickly, stories of cannibalistic trees and goblins spread through the region and the superstitious authorities simply stopped looking for them. They did not publicly advertise their existence again until the 1980s when alternative medicine and practices became a national diversion for the Peruvian wealthy.

Though they are sincere in their shamanism-like beliefs, you should probably not indulge in their common use of San Pedro–a mescaline cactus which causes psychedelic experiences.

The trees that grow sideways via witch's curse.

The trees that grow sideways via witch’s curse.

The local restaurant seems to be cashing in on the neighborhood fokelore.

The local restaurant seems to be cashing in on the neighborhood fokelore.

If palm readers, tales of ghoulies, and possibly the only place better than Vegas to read a Hunter S. Thompson novel, prove insufficiently exciting, Huacachina is a five minute taxi ride away.

There you can do this:

Super Awesome Sandboarding

This is fun.

This is fun.

Huacachina, a desert oasis village surrounded by two-thousand foot sand dunes, is one of the most agreeable and adrenaline inducing places in the world!

For about $10, a Thyroid-chewing maniac, riddled with mescaline and a nervously confident belief in a better afterlife, will speed you up and down sand dunes at clunky and slippery 89 degree angles deep into the nothingness of desert. Once there, he will remove you and a modified surfboard from the buggy, hand you a candle, offer vital safety tips in an indigenous dialect impenetrable by even the most advanced foreign language comprehension, get back into his buggy, and drive away into the distant horizon.

An uncomfortable moment passes.

Luckily, you have gone on this adventure with a half dozen other visitors, and though none of you speak the same language, through a life or death game of charades, you gradually understand that you are to wax the modified surfboard with the candle, place it on the ground, and promptly attempt suicide by sandboarding down a thousand foot-sand dune.

After receiving emergency medical care, you are then to limp a half mile in knee-deep sand at which point you will come to a two-thousand foot cliff of sand. Prostrating yourself on your belly, you sandboard yourself down the cliff at approximately three times the speed of sound.  You make it to the bottom a solid two seconds before your screams arrive. You do this several more times.

After the final plunge you then walk up a mountain where, if he didn’t wreck and die on his way there, the buggy driver will be patiently waiting, eating a cactus, inhaling two cigarettes at once, and drinking a fifth energy drink.

It is the most unapologetically reckless fun possible.

On your return to the village, there is a quick stop where everyone takes pictures of each other with the entirety of Huacachina below. Then the sun sets.

Huacachina at sunset.

Huacachina at sunset.

Huacachina is where your hotel should be. Options range from $5 a night flophouses to $30 for downright luxury.

I stayed at Hotel Curasi for less than $20 and got a huge comfortable bed in a large and immaculately clean room with air conditioning (its a desert remember), a hot shower, and for bedtime, a satellite television with English channels. The hotel also comes with a restaurant, an ice-cream shop, a Tiki bar, and a refreshing swimming pool with shaded Chaise lounges. The honest family-management can get you any tour and even arrange your transportation back to Lima.

HuacachinaHotel

The view from my room was reminiscent of a National Geographic cover.

HuacachinaHotelView

It is why I travel.

Huacachina has two roads, two shops, one (broken) ATM, an internet cafe with three computers, a colonial public library with one handsome room, a handful of tourist kiosks, a bricked-up public restroom, and a population of about 120.  It has at least 20 hotels, restaurants, and bars.

That’s a ratio of six residents per bar. Since the most distant hotel from the most distant bar is a three minute walk around an oasis-lake promenade, getting lost is a chore. Since there are no cars, unless you plan on hotwiring a dune buggy, DUI is not a possibility. The most expensive cocktail is $3 and potent enough to appear in a Ron White standup. The relaxed locals don’t take advantage of inebriants and if a tourist rips you off, there is no where to run and the village custodian will bring you back your stuff.

If you can not relax here, you are allowed to give up.

If you can not relax here, you are allowed to give up.

It is, in essence, an Alcoholic fantasyland.

It is also the location of the only real nightlife in the region and the tour operators, for ludicrously small sums of money, will transport you to any of the region’s attractions. A witch and wine tour will set you back about $8. You can even use Huacachina as a base for a flight over the Nazca Lines ($100, includes the plane ticket). For $15, I instead opted for Paracas and the Ballesta Islands.

Not the Nazca Lines, but another ancient creation viewed on the way to the islands.

Not the Nazca Lines, but another ancient creation viewed on the way to the islands.

