Guidebooks are great, but if you really want to prepare for your next trip to South America, take a look at some of Latin America’s literary masterpieces before you board the plane. Buenos Aires becomes a much more romantic landscape through the eyes of Jorge Luis Borges in the 1920s; Peru more fascinating and mysterious from the social commentary of Mario Vargas Llosa; Colombia more passionate from reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Rio de Janeiro a city of erotic misadventures after entering the mind of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis; and all of Latin America a crazy adventure when explained by your ridiculous, but poignant friend Maqroll the Gaviero, figment of brilliant Alvaro Mutis’ imagination.
Fervor de Buenos Aires, Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina
Fervor de Buenos Aires (Passion for Buenos Aires), published in 1923, is Borges first collection of poetry and, although not regarded as his best work, focuses on the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires after his return from living abroad. Through his poems, readers can experience what Buenos Aires looked and felt like from the perspective of a young Borges, new to his native city after a long period of absence. Many of the landmarks, streets, and neighborhoods he mentions will be familiar as you tour Buenos Aires for the first time or, like Borges, as someone returning to a city you once knew with an entirely different point of view.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia
Obviously the most famous Latin American writer’s most famous work should appear on this list. If you haven’t read this epic, multi-generation tale about a fictional family in Colombia, you need to. Tipping his hat to Borges by telling the story in a non-linear way, the author expertly weaves the lives of 7 generations of the Buendia family around central themes while throwing in more than a dash of magical realism. While you tour South America, perhaps you can take a tip from Marquez and create a magical land based on your own perceptions.
The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Brazil
There’s nothing like hearing the tales of scorned loves and bitter romances from a man buried 6 feet under, which is exactly what you get from reading this pessimistic, hilarious, and erotic novel written in 1881. It begins with the fictional deceased author dedicating his memoirs to the worm which took the first bite out of his corpse, and only gets more uplifting from there. Influenced heavily by Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation both in personal philosophy and form, Assis manages to defuse his pessimism with comic relief. Although a story told from the perspective of a dead man may be old hat now, in 1881 it was considered avant-garde and it has still managed to hold up to the ultimate test – the passage of time. Travelers can get a new perspective on life before their Rio de Janeiro tour, which is the setting of this famous literary masterpiece.
Death in the Andes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru
Both famed and prolific, Mario Vargas Llosa is easily one of the most well-known and talented South American writers. He also once punched his former friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the face to the delight of literary lovers worldwide who still enjoy the image of writers as brawling, passionate lunatics. In the center of Death in the Andes, a social critique thinly disguised as a detective thriller, is Corporal Lituma, Vargas Llosa’s main character, from the northern town of Piura sent to the mountains to investigate the strange disappearances occurring in this small Andean village. What initially seems like an open and shut case becomes a monumental mystery of epic proportions where myth and legends seem just as real as facts and political upheavals. Although you won’t be punching anyone or investigating murders on your Peru vacation (at least if we have anything to do with it) perhaps you can learn more about the legends and myths which create the rich cultural fabric of the Andes.
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, Alvaro Mutis, all of South America
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, written by Colombian author Alvaro Mutis, has one of the best protagonists ever written, Maqroll the Gaviero, who is constantly compared to Don Quixote because of his unrealistic undertakings. Full of love affairs, strong friendships, crazy characters, and evocative descriptions, this hefty novel is a good book to bring with you on your trip as it may take you a good few weeks to get through the 700 plus pages. Universal in thought, regional in its various settings, and wildly entertaining, this book is a great glimpse into Latin American heroes.
Custom tours of all these destinations and more can be arranged. Please contact us to speak to one of our travel advisors for more information.
August through October, travelers in the northern coast of Peru will be treated to one of the most spectacular wildlife shows on the planet as over 1,000 humpback whales migrate through Peru’s coastal waters.
These enormous mammals will be almost at the end of their 4,350 mile journey from their Antarctic feeding grounds to the warm waters of Ecuador’s southern coast to find a mate and calve. Their courtship rituals include sonorous solos that can last up to 30 minutes and full breaches from the males, while the females prefer vigorous tail slaps as a tactful no thanks to the males’ advances.
