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Published: July 24th 2019
Me, La Catedral
Reserva Nacional de Paracas
Greetings from Paracas, a small but wonderful town on the Peruvian desert coast about 4 hours south of Lima. I arrived here on Saturday afternoon, and have had an absolutely incredible time here. These last few days have really been filled with fantastic sights and adventures, really quite unique ones, and have reminded me once more why it is that I travel – to see more and to learn more about this beautiful world that we live in. What a pleasure it has been!
So on Saturday morning I bade farewell, temporarily, to my hotel in Lima and took a taxi to the Cruz del Sur bus station south of the city centre. Cruz del Sur is supposed to be the country’s best intercity bus service, and I have to say it has probably been the best bus service I’ve ever been on. The company has its own bright and sparkly terminal, with clean toilets and a nice café, a check in area where you hand over your large luggage, and really polite customer service. I believe I mentioned I came to Peru for the first time 18 years ago, in 2001, and I’m not sure whether
Islas Ballestas Boat Tour
it’s being in the capital of the country now rather than the rural south at that time, but my, have I noticed a difference in the development of the country over the last two decades. This comes as no surprise when one considers that the last decade has seen Peru’s economy grow at an impressive 5.9% average per year, one of the region’s fastest developers, and tourism has tripled since 2003. When I was last here, there were few travellers, and I remember the country being very impressive, but rather underdeveloped, rural and dusty. Now there are travellers everywhere, and it really feels quite different. In 2001, I felt there was quite a camaraderie between travellers, as we were quite few and far between, and you almost always said hello and chatted to a fellow gringo that you met on the road. Now I find other tourists completely in their own world, absorbed in their mobile phones, and not seemingly aware of what is outside their backpacker bubble. Or maybe I’m just getting older... Ah, the glory days of travel…
Anyway, the bus was really very comfortable. It was double-decker, the more expensive seats downstairs were fully reclinable, the
Me, Scott and Casey
From the TV series Ben Fogle's New Lives in the Wild (Series 8 Episode 1: Peru Desert)
cheaper ones upstairs, which I opted for, reclined nearly all the way. Each seat had its own on-demand entertainment screen, with films, TV programmes, music and games to choose from, just like on a long-haul flight. There was at-seat food and drink service provided by an on-board host, and two toilets – one upstairs, one downstairs! Now I’m sure buses don’t get any more luxurious than that! I remember last time I was here travelling on overnight buses, with hard, uncomfortable seats, locals standing in the aisle carrying chickens, and people avoiding the seats at the back due to the terrible suspension. Ah, once more, the glory days of travel…!
Four comfortable hours later, I got off in the lovely, small coastal desert tourist town of Paracas, and checked into a very calm, peaceful place called the Arena Hospedaje, with its own modern café just nextdoor. I planned to spend four nights here, with three full days of tours planned. I have not been disappointed – in fact, it’s been just amazing.
For my first day, Sunday, I took a morning boat tour to the nearby Islas Ballestas. This is the most popular thing to do in town,
Nazca Lines Flight
and there were countless boats, each holding 40 tourists, both Peruvian and international, docking at the town’s two piers. The whole set up was superbly organised, with local tour representatives forming us into groups, pairs and queues for each boat. I sat with a Peruvian boy of about 10 years old, with his family in front of us, who complained for most of the journey that it was cold! The Islas Ballestas are two very small rocky islands about 20km off the coast, and are nicknamed “the poor man’s Galapagos”. It felt like an amazing taster for my upcoming eight days in the real Galapagos soon! On the way there, we stopped by an impressive part of the Paracas peninsula, a place with a giant geoglyph in the form of either a candlestick, cactus, or a representation of the southern cross star constellation, depending how you interpret it. It’s called “La Candelabra”, is more than 150m high, 50m wide, and is dug up to 60cm deep. No-one knows who created it, or when, but just gazing at it it looked other-worldly. I have recently started reading the amazing “Chariots of the Gods” book by Erich von Daniken (1968), more on
this below, which theorised that it was created by ancient people with a connection to extra-terrestrials. Others believe more conventionally that it was some form of navigational guide to sailors. Whatever its origin or purpose, it was amazing to behold, and at times looked like it had just been created yesterday, like a giant etching made by a child on the beach with a stick.
