Peru & Bolivia

Summer 2006

Part 12: South Coast of Peru

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August 25th (day 31): Nazca

Arequipa to Nazca

After more than a week in Arequipa I took a night bus at 9pm on the 24th to start the last leg of my journey: traveling back to Lima along the Peruvian coast. I'd bought an expensive ticket with the luxury company Cruz del Sur, who let me pick the seat behind the entrance for extra leg space and assured me I'd get a vegetarian meal, but on the bus the layout turned out to be different and I had little leg room, and my dinner turned out to have plenty of meat in it, so no sleep and no food for me - fuck Cruz del Sur.

We arrived in Nazca at 5am. I had planned to just wait somewhere until 8am or so and then try to arrange a flight over the Nazca lines, but a guy came to me immediately and said that if I booked the flight with him I could wait in his hotel and use internet, which was too good an offer to turn down.

Nazca lines

The Nazca desert, which the city is named after, is world famous for the Nazca lines. These are gigantic geoglyphs (drawings on the surface of the earth) created by the Nazca culture between 200 BC and 700 AD by removing the pebbles that cover the surface of the desert. Of the hundreds of geoglyphs, most are straight lines that can run on for miles. Their meaning is unknown and a source of much speculation by both scientists and religious freaks.

A few dozen of the Nazca lines form beautiful figures of animals and plants of up to 300m long, and these are the eyecatchers. These figures are so big that they are invisible from the ground and can only be admired from above. This means the Nazca people who made them never got to see them themselves, which makes it all the more impressive that they made so many of them and that the shapes are so clearly recognisable. For many centuries, including the entire span of the Inca empire and the Spanish colonisation, noone knew the lines were there. Then in 1927 a surprised pilot finally rediscovered them. A swarm of little planes now fly tourists over the lines every day. There are also observation towers for those who want to keep it cheap, but they're hard to reach and you hardly see a thing from them.

Most tourist planes are 12-seaters. I paid 10$ extra to take a 6-seater because I was promised the seat next to the pilot. This was money well spent as it was a fantastic experience to fly in such a tiny plane in the front seat. I actually had to move my legs aside whenever the pilot needed to use the handles in front of me.
Me and the 6-seater plane that flew me over the lines
Me and the pilot during the flight
A good look at the controls

The flight took about an hour and we flew over about a dozen figures. Over each of them the pilot first banked almost 90 degrees to the right to circle around it and then banked almost 180 degrees to the left to make another circle around it for the passengers on the left. It was an absolutely stomach twister and after 5 minutes two of the girls in the plane were already throwing up. My stomach held though and the bad smell didn't ruin my fun. Two times a loud beeper went off to signal that the plane was threatening to stall, but it didn't seem to worry the pilot.
Flying over the desert towards the lines
Strange desert
Rocky mountains
As for the lines themselves, since they're in the desert you have no sense of scale and the figures look disappointingly small. They are beautiful however, pure Keith Haring avant la lettre. I'd bought a silver ring with the nicest Nazca figures engraved in it at the start of this trip and had been wearing it ever since (and I still am), so I knew those figures by heart by now and it was fun to finally see them in real. Here are my pictures of nine of them...
The Monkey, 110m wide, my favourite
The Humming bird, 95m long. The sand hills provide some scale.
The Spider, 45m long, another favourite
The Astronaut, 30m tall. This figure has actually inspired some to conclude that the lines were made by aliens.
The Condor, 140m long. You can also clearly see some of the many straight lines.
The Whale, 65m wide
I call this the Zig Zag Bird. It`s 285m long and has no head, it ends just outside this picture.
This is called Hands, but I`d call it Tweetie. It`s one of the small figures but in the top of the picture you see a road and an observation tower which makes it interesting.
The Tree

After the flight I had lunch in Nazca, which is a featureless town.
The central plaza of Nazca.

Nazca necropolis

After lunch I set out on a short trip to the necropolis of the ancient Nazca culture, out in the desert.
Desert landscape around the Nazca necropolis
Yours truly

Dozens of mummies are on display in the open here, making the Juanita museum in Arequipa look even more futile. The extraordinary dry climate (the Atacama desert in northern Chile, not so far south from here, is the driest place on earth, and Nazca isn't much different) has kept these dead bodies in shape for over a 1000 years. Making a tourist attraction of dead people is morbid if you think about it, but I plead guilty to being fascinated by it.
This particularly well-preserved guy is on display in a tiny museum on the site.

In the late afternoon I took a chicken bus from Nazca to the town of Ica, and from there a taxi to the nearby oasis Huacachina where I'd stay two nights.

August 26th (day 32): Huacachina

Huacachina is a palm-tree oasis with a big lake in the middle and is surrounded by very high sand dunes. It's full of hotels and restaurants as tourists come here to go sandboarding off the dunes. Sandboarding is basically snowboarding on sand and something I really wanted to try.
Huacachina. As you can see, the dunes are plenty high for boarding.
The pool of my hotel.

I ended up in a fun hotel with a pool so I decided to stay two nights. I signed up to do a desert trip in a buggy in the morning. It was pure rollercoaster fun as the driver raced up and down the high sand dunes.
The sand buggy.
Having fun driving up and down the dunes.

We made regular stops on top of sand mountains to slide down on our snowboards. The trip was supposed to include sandboarding instructions but instead the driver just made us lie down on the boards and slide straight down. This was great fun and made you go as fast as you could go, but I wanted to do it standing up.