Humpback whales can be as long as 52 feet and weigh up to 40 tons, which makes witnessing one of these massive creatures propel their body effortlessly out of the water nothing short of amazing.
In honor of the humpback whales, we have created a list of the top 5 wildlife destinations in all of South America. Even if you miss these spectacular mammals this year, you’ll get a chance to plan some sort of wildlife expedition at some point, right? With a list like this one, you had better.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Famous the world over, the Galapagos Islands are one of the few places that actually exceed travelers’ expectations regarding encounters of the wildlife kind. From giant sea tortoises, dolphins, and seals, to flamingoes, blue-footed boobies, and Iguanas, on your trip to the Galapagos you are guaranteed to see more wildlife than you can count.
One of the destinations most likely to appear on a bucket list and least likely to disappoint, the Galapagos is a wildlife haven set against the backdrop of turquoise waters and volcanic islands making it a must-see destination.
Manu, Peruvian Amazon
Located in one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, Manu National Park is a 3.7 million acre biosphere in the southern Peruvian Amazon Jungle. The park is consistently rated as one of the top destinations on the globe for canopy viewing and holds the world record for the number of bird species seen in one spot during one day. Lucky travelers can find endangered species like Giant Otters and Black Caimans, as well as monkeys, sloths, jaguars, pumas, monkeys, and butterflies. Over 15,000 species of plants and 1,000 species of birds have been recorded here and more discoveries are made all the time.
The Pantanal, Brazil
The world’s largest freshwater wetland system, the Pantanal stretches across Brazil encompassing roughly the same space as Portugal and providing a pristine haven for thousands of wildlife species. The main attraction to the Pantanal is that it sustains much of the same fauna as the Amazon, but because of the low foliage, animals are much easier to spot here.
Home to the healthiest population of jaguars in the world, you are most likely to encounter one here in the Pantanal. In addition to the jaguar, numerous endangered species can be found, including the Marsh Deer, Giant River Otter, Hyacinth Macaw, Crowned Solitary Eagle, Maned Wolf, Bush Dog, South American Tapir, Capybara, Giant Anteater, and the Yacare Caiman. If you are a budding, or struggling, wildlife photographer, come to the Pantanal to give your career a boost.
Puerto Madryn, Argentina
September through March, half a million Magellan Penguins show up to Punta Tombo in Argentina’s Patagonia to breed and give birth to their young. Incredibly enough, travelers can actually walk among the penguins and study them from just a few feet away. Just don’t try to touch them – they do bite! The waddling little penguins are of course the main draw for travelers, but the 500 acre National Park, while appearing desolate at first glance, is actually teeming with life like ostriches, hares, foxes, cormorants, sea lions, orcas, dolphins, and southern whales.
Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
If you are a wildlife lover, there are few natural displays that can rival trekking along a tropical beach under moonlight, searching for one of the 700 pound and 4 foot long female turtles that return to this beach every few years to lay their eggs. These turtles often swim over 1500 miles from their feeding grounds to come to these beaches, usually close to the same spot where they were born. 45 to 75 days later, the 100 to 200 new hatchlings will emerge from the sand to make their perilous dash to the sea. While perhaps even more amazing than watching the females lay their eggs, this sight isn’t for the faint of heart. Most of the turtles don’t make it to the sea and are swooped up and eaten by birds or crabs, which can be a tad heart wrenching.
However, when one of the little turtles does make it, and some of them always do, you will feel ecstatic. Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park is a 44,000-acre reserve and the largest nesting site for the Green Sea Turtle in the Western Hemisphere, which means if you want to see these turtles, this is the place to do it.
If you have a few days in Quito on either end of your Galapagos tour, but don’t want to hit the usual tourist attractions, you may be wondering where you can go for a rewarding experience a bit off the beaten path. Wonder no more, as the list below should give you some good options.
Monastery Shopping Madness
Most of the convents in Historical Quito have a small gift shop where you can buy interesting goodies made by cloistered nuns. Although the nuns specialize in homeopathic remedies made from plants and herbs prominently displayed at the front counters, head instead to the other cabinet filled with wines and anise flavored mistela to discover the secret way the locals plump up the collection plate. If you don’t drink, other good finds include homemade cookies, and desoured lemons filled with caramel crème. The best part is that most of your purchases will feature handmade nun labels, which makes them excellent and unusual gifts.
