A bustling commercial city with chaotic traffic and horn-happy drivers, Ica challenges you to find its attractive side. Step outside the city center, however, and you'll see why this town was the Nazca capital between AD 300 and 800, and why the Nazca people couldn't have picked a better place to center their desert civilization. Set in a patch of verdant fields and abutted by snow-covered mountains, Ica is serene, relaxing, and cheerful, with helpful residents—likely due as much to the nearly never-ending sunshine as to the vast selection of high-quality wines and piscos produced by dozens of local bodegas and distilleries. This is a town of laughter and festivals, most notably the Fiesta de Vendimia, the wine-harvest celebration that takes place each year in early March. Ica is also famous for its pecans and its high-stepping horses, called caballos de paso.
The city center's colonial look comes from its European heritage. Ica was founded by the Spanish in 1536, making it one of the oldest towns in southern Peru. The city suffered badly in the 2007 earthquake, however, and sadly many of the colonial-era buildings, including most of the famous churches, were damaged.
Today Peru's richest wine-growing region is a source of national pride, and its fine bodegas are a major attraction. Most are open year-round, but the best time to visit is February to April, during the grape harvest. The Tacama and Ocucaje bodegas are generally considered to have some of the best-quality wines, and the Quebranta and Italia grape varietals are well regarded for pisco. The Peruvian autumn is the season for Ica's Fiesta de la Vendimia, where you can enjoy parades, sports competitions, local music, and dancing, and even catch beauty queens stamping grapes. It's also a great time to be introduced to the vast selection of local wines and piscos, as well as an opportunity to try homemade concoctions not yet on the market.
The city's excitement also heightens for such festivals as February's Carnival, Semana Santa in March or April, and the all-night pilgrimages of El Señor de Luren in March and October. Other fun times to visit are during Ica Week, around June 17, which celebrates the city's founding, and the annual Ica Tourist Festival in late September.