From there, we continued another 15 minutes out to sea to the amazing Islas Ballestas. While the islands themselves were beautiful, I was really quite blown away by the wildlife they are home to. There were thousands upon thousands of seabirds, mostly Peruvian boobies, a number of lovely sea lions, which I had not seen before previously in the wild, and my favourite of all, penguins! We saw a small group of four Humboldt penguins, who amazingly live so close to the equator thanks to the cold Humboldt current which sweeps up along the west coast of South America from Antarctica to the south, bringing with it cold waters and cold air. It is supposed to be the most productive of sea currents in the world, attracting an incredible amount of wildlife, and because
of its cold temperatures, keeps the coast of Peru cool despite its tropical location. The cold waters also prevent precipitation falling on the west coast of the continent, hence why much of the Peruvian coast and northern Chile are desert areas. It is also this current which travels further north to enrich the Galapagos islands, of which I’m sure I’ll be writing about in a future blog entry or two on this trip!
The visit was really quite amazing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also found out later that I was very lucky, as for the last two days they have not been running these boat tours due to poor weather and sea conditions! Upon our return to Paracas, I stopped for a short rest in my hotel, before continuing with an afternoon tour of the nearby Reserva Nacional de Paracas, on the nearby Paracas peninsula. This was another great tour, with amazing coastal and desert scenery, including the wild Playa Supay (mearning “demon” in the local language due its strong currents), La Catedral, which was once a coastal arch but during the 2007 earthquake here, which measured 8.0 on the Richter scale and also caused a devastating
five-metre high tsunami, it collapsed to form a sea stack, and the beautifully coloured Playa Roja (Red Beach). We also stopped for lunch at a local collection of eateries in a small settlement called Lagunillas, and while the rest of my tour group were tucking into seafood, I found a very secluded spot on a nearby beach to lie down and listen on my MP3 player to the “Mysterious Cities of Gold” soundtrack – very evocative and really quite wonderful, South American-flavoured music. We then visited a nearby spot where you could observe a few flamingos in the distance, before returning to town once more.
And thus endedeth my first day in Paracas – really quite amazing, and I wondered whether my second day could be as good as the first. In fact, it was even better!
Just another little reference to my first South American journey back in 2001 here. My original plan for Peru at that time was to squeeze in a visit to the Nazca Lines, along with Arequipa, Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. But alas, due to time constraints, this was not meant to be. Ever since, I have felt the desire to
visit the lines, which is partly why I’m back again in Peru now (the other two reasons are for Lima and Iquitos). To be honest I’m glad that I waited until this time around however, as since 2001, the safety regulations and legal requirements for Nazca flights have become much more stringent, following two fatal accidents in 2008 and 2010 involving tourists on these flights. They are now apparently very safe and professional, although the British FCO website still has a travel advisory warning for these flights! But yesterday morning, one of my travel dreams was realised, and I took a flight from nearby Pisco Airport to fly over these amazing, enigmatic and mysterious collection of lines and patterns. Archaeologists believe the lines were created between 450 and 600 AD by the Nazca people who inhabited this region at that time. I’m not so sure. Since reading the afore-mentioned “Chariots of the Gods” book, and since actually flying over the lines themselves and seeing them with my own eyes, I feel there is much more to them than what current scientific and archaeological research can explain. In fact, I believe there is much more to our universe than mere mankind
can ever know. For, as Robert Browning once said, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?” I actually feel very comfortable believing that there is much more to these lines than meets the eye. Firstly, I noticed in numerous places long, landing-strip types of features, clearly man-made, and one on top of a mountain where it looked like the mountaintop itself was levelled off to create one. A number of the Nazca patterns appear in the corners of these “landing strips”. The “Chariots of the Gods” book suggest that the lines and patterns are some form of signalisation to extra-terrestrial spacecraft coming to land on earth. Secondly, as many have observed, it seems puzzling to wonder how and why the Nazca people created these lines, without being able to see what they were creating from above - you cannot tell they are shapes at ground-level apparently. They are so perfectly made, so linear, circular and symmetrical. I cannot believe that when one of them was constructed, without being able to see their finished product, how would the people know that they did a good job, and then be able to create another one?