Monasterio de Carmen Alto, Calle Rocafuerte and Garcia Moreno
Leave your wallet at home, but do bring some cash to this sprawling market full of Quitenos bartering for legitimate and not so legitimate brand name clothing. This market isn’t for the faint of heart, or for those who suffer from claustrophobia. The narrow passageways are packed with people and it quickly becomes apparent that what looks like an indoor market is actually an outdoor market enclosed by various tarps covering hundreds of stalls and spread out across almost 3 blocks, giving it an alleyway, maze-like feel. You are likely to be the only traveler there, so try not to stand out or look bewildered, and definitely don’t wear a fanny pack!
Centro Comercial Parqueadero La Merced, Calle Chile and Calle Imbabura.
Located in beautiful Bellavista, a charming residential neighborhood in the eastern hills of Quito, sits the Guayasamin Museum, once home to Ecuador’s most famous painter Oswaldo Guayasamin. The museum houses some of his most beautiful work meant to represent the strife and injustice suffered by the indigenous workers in Latin America. The painter’s own art collections, a staggering representation of both colonial art and pre-Columbian ceramics, are inside different rooms in the museum as well. After you wander through the galleries, you can visit La Capilla del Hombre, Guayasamin’s final vision illustrating both man’s cruelty and potential. Then spend the afternoon strolling through this picturesque neighborhood and up to stunning Guapulo, full of small winding roads and lovely vistas. Wear your sneakers as the roads are steep!
Calle Jose Bosmediano 543, at Jose Carbo. Capilla del Hombre: Mariano Calvache y Lorenzo Chavez Esquina
La Ronda Street
Misinformed guidebooks still warn tourists away from this area at night which is a real shame considering it is the only nightlife in Centro Historico. This pedestrian only, cobblestoned road is one of the oldest in Quito and incredibly picturesque with flower-filled balconies, colonial architecture, wrought iron gates, and artist’s galleries. The best time to visit is Friday and Saturday nights after 7pm when all the restaurants, cafes, bars, and art galleries are open and people sell hot canelazo from doorways. Hundreds of people flood the streets to hear live music, socialize, and sample the homemade wine. Street performers and dancers normally make an appearance around 9pm. There are policeman at either end of the street happy to help tourists flag a taxi.
Calle La Ronda, Centro Historico
El Pobre Diablo
Easily the coolest venue in Quito, this small jazz club hosts live music a couple days a week and is the perfect place to sit back and enjoy local and international musicians, while knocking back a few whiskeys or glasses of vino. This bohemian club doesn’t get the music started until after 10pm and shuts down around 2am. If you really are a poor devil keep in mind that they charge a small cover fee and drinks are a bit pricier than usual.
Isabel La Catolica, and Galavis, La Floresta
Patagonia’s remote beauty evokes the romance of isolation like nowhere else on earth. Its ice-carved landscapes and endless glacial wilderness, dense forests and fiercely jagged mountains, isolated outposts of humanity and hardy survivors living in self-exile from their more hospitable homelands; all testimony to Bruce Chatwin’s timeless description:
“Patagonia is the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origin. It is therefore a symbol of his restlessness.”
These days Patagonia is much more accessible to visitors and with a well established network of excellent hotels, lodges, and transportation, it is easy to explore these wild lands during an Argentina vacation.
Hiking the Mountain Trails in El Chalten
For lovers of the great outdoors, there are few places on the planet’s surface more dramatic and appealing than the vast mountainous landscapes of El Chalten in southern Patagonia.
Home to the famous Mount Fitz Roy, picture-book Alpine forests, glacial lakes, and almost endless stretches of flowering meadows and grasslands, Chalten is an uninhabited wilderness with pristine, undisturbed terrain.
Described as the trekking capital of Argentina, Chalten is ideal for hikers of all abilities. Easily navigable trails lead through the forests, connecting a series of well maintained campsites, all with fresh running water delivered directly from the glaciers in the mountains above. Day excursions are easy from the town of Chalten, and travelers can take guided treks through the mountains and even onto the glaciers.
