South coast from Lima to Arequipa
This itinerary is often part of the "classic southern circuit" held in two days or more. We left Lima by a expressway of 180 km (112 mi) long, then a highway in good condition totally remodeled in the 90s by President Fujimori.
Several companies operate daily buses from Lima to Arequipa, overnight non-stop service in 15 hours (1,010 km - 628 mi).
According to Guinness World Records, this mytical road is the world's longest "motorable road", measuring about 25,800 km (16,000 miles) across the American continent, from Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. The Pan-American highway was originally proposed in 1923 at the Fifth International Conference of American States. First the route links Monterrey in Mexico (U.S. border) to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Later sections were added to the north, through the United States, Canada and Alaska and several roads in South America.
Located 256 km (159 mi) south of Lima (3 hours 1/2) on the Pacific coast, Paracas is a small fishing village of 4,000 inhabitants, living mainly from tourism, being the starting point for an excursion to visit the Ballestas Islands.
This group of rocky islands is a haven for marine fauna thanks to the abundance of fish in the Peruvian coast and is one of the places where is the famous guano, the best natural fertilizer which made the fortune of Peru in the nineteenth century.
The tour boat lasts 2 hours and landing on the islands and swimming with the animals are forbidden.
The concentration of birds and mammals is impressive, 215 species of birds, 7 species of cetaceans, 4 species of turtles. The most common are the sea lions, the fur seals abound on the beach or sunbathing on the rocks, Humboldt penguins, pelicans, albatross, red-headed vultures and a typical bird of the region the zarcillo, a beautiful dark gray seagull with red beak and legs and white mustaches.
On the way to the islands, on the Paracas Peninsula, visitors will notice El Candelabro (candle), a large-scale geoglyph of 177 m (580 ft) tall and 54 m (177 ft) large. The depth of the grooves is approximately 1 meter (3.3 ft). Its origin is still debated: perhaps served to report the location of a pirate treasure, a reference point for navigators associated with the "southern cross" or an alien work.
Reserva Nacional de Paracas
With an extention of 335,000 ha, 200,000 ha are marine waters, this National Reserve created to protect many species of flora and fauna, is an ecological paradise where you can watch birds, sea lions, dolphins, penguins and flamingos.
300 km (186 mi) from Lima (4 hours), this city of 322,000 inhabitants located in an oasis in desert is separated from the ocean by about 50 km (30 mi) of sand dunes. The capital of the department of Ica is known as "the city of eternal spring" thanks to its dry, mild and sunny climate all year long. Ica is one of the most important agricultural regions of the country that has grown significantly over the last 10 years thanks to export of asparagus, artichokes and cotton. It is also the main wine-producing region of Peru with wines and the famous pisco (ave in Quechua), the national liquor. Today, Peruvian wines are of very good quality, some producers are now competing with their Chilean neighbors, earning medals in competitions in Europe. Many wineries offer tastings of their products.
calle Ayabaca - Open 7 days a week - Mon/Fri 8:00 am - 7:00 pm - Sat, Sun 9:00 am - 6:00 pm - Admission: S/.10 - US$2.50 - 2.30€
The Regional Museum of Ica exhibits some famous tissues of the Paracas culture (the most beautiful of America), alongatded and trepanned skulls and mummies.
Built around a small natural lagoon in the desert 3 km (2 mi) from the city of Ica, this beautiful oasis was an important and exclusive resort in the early twentieth century. Forgotten for decades, the spa was restored in the 90s.
Huacachina is now an attraction for tourists drawn by the sports of sandboarding and taking dune buggy rides on sand dunes.
Located 450 km (280 mi) from Lima (6 1/2 hours) and 150 km (93 mi) of Ica (2 hours and 15 minutes), the small town of Nazca (58,000 inhabitants) is also located in the desert, 60 km (37 mi) from the ocean, elevation 588 m (1,930 ft).
Nazca is famous for its mysterious line drawings built on the desert floor and only visible from the air.
Tourism is the main economic source of the city, but also many families live of the gold and copper extraction, abundant in the nearby mountains.
Casa Museo Maria Reiche
San José - km 421.3 - Open 7 days a week 8:00 am 6:00 pm - Admission: S/.5 - US$1.30 - 1.10€
30 km (19 mi) before Nazca, in the district of San José, we can find the house (now museum) of the German Maria Reiche known as "Princess of the Pampa", the woman who investigated, identified and protected petroglyphs (Nazca lines) for almost 60 years with her sister Renata. She died in 1998 at the age of 95 years and was buried in this house that exposes objects and pictures of their studies.
UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994
These geoglyphs (designs) only visible from the air, were discovered by the American archaeologist Paul Kosok in 1939, while he was flying over the area to study ancient irrigation systems in the region. Recent studies have determined that the first lines and drawings dating from the Paracas period between 600 BC and 100 BC, while the Nazca period appear much later, between 500 and 650 AD. 70 drawings mainly representing plants and animals, the largest figure is the Alcatraz (Nazca Booby) with an impressively long, zigzagging neck, measuring 300 m (984 ft) long and 54 m (177 ft) wide. There are also about 800 straight lines, some several kilometers long and 300 geometric shapes such as squares, triangles, spirals, etc.
Since 2010, it is difficult to fly over the lines. The authorities have taken drastic measures for safety, reducing the number of aircraft and rotations. Thus, from april to november, it is almost impossible to find empty seats on the planes without reservation.
Another problem that can exhaust the patience of customers, is the weather. Because low coud ceiling in the pampa, planes can't fly. Then you can wait long hours before the first flight.
The grooves are shallow, less than 30 cm (11 in) and many questions remain unanswered: how these drawings were left intact for over 2,000 years? Scientists try to explain this phenomenon by the lack of rainfall in this region (less than half an hour every two years), one of the driest deserts in the world and light winds that clean the grooves. How could the Nazca people perform many perfect drawings without chance to see the result of his works, especially for what purpose?
There are dozens of hypotheses: an astronomical calendar, a kind of observatory of the movement of the stars to determine the seasons, ritual paths and even made by aliens.
A mirador built on the side of the road 25 km (16 mi) before Nazca, gives an idea about these designs, but can not be distinguished correctly, just flew by plane to appreciate the lines.
Admission: S/.7.50 - US$2 - 1.60€
The Nazca people discovered underground sources of water in the desert 4 to 5 m (13 - 16 ft) deep. They dug wells to find water, that connected each other with underground aqueducts made of stone and covered with wood.
These channels are still used and can be seen mainly in Cantayoc 4 km (2.5 mi) from the city.
Avenida Cultura 600 - Open 7 days a week 9:00 am - 5 pm - Admission: S/.15 - US$4 - 3.30€
This important and interesting museum exhibits archaeological pieces from the Nazca civilization were found during excavations in the region. You can see textiles, ceramics, tools, "trophy skulls" and mummies.
Located 28 km (17 mi) from the city of Nazca in the desert, this ceremonial center covers 24 km2 (9.3 sq mi) and there are 34 constructions with adobe structures as the Great Temple, a Pyramid of 28 m (92 ft) height and 7 platforms.
It is only accessible by 4x4 or buggy.
Admission: S/.8 - US$2 - 1.70€
Located 30 km - 19 mi (45 minutes) south of Nazca and 7 km (4 mi) of unpaved road, it is the only cemetery in Peru where you can see mummies in their graves. In a dozen discovered vaults, you can see objects that accompanied the dead in her new life as corn, pottery and textiles to the side of mummies exposed outdoors.
These now protected tombs has been extensively plundered by huaqueros (grave robbers) who have left human bones and pottery scattered.
Route from Nazca to Arequipa
560 km (348 mi) - 9 hours.
The Pan-American Highway is in good condition. It is a long road trip but very interesting and no boring. The scenery is spectacular and varied, from the desert plains to the stunning cliffs and lush valleys contrasting the arid landscape of the Peruvian coast.
At the point km610, 160 km (100 mi) from Nazca (2 hours and 1/2), a path descends to a creek in the middle of the cliffs. Here is a restaurant and bungalows on the edge of a small beach. You can visit Inca ruins, some rustic constructions in disrepair. This place was a port that allowed chaskis (messengers) bring fish and seafood to the nobility of Cusco in 3 or 4 days (500 km - 300 mi).
This city of 55,000 inhabitants located 168 km (104 mi) from Arequipa (3 hours) is an important agricultural center. It is also a seaside resort for the people of Arequipa with its immense beach of 20 km (12 mi) long. Camaná is also the last coastal city on the route to Arequipa. From here the Pan-American highway climbs and within 30 minutes reach the Pampa de Majes located at 1,000 m (3,300 ft) of elavation a.s.l. This desert plateau has been part of a mega project in the 70s, where it was built an aqueduct of 100 km (62 mi) long, including 88 km (55 mi) of tunnels, from the Colca region, to create more than 50,000 hectares of crops in the desert. The expansion of cultivated areas is in anticipation.
Then we get to the village of La Joya and at the point called Repartición (35 km - 22 mi from Arequipa - 45 minutes), we left the Pan-American Highway that follows towards the border with Chile (360 km - 224 mi).