Ica has several colonial churches and mansions of note, even though several have been felled by earthquakes over the years. Iglesia de la Merced (also called La Catedral), on the southwest corner of the Plaza de Armas, is a late-19th-century colonial church with a handsomely carved altar. Iglesia de San Jerónimo, Cajamarca 262, is primarily of interest for its altar mural. Iglesia de San Francisco, though constructed in 1950, is notable for its stained glass; it's at Avenida Municipalidad, at Avenida San Martín. The most important church to worshipers, the neoclassical Templo del Santuario de Luren, Calle Ayacucho at Piura, was sadly destroyed by the 2007 earthquake that struck the region.

Among the most attractive of Ica's casonas, or colonial mansions, are the Casona del Marqués de Torre (today the Banco Continental), on the first block of Calle Libertad; Casa Mendiola, on Calle Bolívar; Casona Alvarado, a Greco-Roman imitation at Cajamarca 178; and Casona Colonial El Portón, Calle Loreto 223.

Huacachina

If you stumble upon this gentle, beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert, surrounded by massive sand dunes and palm trees, you might think it's a mirage. Only 5km (3 miles) southwest of the center of Ica, Huacachina (pronounced "Wah-kah-chee-nah") is a small resort village surrounding a small lagoon, in the middle of towering sand dunes, with a few hotels and restaurants. A boardwalk rings the lagoon. The hotels, mostly built during the 1940s, were largely abandoned for decades and opened up again in the 1990s. Most buildings in the

area are in poor condition, though as more tourists come to explore the dunes, they are slowly getting fixed up.

Regular buses to Huacachina depart from the Plaza de Armas in Ica. Better yet, you can take an inexpensive and quick taxi or moto taxi; it's best to request one from your hotel and establish the price beforehand (rates run about S/10–S/15).

Sandboarding, a cross between downhill skiing and snowboarding on grainy stuff rather than white powder, is fairly easy to do (or that's what they tell me). You can really build up some speed, and accomplished boarders can maneuver almost like they would on the slopes. It can be very hot, though, and tough going, because there aren't any lifts to transport you back up the dune. After a few spills, you'll be covered in sand. Accidents can occur, so it's best to get some instruction from a local or the outfit renting the boards. You can arrange a boarding excursion, as well as dune buggy rides, through Huacachina Tours (www.huacachina.com; tel. 975/612-550).

Vineyards

Dispersed throughout the Ica countryside are some 85 traditional artisanal wineries that produce pisco and wine. Several of the larger bodegas welcome visits; these can be interesting because pisco is such a unique Peruvian product. They don't usually draw big crowds, so visits can be a little homespun and even haphazard. If you don't have your own transportation, the best way to visit the following bodegas is to either take a taxi or check with one of the travel agencies in town about organized tours. Tours given on the premises of the wineries are frequently in Spanish only.

Tacama (www.tacama.com; tel. 056/228-395) is about 10km (6 1/4 miles) northeast of Ica, housed in a 16th-century colonial hacienda. This winery, one of the largest producers in the region, is known internationally and exports its pisco and table wines—some of the finest in Peru—to a number of countries. The Olaechea family has owned the winery since 1889. Despite the farm building's age—it's one of the oldest in the valley—the bodega uses modern technology. The vineyard is still irrigated, incredibly, by the amazing Achirana irrigation canal built by the Incas. Guided tours last between 50 min. to 2 hr., depending on the exact tour, and end with a tasting. The vineyard’s restaurant, El Tambo (lunch only), is one of the best in the area.

Just 3km (1 3/4 miles) north of the center of Ica in the La Tinguiña district, Bodegas Vista Alegre (www.vistaalegre.com.pe; tel. 056/232-919) is one of the oldest and largest in Peru. It was a Jesuit hacienda until the late 18th century; in 1857, the winery was established by the Picasso brothers, and it's now well-known for its pisco production. To get there on foot, walk on Avenida Grau from the Plaza de Armas, cross over the Ica River, and turn left; the gate entrance to the colonial hacienda is impossible to miss. Call in advance to set up a tour.

Hacienda La Caravedo, at Km 291 in the district of Guadalupe (www.piscoporton.com; tel. 01/711-7800), established in 1864, is the oldest distillery in the Americas. It’s home of the internationally famous brand Pisco Portón, and guided tours will walk you through the distillation process and end with a tasting. With advance notice, they can set up Peruvian Paso horse demonstrations and lunch in the vineyard. Reservations are essential.

Harvest time, from late February to April, is by far the best time to visit. At other times, the bodegas can be very quiet; it might be difficult finding someone to give a tour, but you might also have the chance to sit down for a drink with the owner.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.