Descent into the Desert – Nazca & Ica, Peru


Route Puquio, Peru – Ica, Peru (26A, 1S)
Distance 342Km
Travel Time 9.5 hours
Road Conditions Good tarmack, curvy, possible rock falls
Weather Clear, Cold on high passes
Terrain Magnificent valleys, Altiplano to Low lying Desert & oases
Food and Petrol Frequent in villages, Apparently private sale on high passes
Accommodation Hostal Samari, Ica

The Brazilian KTM-ers are on their way before us but I get to have a few words with them. They’re on a fast-paced, few-week mission to do a circuit and head back home in time for work. They’re not too sociable. However, even without using many words, they definitely manage to communicate that they think I’m completely mad to attempt a BR319 Amazonia crossing to Manaus on my bike. Oh well.


We head out after a bit of carried-along breakfast and head up the pass that will lead us to Nazca. The pass is high and cold as you’d expect. It’s a landscape of sand and grasses, colourful mounds, some covered in snow, and sparkling mountain lakes of deep blue. Lamas or Vicunas abound here – part of the area up here is the Pampa Galera national park. Also there are huge birds of prey gliding in the sky above us. I cannot say for sure but I recon one of them must have a wing span of 2 to 3 metres. It’s desolate up here. Nothing but a few villages tucked away in a few craigs, a couple with signboards indicating gasoline for sale, and a toll station somewhere in-between.


As we near the end of the high mountain pass, we start to descend again and the view is mind-boggling! The green-white-blue-grey landscape of fertile mountain ranges we’ve left behind us deteriorate, quite suddenly, into a desert of yellows and browns as far as the eye can see, a haze of dust in the atmosphere above it and followed by charcoal ocean.



The descent to Nazca itself is not for the faint-hearted. The road curves endlessly down the dry slopes, rock faces jutting out one side of you and steep drops lurking on the other. Especially exciting with big tour buses coming in your direction.



Nazca resembles a Saharan oasis at the bottom of the mountain. We’re not very impressed with the town – it’s got a few swanky looking tourist joints and the rest looks pretty dire. We stop for a coffee but since it’s not too late in the day we decide to move on to Ica, 150Km North up the Pan Americana highway.



This is another good road through rough desert terrain but quite windy. We pass some of the Nazca lines visible on the way and head up some of the hills and viewing platforms to check them out. They’re pretty small. Somehow I expected more…


At Ica we first head into the village of Huacachina. It’s not much to write home about and the hostel prices are steep for what they are, so we head back the two or three kilometres to Ica and book into a hostel right on the main crossroad: Hostal Samari (40PEN/dbl, wifi, Urbanizacion Divino Maestro Mza. B Lotes 31-32, Tel:239144).


We make a day trip to Huacachina to try out sand boarding. This is quite hard work and, though others we met have enjoyed it, it’s not something I would recommend. The best part is climbing up the huge dune with your board in hand – something that will drain you of the will to live even without a board in hand. The disappointment is when you strap into your snow/sand-board and tell it to “go, go!” and it sticks to the surface like glue. The only way I could make the damn thing move is by heading straight down the steepest path, which doesn’t really give you much reward for your arduous journey uphill, and it certainly is of no help to a first-timer like Ebru.



Ica itself reminds me of cities India (just not as dirty). It’s a large town in a hot place with lots of colourful moto-rickshaws buzzing around the area. At night you’ll find plenty of places to eat, the only thing is that they all serve pollo asado with few exceptions. One exception we do discover is just a few steps down the road from Hostal Samari. Here a man has opened the most basic but excellent Pizzeria I have ever come across. He has a room, a gas-fired pizza oven and a small table on which he has his ingredients and work space. Dinner is served on some basic plastic garden furniture and warm drinks are available from the disconnected glass-fronted fridge in the corner. He runs a tight ship, but he makes damn good Pizza! (Sadly I lost his business card but I think it was called Pizza del Che.)


I make a stop in the motorbike district to get opinions on my noise and oil consumption problem. The big Honda dealer’s mechanics are all off limits to us, but the sales guy is happy to discuss and he’s convinced I need to replace the whole piston and God-knows-what. A couple of other mechanics point in the direction of valves and related parts, and one even suspects a mere lack of motor oil.


On the morning we leave Ica we make a breakfast stop at place we passed by just after the turn-off from the main Ica junction to Huacachina. It turns out to be quite nice. It’s a private house in which the garage has been outfitted with to become a great bar / cafe / restaurant area, nicely decorated in wood and other bits and pieces. The two brothers that run the show built up this dream of theirs recently and have done a very fine job indeed. The coffee is good and strong and their scrambled egg breakfasts are served up beautifully with fresh accompaniments of bread and fruit juice. (Sadly I lost this business card too, but if you’re looking for it, head left off the main Ica roundabout to Huacachina, do a U-turn after about 100m at the first crossroads and head back of the other roadside; it’s about half way up with the big wooden garage door.)