An old but busy city with around 170,000 inhabitants, ICA sits in a fecund valley, close to enormous sand dunes some 400m above sea level and around 50km from the ocean. It’s one of the first places south of Lima where you can virtually guarantee sunny weather most of the year.
The surrounding region is famous throughout Peru for its wine and pisco production. The city’s very foundation (1563) went hand in hand with the introduction of grapevines to South America, and for most Peruvian visitors it is the bodegas, or wineries, that are the town’s biggest draw. However, the Museo Regional’s superb collections of pre-Columbian ceramics and Paracas, Ica and Nasca cultural artefacts would alone make the city worth an excursion, despite some damage by the 2007 quake.
Ica’s streets and plazas are crowded with hundreds of little tico taxis, all beeping their horns to catch potential passengers’ attention and making crossing the streets a dangerous affair. Aside from the traffic and the occasional pickpocket – particularly round the market area – Ica is a pleasant place with a friendly and curious population. After a day or less, though, most visitors are ready to head for the relaxing desert oasis resort of Huacachina, a few kilometres to the southwest, a much more exotic and restful haven to pass the hot, sunny afternoons. On the edge of town is the rather ramshackle suburb of Cachiche, known throughout Peru as a traditional sanctuary for white witches.
Founded in 1563, and originally called Villa de Valverde de Ica, the settlement was moved (due to regional earthquake activity) after only five years, and renamed San Jerónimo de Ica. It was subsequently moved several times until finding itself in its present position in a relatively sheltered river valley protected slightly from the coastal weather (especially the mists) by large sand dunes, but still quite a way from the foothills of the Andes to the east.