Photo diary from a short trip from Lima, Peru. We spent the weekend with friends, exploring the Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis.
After being in a city of 8 million for over two weeks, I really needed an escape from the noise and pollution. Daniel and I decided to take a weekend trip from Lima to the Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis. While there we met up with one of my best friends who is currently doing the Gringo trail and passing through Peru. We had an awesome time, and now I definitely recommend visiting the Huacachina Oasis on a weekend trip from Lima!
Day One – Lima to Paracas
Our first stop was the Islas Ballestas in Paracas. They are a four hour bus ride from Peru. We caught the bus on a Friday afternoon for our weekend trip from Lima at the Soyuz bus station on Avenida Mexico where the Soyuz and Peru Bus lines both run. They leave every 15 to 20 minutes on the Lima to Ica route, and cost $12 per person.
The bus dropped us off in Pisco, and from there we had to take another 20 minute and $8 taxi ride to Paracas, a small town right on the water. It has a tiny beach front and a strip of restaurants on the ocean. We met up with our friends, grabbed dinner and a few drinks, and called it a night.
Day Two – Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis
The next morning, we woke up for the 10 am Islas Ballestas tour. The tour cost $8 with another $5 tax, and it is super easy to buy tickets at any of the hostels or agencies around the square. We walked to the pier right in the center of the small town and loaded up on the small boat.
The Islas Ballestas are called the poor man’s Galapagos, but honestly, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. The tour was just… ok. Some factors into my less than enthusiastic review include a hangover on a choppy boat, crowded and uncomfortable seating, crappy gray weather, and worst of all the absolutely horrible and strong smell of exhaust that engulfed us whenever the boat stopped to point out birds or animals. It was extremely unpleasant and definitely impacted my enjoyment of the trip.
However, there were still a few highlights. Most notably was the teeny tiny penguins who lived up on the rock cliffs with the birds, and of course the sea lions. These fuzzy and strange creatures were such a delight to see up close (even though in the back of my mind, I felt awful for being complicit in bringing so much horrible exhaust and boat fumes into their habitats.) The boat tour was two hours total, and we saw the birds, penguins, and sea lions for about 30 to 45 minutes of the trip.
If you decide to do the Islas Ballestas tours, my tips would be to bring warm clothes because the boat ride is cold and the wind is strong. Also, if I did it again I would have spent the whole weekend and both nights in Huacachina, and just booked the tour through an agency there to take us out and back, and skip the night in Paracas (although this may be more expensive).
Finally, if you’re really into wildlife you can also add on a second trip to the Paracas National Reserve after your island tour. This is 5 more hours, but only costs an extra $5. Definitely something to consider if you have a lot of time on your hands.
Paracas to Huacachina
After the tour and lunch in town, we started the next leg of our weekend trip from Lima. This time it was off to the Huacachina Oasis. To get to the oasis from Paracas, we waved down a taxi to take us to the Pisco bus station. Although it is back tracking, it was cheaper to take the bus than the $35 taxi ride to Ica. At the bus station, we took an hour long $1.50 bus ride to Ica, the large city that Huacachina lies just outside of.
The oasis may seem like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but in reality it’s only a 5 minute taxi ride from the Ica bus station. Huacachina is a small little town built around a small little lake. The town and lake are surrounded by looming sand dunes on almost all sides, and it has a really awesome and lively atmosphere on the weekends.
The markets, shops, restaurants and bars surround the small lake, and palm trees shade the walk. This oasis was never at the top of my bucket list, but it’s been one of my favorite destinations in the country and is a perfect weekend trip from Lima if you want to just chill and relax.
We stayed in the Carola hostel (which isn’t actually completely constructed yet) and spent the afternoon lounging in our swim suits by the large pool and enjoying the sun. Later, we climbed up onto the sand dunes to enjoy the sunset, and then ate an awesome dinner and delicious wings at the Huacachina Backpackers House. Our hostel warned us they were going to be partying in their bar until 6am, and they didn’t disappoint. Music blasted and the club filled up until sunrise.
Day Three – Sandboarding, Dune Buggies, & the Tacama Winery
Sunday was off to a slow start. We woke up and ate a late breakfast, then split up for the afternoon. My friends decided to try out the sand boarding and dune buggies, while we went off to the Tacama Winery.
The sand boarding and dune buggy tours leave every morning at 10:30 and every afternoon at 4:30. They cost $11 each and are two hours of riding around on the surrounding dunes, and boarding down them at sunset. This tour is one of the most popular in Huacachina and seems like a blast.
However, we opted to hit up the Tacama Winery instead, and I’m so glad we did. This winery is the oldest vineyard in South America. It was founded by the Spanish Conquistadores in the 1540’s and has been continuously run ever since. The winery is also so beautiful that it is regularly used for weddings and events, and I can definitely see why.
The entrance is a long tree covered lane lined with flowers, and the winery itself is surrounded by a lush green lawn and colorful gardens. Inside we did the $3 tour and tasting, and were able to see the old monastery, chapel, and courtyard as well. So beautiful.
The best part about the Tacama winery (which also serves Pisco, the national liquor of Peru, if that’s more your style) is that the bottles were delicious and cheap at only $7 each. The four of us split a bottle of red and white while sitting out on the lawn, breathing the fresh air and watching the sun begin to set.
The only complaint I had is that the winery closed at 5:30 and we had to leave… even though it is probably for the best. The vineyard is secluded so they even called a taxi for us to take us back to the Ica bus station.
From here, it was time to head home. We took the 8pm bus for $8 back to Lima. The five hour ride was uneventful for us, but not my friend. She was on the 7pm bus after the sand boarding, and unfortunately her boyfriend’s backpack containing one phone, two laptops, and BOTH their passports was stolen from under the seat while they were asleep.
This devastating discovery has been tough, and means they’re going to be stuck in Lima for two weeks instead of two days while they work on getting their passports replaced at the US Embassy. If you have valuable stuff in your bags on the busses in Peru, make sure you keep them on your laps or under your feet at all times, because losing a passport is every traveler’s worst nightmare.
All in all, and besides this (pretty major) setback with the passports, the Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis were the perfect weekend trip from Lima. They are all situated close together and super easy and cheap to get to from Lima. The oasis is also an amazing place to relax and unwind for a weekend from work or travel. Definitely don’t miss it on your way through Peru!
All my love,
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