Peru is big and its geography is diverse. I didn’t realize how big and diverse until I hopped on a bus, left the city, and ventured into the outlying areas.
Paracas and the Ballestas Islands
This wonderful weekend trip started with a PeruHop bus ride to Paracas, a seaside town about 150 miles from Lima. We took a boat ride around the Islas Ballestas, called the “poor man’s Galapagos”. First, we passed the a geoglyph of a candelabra on a barren hillside. As big as it looked, it was a small preview of the Nasca lines we would see the next day. Then, we sped and bounced around rugged rock formations to see (also hear, and smell) the wildlife in residence.
There were swarms of flying birds, swooping overhead, darkening the sky and many species congregating on the rocks, including (everyone’s favorite) Humbolt penguins waddling around in their little tuxedos.
The male sea lions were sunning on the rocks. We got close to a beach roaring with mothers and their babies, which drew many oohs and aahs.
Unlike the rich man’s Galapagos, you cannot get out of the boat, walk about, and really get up close and personal with these creatures. It was still exciting. The town itself is small and colorful, busy with vendors, restaurants and fishermen. We had lunch there and then got back on the bus.
Ocean and desert back-to-back
Next stop was Huacachina, a small tropical oasis in the middle of a huge desert. I imagine this is what the Sahara looks like, but instead of touring by camels, you get around in dune buggies. These colorful contraptions take you to the top of giant dunes in what can be a very wild ride, especially if you driver wants to impress you in an adolescent way. It’s worth risking spinal distress just to take in the amazing view. If you want to (I did), you can ride down the dunes on a waxed sandboard. The predominant style is like sledding — on your stomach, head first — and not as scary as it looks.
The lagoon is surrounded with several places to relax, eat and drink, each offering good view. We chose the restaurant with the wildest name, a riff on the the name of the town, and watched people slowly climb the dunes to catch the sunset, looking much like an army of ants.
After dark, the town was rocking with music and dancing. People flooded in from Pisco and Ica where, obviously, not much else was happening. Tip: Bring your dance shoes or your ear plugs.
The unbelievable Nasca lines
Up early, the next day PeruHop took us to Nasca, the small town with giant geoglyphs, outlined images etched in the earth that have been puzzling scientists for decades. They are belived to have been created by an ancient culture between 500 BC and 500 AD. Although it is possible to see some of them from nearby hills, we took a rocking-and-rolling plane ride for a bigger view.
Some people think the only way these figures could have been made was by other-worldly creatures, ancient astronauts, who could see the designs as they were carving them into the earth. I can understand why. There are hundreds of them, covering 170 sq. miles, some over 1000 feet long. While waiting for our plane (who knew there could be air traffic congestion in such a desolate area?), we were able to watch a History channel documentary, several times if we wanted to. The mainstream theory is the ancient Nasca people (maybe as far back as 500 B.C.) used astronomy to give them direction as they scraped the earth, digging trenches with their primitive tools to create religious symbols. Many of these same images are also seen in the remains of their pottery, but the astronaut still begs questions.
The long wait in the little airport paid off. These were mind-boggling, my pictures do not do them justice…and the plane ride itself qualifies as an adventure. My favorite image was the monkey; I decided it was my spirit animal. Tip: Eat light and bring your Dramamine.
If you get a chance, do it. I recommend PeruHop. They were professional, on time, and the trip was a good value, jam-packed with exciting things to see and do.