There are a number of excellent Chalten hotels available, including Alpine-style lodges and homey hosterias. Some hotels offer relaxing spa services, ideal after a long day out in the mountains, and all have restaurants serving the classic and delicious Patagonian dish of flame-roasted lamb.
Tackle the Glaciers of Calafate
The larger and busier Calafate, just across Lake Argentina, is a bustling town that has managed to retain its frontier charm. Calafate is sandwiched between the vast lake and the typically sparse plains of Patagonia that stretch off into the distance until meeting the snowcapped mountains on the horizon.
The town’s principal attraction is its proximity to Glaciers National Park, a breathtaking collection of ice flows snaking down from the Southern Continental Ice Field and into the tranquil lakes below.
The glaciers can be explored from the decks of comfortable catamarans that sail travelers almost within touching distance of the glacier wall. Occasionally great shards of ice can be seen splitting and crashing into the water below.
The more adventurous can tour the glaciers themselves on a guided one-day trek that leads into the heart of the vast ice river; a surreal and almost alien environment of absolute tranquility.
There are a wide range of Calatafe hotels and the town is also well known for its chocolate shops and excellent restaurants. Be sure to try roasted lamb marinated with the famous Calafate berry. Local legend states that if you try the berry, you will return to Patagonia again.
A Cruise from the Ends of the Earth
At the farthest tip of Patagonia is the Tierra del Fuego, land of fire, named by the first European explorers who noted the eerie coastal fires set by the indigenous populations. Ushuaia is the regional capital and the southernmost city on Earth, perched perilously on this distant tip of South America.
Despite its remoteness, Ushuaia is a thriving city set amongst a rugged coastal landscape. The port town is a popular starting point for Patagonia cruises leading through the spectacular archipelago between Argentina and Chile. These tours include charting the Beagle Channel, made famous by Charles Darwin’s voyage two centuries ago.
The four day cruise from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas passes Tierra del Fuego and rounds Cape Horn before navigating the countless islets on the route towards Punta Arenas on the Chilean side of Patagonia.
Expert guides are on hand to explain the spectacular natural landscapes unfolding on all sides, while onboard chefs cook up a feast for each and every meal. From Punta Arenas, passengers can either fly back to the Argentinean side or extend their vacation with a Chile tour.
Watery Worlds at Puerto Madryn
The charming seaside town of Puerto Madryn sits at the head of the Valdez Peninsula where an enormous coastline of rugged cliffs, reefs, and coves harbor an astonishing wealth of marine and bird life.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the peninsula is home to colonies of elephant seals, sea lions and southern right whales, but by far the most famous and popular inhabitants are the huge colony of Magellan penguins that flock the coastline.
But Puerto Madryn’s most peculiar claim to fame is the town’s origins. Originally founded by a small group of Welsh settlers seeking a better life in the New World, the Welsh language can still be heard alive and well on the town’s streets and in the many traditional Tea Shops that have survived and flourished.
Argentinean Patagonia is a vast and varied terrain. Road transportation is feasible between the closer destinations such as Calafate and Chalten, but for longer distances visitors should consider air travel. Ushuaia, Calafate, and Puerto Madryn all have connections to each other and Buenos Aires, with regular services for most of the year.
There really is no wrong time to visit Patagonia, but it depends on what you want to do. The winter months get very cold and traveling between June and July is difficult. However, this is the best time of year for the many snow enthusiasts who flock to the mountain towns of Bariloche and Cerro Catedral to hit the slopes. Whether you are a photographer, hiker, wildlife lover or want to plan an Argentina skiing trip with friends, Patagonia is one of the most spectacular and inspiring landscapes to serve as your backdrop.
Travelers hoping to fit in an Amazon tour and a Machu Picchu trek within the same vacation will be pleased to hear that it just got a whole lot easier. Flight operator LAN has announced the opening of a new route from the isolated river city of Iquitos to Cusco, Peru’s ancient capital and the archeological center of South America.
This new route means that travelers can get between Cusco and Iquitos without having to fly through Lima – lowering both journey times and the cost of airfare. Currently, most visitors hoping to visit both locations choose to travel to Puerto Maldonado in Peru’s Southern Amazon, thanks to its close proximity to Cusco. This new flight will enable more people to visit the northern city of Iquitos, the only city in the world that cannot be accessed by road.