There’s definitely more to me than meets the eye with these lines.
Flying over them was just amazing, and I was able to take a pretty good photo of each one except for the lizard – a good photo of this one simply eluded me, despite trying. Not to worry though, as this means I still took good photos of 18 other patterns in total, including the famous hummingbird, monkey, condor and spider. It was tricky to take good photos as my seat on the plane was right next to the wing, so I had to time my photos well, and zoom at the right time in the right place as we passed quickly over them. Not easy, but I feel, even if I say so myself, I did a good job. After the Nazca lines, we then passed over the nearby Palpa Lines, amazingly discovered only in 2018, before heading back to the airport. I was initially nervous taking such a small plane, but upon finding out the name of the airline was “Aerodiana”, Diana being my Mum’s name, I felt assured that all will be well. It was. I followed the general advice - thus I didn’t
have breakfast and took the motion sickness tablet as advised, as the plane banks left and right many times for passengers to take good photos of each pattern. There was a poor lady two seats behind who wasn’t so lucky with the sickness, however, and upon returning, she said it was the worst experience of her life…
For me, it was actually one of the best – one of the best travel experiences of my career, and that is saying something! I highly recommend a visit if anyone’s considering an itinerary in Peru.
After this, my driver who took me to the airport dropped me off at the plush Hilton Hotel near Paracas where I wanted to go for a delicious, quality Peruvian lunch – I wasn’t disappointed. I also chose to be left here, as I learnt that nearby is where the “Peru Kite” kite surfing school is located. This goes back to three months ago, when I watched an episode back home of one of my favourite TV programmes “Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild”, Series 9 Episode 1: “Peru Desert”. In this episode, Ben travels to Paracas in the Peruvian desert, and stays with
British couple Scott and Casey. I found it a particularly inspiring episode for my upcoming trip to Peru, and I thought I’d risk looking a fool and try to see if they were around. They were!! In fact, I think they were just as pleased to talk with me as I was with them – they really made my day, and they said I made theirs. For them, it was the fact that someone from England had seen their episode and paid them a visit because of it. For me, it was like meeting someone famous – very strange, I felt like I already knew them! I hope I didn’t come across as some silly celebrity fan or something…! Since the episode, if you have seen it, they have moved from their ramshackle home in a Peruvian village and started their own hotel near Paracas too. They say more and more people are visiting nowadays as a result of the show, and it seems their business is growing as a result of it. They were just as dynamic and energetic as they were in the programme, particularly Casey. Scott was a bit more chilled and laid back, just as he
appeared in the programme. After a couple of photos, I bade them farewell and wished them well, as they were about to begin their kite-surfing lessons for that day with their students, and I left feeling very celebrity star-struck!
It was then back to my hotel for a peaceful afternoon and evening, and also more of a lie-in this morning.
Which brings me to today, my final full day in Paracas, and what another amazing, and varied day, it has been. Upon arrival in my hotel on Saturday, I had already arranged my first two day tours, but for today, my final full day, I wanted to see what was on offer. I told my hotel what I would like to do: visit some nearby vineyards and pisco distilleries, and also the sand dunes and desert oasis of Huacachina, near nearby Ica. They made a few phone calls, and put together this amazing bespoke package tour where I could do just that, at a really decent price. I’m really impressed with the tourism service here in Peru – it seems that tour agencies will really bend over backwards to be able to put together a package for you,
La Candelabra Geoglyph
Islas Ballestas Boat Tour
at really very reasonable prices.
