When we decided to add Paracas and Huachachina to our itinerary, we read that Paracas and its natural reserve were the ‘poor mans Galapagos’, full of animals and nature. And because it was marked green on Google maps we just assumed it would be luscious jungle or something (so naive). We arrived in Paracas to a desert. Literally sand dunes after sand dunes. But right by the sea. Something neither of us had ever seen before.
We arrived after an easy and highly comfortable (more so for me as Katie was feeling a bit dodge….) 4 hour bus ride into Paracas just as the sun was setting over the ocean. I knew we were going to just love this little town.
We’d bought a few avocados and lettuce so had a home made dinner of salad and guacamole whilst lying in bed. We booked a boat trip for the next day which started at 745am so endeavoured to have an early night.
We were picked up by our tour guide Eduardo who took us to the harbour for our boat ride – we were promised a 2 hour ride to the Ballestas Islands where we would see all sorts of wildlife from penguins to sea lions and he did not disappoint. We first stopped at the Candelabra, a few large patterned lines engraved in one of the sand dunes – no one is quite sure how it got there so he told us all the theories, but the cynic in me couldn’t help feel it was put there as a tourist attraction….
We then sped on to the islands, and sure enough, we saw two little penguins hopping down the cliff side. Followed by a million sea lions basking in the sun, and a huge amount of massive birds resting: large pelicans and the famous Peruvians boobies (not even kidding).
Katie was astonished (ie wouldn’t stop talking about) how white the brown cliffs were due to all the poo. She clearly hasn’t been to the west Wales coast before.
Here are some fun facts we learned along the way:
– The penguins we saw are called Humboldt penguins, named after the guy who discovered the phenomena of the cold current from Antarctic that sweeps up the Peruvian coast and attracts penguins.
– They only mate once, so if you see a penguin on his own, he’s lost his mate
– Small headed sea lions are women, bigheads are men (lol). They are polygamous and then men can have 8-15 wives at once!
– Since 2011 it’s been a national reserve and the penguin population has increased from 2000 pairs to 8000 pairs.
– Peru once made 2 billion $ from collecting bird poop, also known as guano, as it’s such good fertiliser. Sadly there is now no demand anymore.
I couldn’t help shake the feeling that we were getting a bit too close to the animals and the many speed boats were a bit too loud. I’ve felt a few times this trip that the tourism industry and money it brings in is more valued than preserving natural ecosystems, but that might just be the German in me coming out.
We got back around 10am, and the hostel was offering an afternoon trip in a bus to see the top parts of the natural reserve, but we opted for the homemade tour and rented bikes so we set off on our own into the desert on two bikes that were a little worse for wear (who needs brakes and gears anyway).
We followed roughly the route the bus takes and quickly realised the benefits of the bus – the first 10km is basically uphill. Through the desert. With a strong head wind. Needless to say there was a lot of walking involved in our bike ride.
However it was spectacular. On one side the Pacific Ocean, the other mountainous sand dunes.
We continued to follow the bus route round and round, but the main stop of the tour, a little bay called Lagunillas, was accessible by foot along the beach so we took a short cut and pushed our bikes along the beach, which can only be described as an animal graveyard. First of all we saw a huge dead pelican, and then the smell. Oh the smell. About 4 vultures/chickens were mauling a poor dead sea lion. And a few more dead sea lions. It was like a scene for some animal massacre. We hurried quickly along, stopped for a refresher in the bay and made our way back to Paracas. All in all around 30km in 6 hours – not a bad day!
A well deserved dinner followed, although not hugely tasty. The day’s activities had eaten into our budget nicely so opted for a cheap menu of the day – a chewy ceviche and overly fried fish later we were at least full.
The next morning we were to head to Huachachina, an oasis in the desert around an hour from Paracas well known for its sand boarding.
After a morning of admin we were picked up by the shuttle to the oasis and after an easy hour we arrived into this bizarre little town. A tiny place all nestled around a small lagoon, surrounded by mountains of sand.
We find our accommodation which Katie had booked – she described it to me as tents, which in the desert I imagined would be unbearably hot, but when we arrived we were pleasantly surprised by a few elegant rows of huge glamping style tents, beautiful pool and bar and awesome views. Very happy campers!
After an hour or so at the pool eating more avocados and bread we went on the obligatory sand buggy and boarding trip. All the trips start at 4pm so you get to see the sun set on the dunes. Hugely touristy but beautiful.
The buggy took 10 of us into the dunes and on a bit of a roller coaster ride – he would literally speed to the top of a dune and tip over the edge and we’d free fall down the other side. Terrifying but as you can imagine, Katie was in her element.
We stopped for a picture opportunity before heading to our sand boarding location. We were half expecting proper boards and for us to casually master the dunes standing up. But no, he made us do the first ones on our bums, before graduating to our bellies. True to her ways, Katie insisted on trying it standing up, the only one in our group to do so, and didn’t do too badly until she toppled over! After a few practice runs we were allowed loose on the dune of death, which was awesome fun!! Highly recommended and well worth the £8 each.
We watched a beautiful sunset sat on top of our buggy before heading back to our place for a BBQ and of course a pisco sour.
What a day spent in desert paradise.
Our final day in the desert is being spent sitting by the pool, catching up on admin and the blog and our books. This trip just keeps getting better and better!
Tonight we take a night bus to Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, for a few days to help us acclimatise to the heights of the Andes before heading up to Cusco later in the week for our Machu Picchu trek.
Bye for now! X