Iquitos’ remoteness is its principle attraction. Only accessible by air or river, the city has developed a unique frontier-style charm. Sitting on the banks of the Amazon River, Iquitos has all the bustle and activity of any major city. But the city limits are walled by the wild and largely unexplored rainforest.
The city has a permanently warm, tropical ambiance and is famous for the friendliness of the locals, its tantalizing cuisine of well-seasoned pork, the colossal paiche fish and fried balls of crushed platanos.
Iquitos’ main market is near the district of Belen, a neighborhood that floats on the surface of the muddy waters of the Amazon and which makes an interesting tour on hired motorboats. In the market, curious visitors can browse the incredible variety of produce that comes from the intensely fertile jungle and the indigenous communities that live there, from natural medicines and hallucinogenic potions to the brisk (but illegal) trade in turtle meat and live monkeys.
Both up and down-stream from Iquitos are a number of jungle lodges, from where travelers can venture out into the rainforest and explore the interior. The lodges are extremely comfortable, remote, and provide excellent excursions into the jungle itself.
An alternative way of exploring the river is on an Amazon River Cruise, which can last from between 4 and 8 days on board a luxurious cruiser.
All of these Amazon tour options can now be enjoyed with a short plane journey from the mountain city of Cusco. Contact a Peru For Less travel advisor for more details.
Foodies in Peru will rejoice to hear that the Mistura Third International Gastronomic Fair will be held in Lima from September 7th to the 12th in Exhibition Park. This is a must-see and must-sample event if you are anywhere near Lima during these dates. Over 30 chefs from the best restaurants in the country will serve traditional meals with an innovative twist for the bargain price of 6 to 12 soles alongside international chefs, over 100 food stalls, and 600 farmers.
Visitors will also be entertained with a long list of keynote speakers discussing various aspects of Peruvian cuisine including sociological and scientific topics. Cooking classes, competitions, movies, and performers will also be present to entertain visitors as well. Last year it was so wildly popular they had to close the doors because of lack of space, so don’t miss it!
Ensure you can get in and save a bit of money at the same time by purchasing your tickets early. The tickets cost 8 soles for children and 15 soles for adults if you buy in advance.
The fair is also an important step towards bringing international recognition to Peruvian cuisine and providing culinary exposure to people who wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise sampled the local foods. Although Peruvian cuisine is famous within South America, it doesn’t necessarily have an international reputation for excellence – yet. However, Peru is aware of its gastronomic wonders and this fair is just one of the ways the government is trying to bring attention to its unique and diverse fruits, vegetables, and sea life which locals combine to make delicious plates.
Peru has over 200 types of potatoes, 35 species of corn, 150 varieties of sweet potatoes, and exports things like artichokes, asparagus, and avocados. The 1500 mile coastline of Peru provides plenty of delicious things to eat like groper, sea bass, swordfish, sole, tuna, octopus, squid, shrimp, clams, urchins, and mussels. With a backyard this abundant, how can you not produce delicious cuisine?
If you can’t make it to the festival don’t despair as one of the most exciting and permanent, changes for gourmands is occurring right here in Lima. Located just east of popular tourist destination Miraflores is the Surquillo food market full of little stands selling everything from exotic fruits you may have never even heard of, to a variety of nuts, vegetables, homemade sauces, ceviche, and traditional dishes like Aji de Gallina (shredded chicken cooked in chilies, garlic, onions, milk, walnuts, and cheese and served over rice), and Rocoto Relleno (spicy peppers stuffed with meat, onions, egg whites, olives and nuts). This market, once an uninviting strip of stalls has been revamped, coated with a new layer of paint, and equipped with red brick pathways that beckon curious visitors into its halls. It’s located near the intersections of Ave. Paseo de la Republica and Av. Ricardo Palma.
Exhibition Park is located on Paseo Colón y Paseo de la República
If you are looking for a way to experience the beautiful, rugged terrain of the Cusco and Sacred Valley region besides hiking the Inca Trail, consider a mountain biking adventure. There are several different bike tracks that cater to intrepid travelers of all biking abilities.
