Cities, Penguins, Aliens and A Desert Oasis

Lima

After another airplane like overnight bus, we arrived in Peru’s capital, Lima! From speaking to other backpackers and researching online we found there wasn’t actually an awful lot to do in Lima. We decided to use our day there to recharge our batteries, plan our next few days and do some warm weather shopping for our time back up at high altitude! Like the baggy elephants pants of Asia, every man and his dog are wearing some kind of alpaca wool knitwear in Peru. Being the sheep we are we followed suit, both purchasing a combination of jumpers, hats and gloves mainly in preparation for our hike on the Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu.

The seafront in Lima is actually a really beautiful walk and we spent a couple of hours lazing around, people watching and teaching small Peruvian kids English swear words! This wasn’t intentional on our part, a child overheard us talking and proceeded to repeatedly shout the F word over and over again! We still aren’t sure he really understood what he was saying, we just hope his parents don’t actually speak any English!

Paracas

Humboltd penguins
Humboldt penguins in Paracas

Our next stop was the coastal town of Paracas, it seems every coastal country in South America has its own version of the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’. This was Peru’s claim to the amazing nature reserve thrown. The town itself was tiny, with a pretty dirty beach and a few souvenir shops. The main attraction, however, is Isla Ballestas! A small rocky island located just off the coast filled with sea lions, hundreds of seabirds and most excitingly wild Humbolt penguins!

After a rocky start to our tour consisting of our boat breaking down and an American man on the tour helping them to fix it we finally headed off out to sea. Before making it to the Island all the tours briefly stop at the Candelabra of the Andes which, as you can see from the photo, is a huge carving in the sand/rocks. Similarly to the Nazca lines (more on them later), it is completely unknown how they got there! The most common theory is that the Nazca people made a foray further North and this was their way of saying they had been there. Other theories range from pirates in the bay all the way through to extraterrestrial beings! As much as I do love a good alien theory, the Nazca theory seems most likely.

The Candelabra of the Andes, Paracas
The Candelabra of the Andes

On our first view of the Isla Ballestas itself, it appeared the whole top of the island was covered in a black dirt, on closer inspection this was hundreds of thousands of seabirds! Now, I am no bird expert and birds don’t particularly interest me. However, seeing this many of them all congregating in one place was pretty incredible. Our tour guide pointed out sea lions, all the different varieties of birds but still, the penguin eluded us. Then, just down the rocks, a lone Humboldt penguin appeared! I’ve seen penguins before in zoo’s, but seeing them out in the wild was pretty special. It was improved even more when 4 of his friends came waddling down the rock face towards him. I could sit and watch these little guys waddle around for hours, genuinely tickles me seeing them walk. After a quick loop of the island, seeing many more sea lions and birds we headed back to the mainland.

Isla Ballestas Sea Lion
A baby sea lion on Isla Ballestas

The other attraction of Paracas is the Cajas national park. We were unsure whether we wanted to pay for the tour or the bike rental and after meeting 2 girls in the hostel who told us their guidebook described it as ‘less than interesting’. After hearing this we decided to give it a miss and headed off to our next destination… Huacachina!

Huacachina

Huacachina town
The town of Huacachina

A short 90-minute ride from Paracas is the desert oasis of Huacachina! Handily we could catch a direct transfer from Paracas! The town/village/oasis itself is tiny, taking probably 5 minutes to fully circumnavigate it. However, this doesn’t take anything away from the sheer beauty of the place! I’ve regularly seen photos of Huacachina on Instagram with multiple comments saying it is faked and/or photoshopped! Looking down on the town from atop the dunes it is every bit as special as the photos. A small cluster of buildings surrounding a small lake in one direction and sand dunes as far as the eye can see in the other. This country never ever fails to amaze me! Most people in Huacachina take a dune buggy/sandboarding tour out into the dunes! Neither of us are particularly interested in either of these activities (my sole attempt at sand boarded ended with me eating a large amount of sand) so we decided to be lazy and just lie by the pool! At one side of the town, there is a huge dune that people regularly hike up and watch the sunset. I knew walking on sand was difficult, but my god climbing the dune was probably one of the hardest workouts I have ever done. We set off nice and early and the being the only ones on the summit overlooking everything below us was really cool!

If you are arriving to Huacachina from anywhere other than Paracas you will get dropped in Ica, simply jump in a tuk-tuk or taxi to take you the 20 minutes further on.

After spending 2 days topping up our now non-existent sun tans and eating lots we thought it best we move on, next stop… Nazca!

View over Sand Dunes
The views over the Huacachina Sand Dunes

Nazca

The Condor, Nazca Lines
The Condor

The Nazca lines are one of the lesser known attractions of Peru, Machu Picchu probably rightfully taking most of the plaudits! Nazca is a small city located around 4 hours South of Lima, the town itself is nothing special and most people stay for a day and then leave again! We arrived on the short bus journey from Paracas, planned on staying for the day and leaving again that evening. I was seriously undecided on flying over the lines, costing around $100 it wasn’t cheap and the plane was supposed to be pretty vomit inducing even for the strongest of stomachs! As the bus pulled into the station I had decided I wasn’t flying, but on exiting the terminal and seeing the hordes of people selling flights I was quickly turned. Before I knew it I was being strapped into a tiny 6 seater plane, being shown the location of the sick bags and very bumpily taking off!

The Nazca lines themselves are a series of ancient geoglyphs created between 500bc and 500ad. They stretch over an area of 1,000 sq kilometres and contain around 300 different figures and markings. (thanks Wikipedia!). Some of the lines stretch to over 300m across, given when they were made it is pretty incredible how accurate the drawings were. Again most theories blame little green men, but I’m a firm believer that they simply used very rudimentary surveying technique! Seeing the accuracy of some of the drawings from the air can’t really be matched, some of them are quite hard to make out (could not find the whale for the life of me) but the pilot and guide do an excellent job of pointing the drawings out using the wings of the plane! A personal favourite of mine has to be the lizard, look how cute he is! A quick note on the general flight, I have a very strong stomach and rarely get car/sea/air sickness! However, after around 15 minutes of flying, I was feeling more than a little queasy. The poor girl sat behind me had succumbed to the sickbag and I think everybody was feeling it a little! Luckily, I managed to hold it together until returning to terra firma!

The Monkey, Nazca Lines
The Monkey

If you do get motion sickness of any kind I would seriously consider your options on the flight, spending almost $100 to stare at your own vomit in the bottom of a bag is probably not ideal!

Just outside of Nazca town there is a small viewing platform that allows you to see 3 of the lines (the hands, tree and part of the lizard). If you find the Cruz del Sur terminal and head over the roundabout and out of the town you will soon come across buses heading for Ica! (If you can’t just ask someone, being a gringo they will know where you are heading). I was pleasantly surprised with the viewing platform after reading some less than rave reviews online! No, it is not as impressive as a flight and you can’t see any of the more famous lines but the three you can see certainly give you an idea of the lines themselves and the scale of them! Plus costing only 9 soles (around £2) it is certainly cheaper than the flight.

The hands and tree are really easy to see, but look just beyond the tree to see the Lizard. His body is cut in two by the road and you should be able to make out his head and hand in the desert on the other side of the road to the viewing platform

After spending the rest of the day getting ripped off for a lunch deal and exploring Nazca town we eventually got on our night bus heading down to the city of Arequipa! A place we were both very excited for after hearing rave review from everyone we met!

 

Tags

another on the list, backpacking, captial cities, huacachina

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