So this morning began with a shuttle bus taking me at the more leisurely hour of 11am (compared with 7.50am and 8.30am the previous two days) to Huacachina, in Ica, along with other passengers who were just using it as a shuttle transport onto their next destination. They dropped me off at a tour agency, where I joined a group visiting a nearby vineyard and pisco distillery, “Vina Sunampe”. On the way, we stopped off at a very surreal place called “El Parque de las Brujas”, the Park of Witches, where since Spanish colonial times there have been practising witches and wizards. I found it very unusual, knew nothing about it, and really didn’t enjoy much of it as I’m not at all into witchcraft. Ah well, on from here we arrived at the Vina Sunampe, where we were shown how they made wine and pisco, the latter being the national drink of Peru, and I believe Chile also. It is a strong liquor of about 40% alcohol, made with grape juice, and is rare to find back in the UK. Here it is ubiquitous. After the tour we had a wine and pisco
Guano (Bird Droppings)
Islas Ballestas Boat Tour
tasting session, trying four different varieties of wine, and four different types of pisco, three of which were mixed with cream and were just delicious! The servings were really quite healthy and generous, and after I must admit I was really quite merry! I found myself happily buying three small bottles of the pisco with cream versions to take home with me. I also had an amazing lunch there, “sopa seca”, or “dry soup”, with grilled chicken and pasta with pesto. Peruvian cuisine is indeed delicious!
After this the tour bus dropped me back in Huacachina, to meet with a final and separate tour group for a visit to the nearby dunes of Huacachina. The whole of the Peruvian coast from Lima down to the border with Chile is classed as desert, yet mostly it is of the rocky scrub type. Around Huacachina there are some really quite monstrous sand dunes, and the small town itself is located on the shores of a beautiful oasis pool in the middle of the desert. I initially simply wanted to visit and see these dunes, my motto being I enjoy “seeing” nature, but not “doing” it. In the end I felt compelled
Islas Ballestas Boat Tour
to do the usual sunset activity there, which involves a crazy ride up, over, down and along the sand dunes in a very fast sand buggy, and a spot of sand-boarding down the dunes. I must admit I was a bit nervous about the sand-boarding part, which involves going face down and headfirst down a really steep slope on nothing but a board slightly wider than a single ski, but after the crazy antics of the sand buggy driver, it didn’t seem so scary in the end. I almost had no choice, as the sand buggy driver simply chose me out of everyone to go first, and I really didn’t want to say no. In the end it was amazing, and I did it twice. Sand is everywhere now, including in my ears, shoes and pockets, and I’m going to have myself a darned good shower when I get back to my hotel.
In fact, I am writing this blog entry on the coach journey back from Ica/Huacachina to Paracas, which the tour agency also bespokely arranged for me with Cruz del Sur, as I get back quite late and didn’t fancy a late night writing this one up.
Islas Ballestas Boat Tour
I may publish it tomorrow evening however back in Lima, as I still need to upload a few more photos, and the Internet connection back in my hotel here is not very sound.
So there it is – my amazing time in Paracas, Peru! It seems incredible to think of the variety of adventures I’ve had here over the last three days, and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it. It’s also amazing to think my journey does not stop here – in fact, it really is only just beginning!
Tomorrow I take a Cruz del Sur bus once more back to Lima, where I spend one more night at the Hotel Continental. And on Thursday I fly to Iquitos, in the middle of the Amazon jungle! I spend one night in the city itself, then three days and two nights on a pre-booked Amazon jungle trip, followed by a final night back in Iquitos, before flying back once more to Lima to continue my journey onwards from there.
So I will probably write up my next one after my Amazon jungle experience, either back in Iquitos after the jungle journey, or back in Lima, depending on
Islas Ballestas Boat Tour
how much time I have in the Amazon to write it, and how good the Internet connection is there (I hear it’s not great in Iquitos, and actually non-existent, along with mobile connection, in the jungle itself – no surprise there, really!).
So, until the next time, thank you so much for reading. I’ve really had an amazing few days in Paracas and around, and am really looking forward to more on my South American adventure 2019!
All the best for now.
PS I ended up being able to publish this blog in Paracas on the Wednesday morning, before my journey back to Lima at midday.
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