Its a hard 5AM wake up for a caravan drive through desert, vineyards, jungle, and ultimately, the sea. Paracas is home to a vast national park and bird sanctuary, and its pleasant tourist-shop laden port offers speedboat tours of one the great zoological oddities of the world–the Ballesta Islands.

Each part of the Ballesta Islands experience is fueled with high-octane awesomeness.

First, you are in speedboat zooming through choppy waters and getting soaked as powerful engines whir and wine to announce our arrival to the local habitats. Every few minutes flocks of thousands of pelicans darken the sky, drown out the audio-world with their squawks, and occasionally, poop all over you.

The vast strait isolating the Ballesta and its Galapagos-like genetic grab bag of evolution-confusion flora and fauna is a cornucopia of marine life brimming with exotic fish, sharks, whales, and dolphins. Even on a bad day you’ll probably luck upon a dolphin or an Orca abruptly greeting you by jumping from under the perfect aquamarine surf.

Thousands and thousands of seals and sea lions.

Thousands and thousands of seals and sea lions.

For a ton of outstanding reasons the Peruvian government does not allow tourists to step onto the islands and habitats, but even staying the required safe distance affords a view and orchestra performance of seals, sea lions, penguins, Peruvian Boobies, Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and Guanay Comorants.

seals3

While you may need to know what you are doing to find some of the particularly rare bird species, there are tens of thousands of seals and penguins bobbing around. In fact, the best way to find the rarer species is to try to find a square inch of land that is not being fought over by a seal or penguin.

seals2

Admittedly, there is an odor problem.

IcaWineFest1When I visited I was fortunate enough to arrive during the Ica Wine Festival. Although I was warned from going by locals who said that the Festival was rife with crime, I took special precautions, went anyway, and quickly observed that it was not true.  I was prepared for a sort of Endtimes-death maneuvers situation, what I found instead was families having fun on carnival rides, politicians making grand speeches, dozens of vendors offering free samples of pisco (the local hooch) and wine, and several pigs slowly crisping on spits.

Freshpork

fresh pork

fresh pork

It was what you find in an American county fair with one eminently agreeable difference. Instead of pigs, cows, and horses on display this fair brandished condors, pumas, parrots, and even a pair of near extinct Andean Titi monkeys.

condor puma tucan monkey

The straight from the spit pork was exactly as good as you would assume and the bottle of Pisco I bought at the fair ($10 for the best of the best) did not survive the night as it was shared with Hungarian revelers back at the hotel.

There is one place in Ica you should not go and that is Ica itself. There is one antiquity museum worth a look, but besides that it has nothing to offer visitors but the odd restaurant or dingy hotel. An Earthquake devastated Ica in 2007 and the city proper never recovered. It is said that it is the only city in Peru without a Cathedral adorned square. It is busy, it is crowded, you shouldn’t go there unless you have an excellent reason. When you catch a wine tour it will pause briefly amongst the hustle and bustle so you will be confident that you don’t want to go there alone.

Four days based in Huacachina is sufficient to allow for an aerial visit of the Nazca Lines, a speedboat trip to the Ballesta Islands, winery tours, spooky stories, sand dune racing, and many excellent meals and inebriations with at least one afternoon left for lounging by the pool, staring into the desert, and relishing your Indiana Jones moment.

Consider making a week out of it by adding three days in Lima, one of the great world capitals in its own right.

But, yes, visit Machu Picchu first.

My friend and I hiked to Machu Picchu via the arduous four-day Inca Trail. We both recommend you take the bus and train.

My friend and I hiked to Machu Picchu via the arduous four-day Inca Trail. We both recommend you take the bus and train.

Logistics:

Fly to Lima and take a taxi to the Cruz Del Sur bus station ($30, 1 1/2 hours). Ica is a comfortable four hour, $8, bus ride from Lima. By American standards its a luxury coach and you will be able to watch movies with English subtitles the whole journey. From the Ica bus station, take a taxi to Huacachina. It will cost $2. Finding a hotel takes seconds, but ask to see the room first and do compare as quality varies wildly. Don’t even consider booking ahead. Very cheap tour operators on the outer ring of the village will provide quality transportation and tours to wherever you want to go. Buggy rides can be arranged anywhere with anyone and leave at dawn and dusk. Most of your meals will also be in Huacachina and basically everywhere does it great. $4 gets you a steak bigger than your face, five pounds of garlic potatoes to ward off the vampires of Cachiche, rice, and a drink to recuperate from any near-death experiences. There is also the obligatory pub which offers pizzas and chicken-tender plates so generous in portion that the table might break beneath its weight.