We and a few other backpackers were picked up from our hostel in Lima before dawn by the PeruHop bus to Paracas. We were the first group to be picked up, and we spent about an hour drive around the city and picking up other passengers before heading south. Once everyone was on the bus, we began to head out of town, but stopped along the way at the Pacific War Memorial and Christ of the Pacific, located on top of a mountain south of the city. The PeruHop guide gave us an introduction to the War of the Pacific, which occurred in the 1800s between Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. Essentially Chile took Bolivia’s coastline and did a lot of damage to Peru, including marching all the way up to Lima (Bolivia and Peru are still bitter). There was also a giant statue of Jesus, in a similar style to Christo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which was built in the late 2000’s. The hilltop location provided an excellent panoramic view of the sprawling city and Pacific coast.
After the stop we continued south down the highway until we reached a bakery/restaurant where we stopped for breakfast. This place had amazing homemade breads stuffed with cheese and a chicharrón (pork fried in its own fat) sandwich which I’ve been craving ever since. The bus then continued on to Chincha, where we stopped at an old Spanish hacienda.
The Chincha hacienda was a beautiful old house with an old church almost attached. This old home had slave tunnels hidden beneath the floor, where the owners would hide their slaves so they wouldn’t be taxed on them. The tunnels were extremely dark, narrow, short, and maze-like. Absolutely horrible conditions for human beings to live in. Afterwards we visited the adjoining church which was only for the owners family.
We continued on the bus toward the small town of Paracas. There’s not much to do in the town itself other than walk on the beach and shop. All the beachfront restaurants will try to lure you in with drink specials and happy hours, which gets annoying quickly. Our hostel was nice, and we ended up with two other PeruHop people (who we ended up spending most of the trip with).
The following morning we took a boat to the Ballestas Islands, also known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos. The boat ride there was nauseating, and Kirsten flew out of her seat at one point, but we made it there intact. Along the way to the islands we passed by the Paracas Candelabra, a large candelabra shaped figure dug out of the sand along the coast. It has survived hundreds of years due to the lack of rain in the area.
Once we got to the island itself, we encountered tons of animals I would have never expected in Peru, such as sea lions, dolphins, blue footed boobies, and PENGUINS! The scenery of the islands was stunning, and the sheer number of birds flying around them was impressive. People used to collect the bird guano from platforms on the island, but since the islands have been designated a wildlife preserve this practice has decreased significantly. The tour somewhere between 1-2 hours and was fantastic.
When we arrived back in Paracas, we soon left on the bus to go to Paracas Natural Reserve, just outside of town. I wasn’t expecting much as it was a free stop along the way, but it was absolutely gorgeous. The park is a barren desert landscape that looks more like it should be in Star Wars than central Peru. The colors of the Pacific coast were unreal in combination with the steep golden yellow cliffs adjacent. The place was magical and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
We left the park and continued south to Huacachina, a small desert oasis outside of Ica. The village of Huacachina is located in the center of massive sand dunes, which I didn’t know existed in Peru until we arrived. There is a small green pool in the center which used to be the only source of water for the town. We checked into our hotel, Casa de Arenas (House of Sand in English, very fitting name), and grabbed lunch before our next activity – sand boarding and dune buggying.
The dune buggy ride was probably one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The driver would speed up dunes like a madman and drive down steep cliffs of sand at high speeds. After a good deal of crazy dune jumps we stopped to start the second part – sandboarding. Essentially it’s the same premise of snowboarding – first you wax the board with a candle and then slide down, either on your stomach or standing up. I always laid on my stomach since I have terrible balancing skills on flat surfaces, let alone giant dunes. The only downside to laying down is punching the screws which hold the straps in place, which left me with some nice scars on my knuckles. We slid down three different hills or various sizes before continuing with the crazy dune buggying. Toward the end of the trip we stopped on top of one of the highest dunes to take pictures of the sunset over the desert, which was amazing, and then went back into town.
We went to a restaurant a few doors down from the hotel with the entire PeruHop group and had a great time chatting with everyone we’d met the day before. I had a lovely meal of anticuchos (grilled cow heart skewers), which I hadn’t eaten since my previous visit to Peru two years ago. I even managed to convince some others to order them as well, and they were well received. We were pretty exhausted from all the activities that day in Paracas and Huacachina, but it was Saturday night and our hotel was connected to a large nightclub, so sleep didn’t come very easily. I think the club turned off the music sometime around 5 AM, which was a relief.
The following morning Kirsten and I decided to climb the large dune behind the hotel before the bus left to Arequipa. These dunes make Sleeping Bear Dunes in Traverse City look like anthills. It took about 45 minutes to climb to the top, but the views were spectacular. There was sand as far as the eye could see. After resting on top of the dune, I decided to run down it, which took surprisingly long (1-2 minutes) even at full speed. It was almost as much of an adrenaline rush as the dune buggying the day before. When we got back down we grabbed lunch with some others from the bus before our long overnight bus to Arequipa.
We left Huacachina in the mid-afternoon and stopped at a vineyard just off the highway for a tour of the facilities. The wine making process was interesting, but the tour was quite short and most of the time was spent giving samples and trying to sell stuff. I wasn’t especially interested in this part and was much more excited for the next stop, Nazca.
We arrived at the Nazca Lines viewing platform just before sunset, which left a beautiful array of colors on the mountainous desert landscape. The platform allowed for the viewing of 3 of the smaller figures, the rest are only visible from a plane. Nonetheless, it was still a fascinating stop and the sunset was stunning over the flat desert landscape. Once we finished here we continued overnight to the next destination, Arequipa.