Choose from a half day downhill mountain biking excursions through the Cusco backroads, the lush Sacred Valley and the spectacular scenery of Moray and Maras.
The Cusco half day biking excursion promises a true Peru travel adventure. On this approximately three hour off-roading tour, you’ll whiz by the highlands behind Cusco, getting to see the capital of the Inca Empire from above. Beginning in Cusco, you’ll meet your guide to take an off-roading truck out to the biking trailhead. There you’ll test out your bike and your guide will give you instructions before you head out.
Experienced bikers can take the dirt road, or you can take the paved road, both downhill tracks that wind through the countryside and several Inca ruins, ending in the outskirts of Cusco.
For a Sacred Valley mountain biking tour, you can experience Pisac, Taray, Calca, and other Sacred Valley towns. On this four hour tour, you’ll meet your guide, head to the trailhead in the midst of the Andes, and get outfitted for your biking excursion. You’ll weave on a downhill off-road track through the beautiful, lush Sacred Valley, past traditional Andean towns and villages.
Another mountain biking Cusco Peru travel adventure goes through the Maras salt mines and other Inca villages deep in the Urubamba Valley. This Maras and Moray mountain biking tour is a full day adventure. Starting in the morning, you’ll meet your guide and take a transfer from your Cusco hotel to the Inca town of Chincheros. Your guide will take you past terraced fields and villages, with views of Andean lakes and mountains. For lunch, you’ll stop in the town of Maras for a picnic before continuing on to the salt mines of Maras.
If you want to take the road less traveled to Machu Picchu, you can also do a 4D/3N multi-sport adventure trek, beginning with a mountain biking excursion and ending with a trek to Machu Picchu. Starting in Cusco, you’ll take a transfer up to the Malaga Pass, which has an elevation of almost 14,000 feet. You’ll bike downhill, breezing past views of the Sacred Valley and the Andes mountains. In the evening, you’ll camp by the Urubamba River.
On the second day of your multi-sport trek, you’ll hike to the village of Santa Teresa, located in the coffee-growing fields behind Machu Picchu. You’ll have lunch in the Pacamayo Valley, and you can swim in the Sacsara River. You’ll camp nearby the river before enjoying another day of hiking past Quechua towns. You’ll take a short train ride to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu, where you’ll spend the night in a hotel.
The final day of your multi-sport trek includes a full day of exploring the spectacular world wonder of Machu Picchu. Make sure to get there early in the morning to beat the crowds and witness the sunrise from this cliff top citadel. In the early morning sunlight, you can stretch your sore muscles before heading back via train to Cusco.
All of these mountain biking tours include all transfers, guide, biking equipment, and some include lunch. Some do not include entrance fees. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about any of these Peru travel adventure tours.
One of Peru For Less’s travel advisors tells the tale of her roadtrip on the Pan Americana along the southern coast of Peru – a tale of surprisingly good – and bad – restaurants, incredible sunsets, and plenty of getting lost.
We barely got out of Lima before getting coffee, getting lost (how can the Pan Americana Sur go north?!), and getting pulled over by border patrol. Soon after we sweet-talked our way past the policia, we found ourselves driving past the remnants of the 2007 earthquake.
The town of Pisco was the most affected by the earthquake, and it was evident. As soon as we stepped out of the car, an old man hobbled over to greet us. He said that he had been inside the church when the earthquake hit, and had been badly hurt. He held up his cane and pointed to the church – which was still closed.
The main plaza was bustling with men sitting in the shade, boys running in the streets, and shoppers browsing the movies, cds, and ice cream shops on the side streets. But as we hunted for a good menu restaurant, we saw some of the buildings reduced to piles of rubble and whole streets carved up by construction workers.
We popped into Afrocafe, a restaurant filled with locals that looked promising. I ordered the arroz con pollo, not expecting to be presented with a platter of rice draped in rich sauce and half a chicken cooked to perfection.
We continued on to Nazca, which we made by nightfall. In the barren valley 20km north of the Nazca town, there was a mirador, or look out point. We pulled over, grabbed our cameras, and climbed the mirador to look out over a few of the famous Nazca Lines known as the Hands, Tree, and Lizard, just as the sun was setting. The figures are not very clear – the Pan Americana was constructed in this valley without anyone ever noticing – but the view was stunning.
