After an overnight stay in Lima after our flight we took a Cruz del Sur bus south along the Pan-American Highway to the small tourist town of Paracas. In Paracas I had scheduled us to do two tours during the next day: the Ballestas Island tour and the Paracas National Reserve tour. After the two tours we would be catching another bus from Paracas to Nazca where we would fly over the Nazca Lines.
First, the bus was incredibly comfortable. I opted to pay the extra money, which wound up being around $5 each, for the VIP seats and they were great. The seats were well padded, reclined, and had foot rests. Our sections had community televisions, and while their choice of movies weren’t the best, it was tolerable. The three and a half hours from Lima to Paracas passed by smoothly. I spent the time during the trip looking out of the window and taking in the changing landscape. The landscape was pretty dramatic for us because we had never actually visited a desert before and almost as soon as leaving the Lima city limits it was just desolate coastal desert.
I booked our night in Paracas at Zarcillo Paradise, which is exactly where the Cruz del Sur bus stops in Paracas, so we basically walked off the bus and into the office for our hostel. There was no need for us to lug our bags down the street looking for our hostel! I also booked the tours through their company online before our trip, partly because of the good price, but also out of the simplicity of only have to deal with one company during our short stay. They had pretty descent reviews online, so I felt secure doing this. The hostel was just okay, it’s about a 7 minute walk from the main square and another bigger hotel blocks your view of the harbor from the rooftop terrace. The rooms were just adequate and nothing special. I feel like I could recommend them based on convenience, but there are probably better choices in the main town for comparable prices.
Paracas isn’t quite what I thought it would be. I thought it would be a small town that had some tourist places, but it really seems that the town is only there for tourists. Every other storefront or building was a hostel or tour company. The restaurants were mostly tourist driven, so after a few minutes of wandering around we gave up and just picked a small restaurant on the main strip. This would be our first official Peruvian meal, so we were excited. I had a bottle of Cusqueña, which I noticed through the travels appeared to be the most popular brand in Peru. For dinner I had arroz frito y pollo (fried rice and chicken), which was surprisingly remarkable. After two long days of travel we were pretty beat, so we headed back to the hostel, where I spent some time sitting on the rooftop terrace looking up at the stars and petting a local dog that happened by.
The next morning was tour day. We were up early for the 8am tour just to be told that a fog over the water had shut down the harbor and we would have to wait to see if it lifted. Thinking back to the last time we tried to take a boat tour and everything got messed up I felt for sure that the tour would be cancelled and I was just meant not to be able to visit unique islands off the coast of countries we visit. However, the travel gods gave me a break and cleared the fog after about 90 minutes, so we headed for the pier. The tour took us on a speedboat around the cliffs of Paracas National Reserve and to the Ballestas Islands which are home to an abudance of wildlife. During our tour we saw Peruvian Boobies, Humboldt Penguins, sea lions, and one-eyed cormorants. The islands are nicknamed guano islands due to all of the guano left by the birds and there are remnants of the guano collection structures, where people would collect the guano to be shipped back to the mainland for use as fertilizer. Our guide told us that there is still an agreement that allows for the harvesting of guano once every 7 years. Sounds like a crappy job (rim shot). Thank you. I’ll be here all week. Be forewarned that the smell is pretty potent as you go around the island and that you will have birds flying overhead constantly, so you might not want to wear your favorite shirt.
During the tour we were able to see El Candelabro, which is a mysterious shape carved into the cliffs of Paracas National Reserve by an ancient civilization thousands of years ago. There is plenty of speculation as to what this carving was for. Some say that it was a marker for mariners, local tradition holds that it is a trident representing a god, and other people think it was a signal to alien spacecraft.
From the boat we returned to the hostel to hop in the van for a land tour of Paracas National Reserve. This tour turned out to be really cool due to the incredibly unique landscape in the reserve. I commented to Sarah a few times that it felt like we were on a foreign planet or a huge set for a Star Trek film. The oranges and yellows of the sands clashed in a really unique way with the blues of the sky that I just don’t think our pictures captured completely. We drove to the coast where we saw the remnants of a stone arch that was called La Catedral, but was destroyed in the 2007 earthquake. We stopped for lunch in a small fishing harbor where Sarah got to sample the local fish, while I had some scallops due to my ever so annoying fish allergy. After lunch we visited what turned out to be one of my favorite spots during the trip, “Playa Rojo” or red beach. The colors here were just stunning and provided some stark contrasts. There was the red of the beach, the yellow of cliffs, the orange of the mountains, the blue of the ocean, the white of the waves, and the blue of the sky all converging in this small area. I wish we would have been able to stroll along this beach, but unfortunately I couldn’t find a way down to the beach off the cliff. So after some prodding from the tour guide we were whisked back into the van and to our bus station for the next leg of our trip. From here we would catch the evening bus to Nazca, the next stop on our trip.