Welcome to another in our “Finding Beauty in…” series!
Some places are ugly. There’s no getting around it; not everywhere on the planet is beautiful. But sometimes we need to embrace that ugliness and try to find beauty in it.
Ica in southern Peru is undoubtedly an ugly place, and the weather, which is warm and sunny year round may be its most attractive feature.
The town has the misfortune on being in the middle of the desert as well as having suffered badly from the 2007 earthquake that destroyed several towns along the southern coast. Furthermore, its roads are badly congested. All of these factors contribute to making it a somewhat unpleasant place.
But there are pockets of pleasantness hidden here and there around Ica. I found that there is in fact some, perhaps morbid, beauty to be found in the ruins some of the of abandoned churches that were damaged by the earthquake but remained standing.
And while the main square (Plaza de Armas) is not as grand or visually interesting as many others we've found in South America, the flower beds are certainly well kept and it's overall very clean.
On the outskirts of the town there are several vineyards which you can visit. One of them, Tacama, is set in a stylish set of pink buildings and serves as a peaceful retreat from the busy central area of Ica.
Back in the town, when the traffic calms down (around lunch time when people go home to eat), there are moments when the dry, desolate, desert surrounding of the town can actually seem quite magical. Could we be on Tatooine?
There is also a very small, but pleasant (and free) art gallery at the Centro Cultural de la Unica just off the Plaza de Armas with works by local artists.
Finally, there is one large building that shows no signs of damage from the earthquake: the Cathderal. While the brown sandstone may not be the best match to this style of architecture, I thought it was, in its own way, quite beautiful.
Most places worth eating are on the Plaza de Armas, with Anita being our favourite. It's a nice place for coffee and cake, and they also serve food and while the menu is not terribly extensive, it's decent.
About seven blocks south of the Plaza de Armas is a small modern shopping centre, Plaza del Sol, with the expected shops, cafés and restaurants. We found one place worth the trip for its pastries, cakes and coffee though: La Croissanteria. Unusually for anywhere we've been in South America outside of Argentina, they had decent croissants and pain-au-chocolats.
For a good value, healthy vegetarian lunch option, try the popular El Paraíso (on Loreto near the corner of Salavery) for a generous starter, soup, main and drink for S/8 (£1.80).
There are a handful of wineries around Ica other than Tacama including Ocucaje, Vista Alegre and El Catador. We visited just Tacama and El Catador with a privately hired driver who charged us S/60 (£13.70) from Huacachina to drive us to and from each one and wait while we toured both and lunched at the second, which in total took about 3 hours. Many tour agencies will also arrange group trips from both Ica and Huacachina to the wineries.
We stayed at Hotel Colón Plaza where we had an enormous room with a huge bed for S/120 (£27.40), though the official price for a suite like this is S/150 (£34.20). Apart from being very large, clean and right by the main square, the hotel doesn't have much going for it. The wifi is unreliable, there is no breakfast included and most unfortunately, it's very noisy with the consonant traffic from the Plaza de Armas just outside the windows.