Peru's Coastal Desert offers a stark contrast to the lush rainforest of the interior. Yet, this seemingly desolate place also holds some fascinating mysteries. Just a four hour drive south of Lima lies Peru's only Marine Reserve, a relatively small but precious area situated between ocean and desert, the Paracas Marine Reserve is teeming with wildlife.
Not far from there some of the oldest archeological finds of Peru have been discovered, and last but not least, the famous Nazca lines, cryptic glyphs drawn over several kilometers on the desert floor by civilizations that have long since left this planet.Though everybody speculates, nobody knows for sure what these lines might mean or stand for, who created them and for what purpose...
This short trip visits both, the Marine Reserve and the Nazca lines, and includes a flight to view them from the air - the only way to really appreciate their magnitude.
Transfer from Hotel or Lima airport to Bus Station. In the early morning, we will begin a four-hour drive to the Paracas National Reserve, where we will arrive for lunch. The drive on the Panamerican Highway to Paracas will be our first encounter with the Atacama-Peruvian desert, part of the world's largest coastal desert. It is extremely arid, with moderate temperatures throughout the year and a unique juxtaposition of desert and ocean. Although our first impression of the coastal ecosystem will be inhospitable and barren, the fertile valleys that periodically interrupt the desert south of Lima will prove us partially incorrect. Towns such as Cañete, Chincha and Pisco (the namesake of Peru´s national drink), nurtured by seasonal swells in rivers, coerce the parched drylands into producing Peru´s finest cotton, wine and, of course, pisco.
A few kilometers after Pisco we will arrive at the Paracas Bay, which marks the beginning of a coastal mountain range and the northern boundary of the 335,000-hectare Paracas National Reserve, Peru´s only marine conservation unit. After lunch we will leave our hotel for a thorough exploration of the terrestrial portion of the Paracas Reserve. We will drive around most of the Paracas Peninsula, stopping at Punta Arquillos and the Mirador de Lobos (sea lion lookout) and the beaches of the Bay of Paracas. At the Mirador de Lobos, we will look down upon a large congregation of noisy South American sea lions and South American fur seals. Condor is also seen rather infrequently at the Mirador, soaring above the sea lions in search of carrion. We will enjoy the sunset walking along Paracas beaches. Overnight at hotel in Paracas or Mirador*.
After an early breakfast we will drive to the Ica airport to fly south to Nazca and over the enigmatic Nazca lines just north of the city. These lines were scratched on the arid desert crust by the Pre-Columbian Nazca culture. Hundreds of these drawings representing animals and geometric figures ranging up to 300 meters in size cover the 50-kilometer belt between Nazca and Palpa. The lines have been preserved for over 2,000 years owing to a complete lack of rain and the persistence of winds that cleaned the lines.
The mystery as to why a civilization would sketch drawings that it couldn´t see has been the lifetime study of German mathematician Maria Reiche. She believes the lines were drawn as an "astronomical calendar" which the gods were to see from above and remind themselves to help the Nazcas with their agriculture, fishing and other activities. The lines were drawn using a basic unit of measurement formed by the distance from the elbow to the forefingers and by using ropes tied to stakes to draw symmetrical circles and arcs.
We will return to Ica for lunch and a visit to the Museo Regional in Ica where mummies, textiles, ceramics and quipus from the Paracas, Nazca and Inca cultures are on display. The quipus are knotted strings used by the Incas to keep records on calculations and historical notes. We will return to hotel in Paracas at dusk.
After an early breakfast at the hotel we will board small boats from the Paracas Bay and navigate to the Ballestas Islands. About two-thirds of the reserve protects extremely productive and diverse ocean ecosystems, which we will experience from the boat. The Humboldt Current (which carries the plankton-rich, cold, Antarctic waters responsible for both the weather and the productivity of the Peruvian coast) deflects off the Paracas Peninsula and creates important upwellings and countercurrents, which combined with the extreme irregularities of the ocean floor and the presence of islands and the Pisco River delta create an immense variety of saltwater habitats. These very different but productive habitats harbor not only a large number of fish species but also huge quantities of most species, which feed the Reserve´s noteworthy seabird and mammal communities.
On the boat trip to the Ballestas Islands we will observe several of Paracas 215 species of birds, including the Guanay, Red-legged and Neotropic Cormorants, the Peruvian and Blue-footed Boobies, the Peruvian Pelican, several species of tern and gulls, including the Inca Tern, and several species of petrel. The islands themselves are breeding grounds to healthy colonies of South American fur seals and South American sea lion as well as a small colony of Humboldt penguins. Other interesting wildlife less frequently seen on trips to the Ballestas includes sea turtles and albatross. We will return to the hotel and drive back to Lima, having lunch as we leave or on the way back to Lima. Transfer to hotel or airport for International flight.
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