For most, the gateway to Ica is Lima – Peru’s capital and the closest airport. Arriving in Lima, you might not know what to expect of Peru’s wine region. The bustling metropolis of a city doesn’t give much away in terms of countryside, apart from the bright coastline and visible hillsides in the distance.
To get to Ica from Lima, you drive south out of the industrial suburbs down the main highway along the coast. The high-rise buildings begin to give way to high-rise sand dunes, and every once and a while you’ll catch a glimpse of the Pacific ocean crashing into the beaches spotted with sometimes sprawling holiday resorts popular vacationing Latin Americans.
An obligatory stop off is for the sweet coffee and wood oven baked bread from El Tambo (about an hour out of Lima). The queues from the summertime crowds taking a pit-stop en route to the beach might put you off, but this is an institution for a reason – stick around for 15 minutes and get your hands on the warm cheese and olive stuffed bread, and a thick, condensed coffee.
When you reach the town of Pisco (so named for its native flamenco bird, rather than its latter Pisco production) take the road inland towards Ica. It’s about 3.5 hours in a car to get to Ica from Lima, although it feels a world away. The horizon has a sand circumference with dunes that rise higher than any of the buildings. It might only be 50 kms from the coast, but this is a protected and desert environment with none of that maritime feel. Instead it has hazy green-silver mountains in the distance, bright white sands in the foreground, and palm trees fringing the roads.
Locals say life is easy in Ica – it never rains, it’s always sunny, the fruit here is divine, and, of course, we are in the Peruvian capital of wine. You could cycle or take a sometimes treacherous moto-taxi to the local vineyards, which are all within a couple kms of the town.
Wineries to visit:
Tacama is one of the most tourist-friendly wineries with a daily horse and dance display in the gardens. It is also the oldest winery in South America, and has been gaining leaps and bounds in quality over the last few years focusing more on fresher wines and less oak to cover the rich fruit produced in the warm climate.
Queirolo is where you’ll find the Intipalka brand that is becoming increasingly popular abroad. A portfolio of classic wines with a top red blend makes up the tasting, but you can also savour Peruvian wine country a bit longer as the hotel resort on site offers longer stays among the vines.
Vista Alegre is another traditional winery in the centre of Ica. Shoot straight for the Picasso Ancelotta which offers one of the most interesting traditional varieties in Peru. Out in the vineyard you’ll see a giant old press, abandoned botijas (wine vessels) and a chapel among the vines.
Where to stay:
Ica is a small town with a long history, and you can best enjoy the colonial charm and history of the region in Hotel Hacienda El Carmelo. A family establishment decked out with century-old wood carvings and colonial furniture.
Another alternative is staying just outside Ica in the oasis of Huacachina – a lake submerged in the desert and popularly explored by dune buggies or sand-boards.