In the town of Nazca, we stayed at Casa Andina Nazca, a terrific 3-star hotel with a lot of rustic charm. The service was excellent, the location convenient, and the breakfast amazing. We walked a few blocks to Hotel Nazca Lines, where the Maria Reiche planetarium is located. A planetarium show in English begins every night at 7pm. The guide showed us Venus and Saturn through the telescope, and gave us an overview of the Nazca Lines, with special emphasis on Maria Reiche’s theory that the lines have astronomical significance.
The next morning, we drove out to the Nazca airport to meet two of our friends who had just flown over the lines. They jabbered about the cramped plane ride while we drove around looking for the Cahachi pyramids, which were supposedly located a few kilometers off the road. We found ourselves in a completely flat valley with no promise of pyramids – or anything else – for miles.
We gave up and headed for the Chauchilla cemetery, which we found fairly easily. A teenager was reading a book under a thatched palm roof. When we pulled up, he said he would show us around for 5 soles each. We spent about an hour walking around the cemetery, which was located a few miles off the road near foothills rich in red and orange minerals. Several graves, excavated after grave robbers got to them, held the bones and mummies of the Nazca elite – some with dreadlock hair several feet long.
Next we went to the Cantallo aqueducts, where we walked along a row of spiral aqueducts. The aqueducts, built by the Nazca people centuries ago, were still being used to irrigate the fields next door.
We hit the road by mid-morning, stopping for what ended up being the worst menu experience I’ve ever had in the town of Palmpa. We waited over an hour for a meal that never came before heading on to Ica and checking into our Huacachina hotel in the afternoon.
Some of us checked into Hotel Mossone, by far the nicest hotel in this little oasis town just outside of Ica. But I set up camp in a cheap hostel that turned out to be my favorite part of the trip. The hostel, Sol de Ica, was located right on the boardwalk and I had a terrific view of the lake. I could nearly reach out and touch the palm trees from my balcony. The hostel itself was nothing special, but the shower was hot and I had the place to myself.
Plus, the family ran a little restaurant below and a chocolatejas factory in back. They fed me champagne and chocolatejas, which are carmels and chocolates with dried fruits, all made by hand and sold only in the Ica region.
As the late afternoon sunlight slanted over the sand dunes, my friend and I tramped up the dunes to watch the sunset. Meanwhile, our other friends went on a bodega tour of Ica to taste the wines for which the region is famous. In the evening, we talked with the locals and ordered American-style sandwiches and Pisco sours from the most popular – and almost only – restaurant on the Huacachina boardwalk.
The next morning we headed out early for Paracas. We headed straight to the dock and bought our tickets for the next boat to the Ballestas Islands, as we wanted to get out before the water got too choppy. Just outside of the harbor, we were greeted by a few friendly dolphins.
The next stop on the boat tour was the Candelabra, another cryptic geoglyph thought to be connected to the Nazca Lines, but our tour guide emphasized that it had no relation. The figure – which looks exactly like a chandelier or maybe a cactus – is carved into the hillside above the cliffs and is only visible from the sea.
The motorboat took us further out to the Ballestas, islands famous for their hoards of marine birds, and well-known as South America’s largest guano-producing areas. Thousands of cormorants and gulls, some Humbolt penguins, and a few sea lions lined the rocks. The docks and houses – used by guano collectors every few years – sat eerily abandoned on the edges.
Back at Paracas, we enjoyed the first sunshine of the morning and a warm cup of chocolate caliente before heading out to the Paracas National Reserve. We drove around the reserve, hoping to see Chilean penguins, but more than impressed with the breathtaking scenery in this completely barren and tranquil coastal desert landscape.
For lunch we ate at Puro Pisco, a fine restaurant overlooking the hard-working pescadores on the beach. It was sunny, and the scenery was irresistible, so after our meal we ordered another bottle of red wine and sat out on an abandoned boat on the shore, enjoying the afternoon and not looking forward to the long drive home.
Please contact us to talk to one of our travel advisors if you are interested in seeing any of these destinations.