After a while I managed to slide down while standing in a crouched position, going straight down but putting my rear hand in the sand as a break. I slided down majestically this way... until the speed made my hand too hot and I had to lift it. Since I have no idea how to steer a snowboard I kept accelerating until I lost control and tumbled down the rest of the mountain, doing three summersaults and landing rather heavily. My trousers got torn in the process (had to throw 'em away afterwards) and I had to excavate the area to find my sunglasses again, but luckily I didn`t break anything and got away with just a headache.
Me and my snowboard in the desert.
Lovely landscape as well

While we raced back to the oasis in our buggy the American girl in my group got a panic attack twice, after which the driver decided to drive carefully - bummer. In the afternoon I just relaxed by the pool.

August 27th (day 33): Huacachina to Pisco

This was a transit day. I took a taxi back to Ica, quickly checked out the town center and then took a bus to Pisco where I got a room and spent the late afternoon in town. Both Ica and Pisco are bleak towns, but since I think each place is worth at least 1 picture...
A church in Ica
The central plaza of Pisco

When I went back to the hotel in the evening, I ran into a huge parade of school children, each class dressed up in a different type of costume, ranging from traditional indigenous clothes to spacey costumes, and repeating a dance as they progressed through the streets - very nice. On the way I also reencountered some very sleepy locals...
Taken in the afternoon.
Taken 4 hours later on the exact same spot.

My hotel in Pisco, hotel San Isidro, was the best value for money I got on the entire trip: 10$ for a nice, clean room with private bathroom and cable TV, and a nice hotel bar and pool. Highly recommended! I played pool with an Irish guy, who was on a two-year trip with his girlfriend. I lost but then pwnd both of them in table football.

August 28th (day 34): Islas Ballestas & Paracas

I did two tours on this day: a boat tour to the Islas Ballestas in the morning, and a bus tour around the Paracas reserve in the afternoon.

Islas Ballestas

These islands lie about 10km off the coast from Pisco and feature abundant wildlife including sea lions, penguins, pelicans and many other kinds of birds. The millions of birds produced so much droppings (guano) over the ages that the islands are covered with it. This first-class fertilizer became Peru's principal export product during the mid-19th century and Spain even started the so-called Guano War for control over the nearby Chincha islands.

The boat tour around the islands took about 2.5 hours and was good fun. The islands consist of pretty rock formations with many caves and tunnels carved out by the water, and the amount of birds inhabiting them is just overwhelming.
Birds squatting an old boat in the harbour
Approaching the Islas Ballestas
The water has carved out many natural tunnels in the islands
Birds on a natural arch
The first sea lions we spotted, resting on a rock
More rocks covered with birds
Birds, birds...
... and more birds

Let's have a closer look at some of the birds...
I think this rock is like a school for penguins and the pelicans are the teachers.
More pelicans, penguins and black-and-white birds. These are Humboldt penguins, Peruvian pelicans and Guanay Cormorants, respectively.
These are Peruvian Boobies, the most common birds on the islands. On the bottom left is a lone Inca Tern, spotted right here by Sofia!
A good look at a Guanay Cormorant

After a while we arrived at islands consisting of beautiful red rocks. These seemed to be the sea lions' favourite hang-outs.
Three penguins playing king of the hill on a red rock
A bunch of sea lions taking it easy
The one on top seems to be standing watch while the others rest
A nice pair
This one didn`t like being photographed
But this one gave us a nice pose while sitting on a comrade

Here's a movie made in front of a cave full of sea lions who seemed to want to make sure we wouldn't go inside. Listen to their screaming!

The last part of the boat trip saw us going to the place where the sea lionesses give birth. The boats come way too close to them to my liking.
Heading for a tunnel
Other boat going through an arch
Bunch of sea lionesses and their babies
I took this just to show how close the boats get.

Reserva Nacional de Paracas

10km south of Pisco lies the Paracas peninsula which measures roughly 5 by 5 km. It is on this peninsula that the ancient Paracas culture originated, which existed from 750 BC to 100 AD and is famous for its very finely woven textiles. Nowadays the peninsula is a protected reserve.

I toured the reserve in the early afternoon, and it was boring. The reserve is a flat, featureless plain of sand. We visited a tiny museum, saw flamingos from very far away, walked atop the cliffs above the beach, and then ate in what used to be a fisherman's village but is now just a row of tourist restaurants, and that was it. The cliffs are very nice, but the 15 minutes there were the only valuable part of the tour.
A paraglider flying along the cliffs. Much of the Peruvian shoreline consists of high cliffs overlooking the ocean like this.
A natural arch in the cliffs
More shoreline
A pelican resting near the line of restaurants.

I stayed in Pisco another night, and the next day took a bus to Lima where I'd spend one last night before flying home.

<< Part 11: Cañon del Colca    -   Back to Index   -    Part 13: Back in Lima >>

Cy Mon 12 Feb 2007 @ 15:58
I enjoyed your photos, especially of Arbor de Piedra! How fragile it looks. Thanks for your tips on traveling to Machu Pichu on

Daria Thu 07 Dec 2006 @ 00:20
Ammmazing photos and exciting views!!! :)
I can't find the right words!

I bet in real life these views were much more breathtaking :) At some point I envy you - you had a chance to see all this beauty by your own eyes!
But the same time thank you very much for sharing this beauty with us :) This way it is also very nice ;)

Looking forward to seeing new pics and reading new reports ;)

Godsmurf Thu 30 Nov 2006 @ 00:11
It'll be 90% nature pics in the rest of the report. You ain't seen nothing yet :)

Well apart from some really wild desert llamas I saw penguins, condors, flamingos, pelicans, other birds, and sealions!

Fia Wed 29 Nov 2006 @ 15:07
Excellent pictures! Very beautiful sceneries! As usual I prefer mountain pics before buildings. ;-) I especially like the green colours of the mountains and the blue colours of the lakes that you visited.

By the way, you didn't happen to see any wildlife? Apart from that creepy millipede I mean. (And lamas don't count as wild.) :-)


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