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Ica: Ocean of sand

Photo: Alejandro Balaguer


Photo: Alejandro Balaguer



Photo: Alejandro Balaguer

The desert is one of nature's most remarkable physical phenomena, as if chosen as the venue to display everything that exists on the planet. Peru has two exceptional examples.

In Piura, north of Lima, lies a vast desert with sufficient rainfall and humidity to support hectares of twisted shrubs. They appear frozen in time, undaunted by weather's willful ways.

To the south, far from Piura's climate, lies an arid area the size of a small European nation. Utterly devoid of water, this land would be uninhabitable if it were not for oases.

The Ica and Grande rivers serve as the only populated nuclei of this inhospitable desert. An endless undulation of sand, the surrounding and immense dunes are buffeted by unpredictable winds, at times seemingly powerful enough to flatten the earth.

The sensation of tramping through the desert, negotiating its infinite folds, is one of yielding earth drawing you in with every footstep. It is a feeling comparable with sailing through rolling waves of the open sea. It is part of the department called Ica.

However dry it appears, Ica teems with life. No other region along the Peruvian coast offers such diversity. The exotic islands, abundant wildlife, an ancient and largely undiscovered history and above all, colossal obstacles of Ica are awe-inspiring. It is difficult to fathom such a change in landscape just a three-hour drive south of Lima.
The highest peaks on the Peruvian shore are in Ica, including Huricangana (Golden Chariot in Quechua), which towers 1,700 meters above sea level and cools its feet in the Pacific. Other slightly less imposing bluffs include Cerro Lechuza (Owl Bluff) on the Paracas Peninsula and Cerro Carreta and Morro Quemado, "the twins" which guard each end of Independence Bay. The 500-meter climb of either offers a tremendous view of this culturally rich land, known for its detailed, pre-Inca textiles, colorful ceramics, and the mysterious desert designs farther south, in Nazca.

A great civilization that once lived in Ica has left its imprint on the land resembling the palm lines of a giant hand. Its history is indelible, despite the passage of sand and time. Revealed is the prodigious domination of the desert, to which tribe after tribe eventually succumbed, including major urban centers such as the little-known lost city of Cahuachi, allegedly bigger than Chan Chan, considered the biggest mud-city in the world. And of course there is Paracas, the largest natural reserve on the coast and a gateway to more than 200 kilometers of beautiful beaches. The National Reserve of Paracas, whose afternoon wind and hidden points of interest test even the most seasoned traveller, extends southward as far as the San Fernando Inlet, home to the last of the coastal condors and soon to become a reserve in its own right. Ica, an ocean of sand, showcases the desert's unabashed majesty. No visit to Peru should be without it.

Travel throughout South America with

By Ricardo Espinosa Reyes
Volume I/Issue 6, Page 30
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