Hopping Around Southern Perú

Jumping on a big red Peru Hop bus, we bounced out of metropolitan Lima and through the remarkable landscapes of southern Perú. Along the way, we hopped-off the bus at a marine ecological reserve, lush desert oasis, and one of the world’s most mysterious places.

Red Beach in the Atacama Desert

A couple hours south of Lima, we entered the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. According to Fernando, our energetic and well-organized Peru Hop guide, the last time it rained here was 1988! To us, this seemed like the perfect place to hop-off and hydrate for a couple days.

Full moon rising over the Paracas Peninsula

In the coastal town of Paracas, the desiccated rust-colored landscape appeared extraterrestrial. On a late afternoon hike, we followed a coastal cliffside trail to witness the contemporaneous vermillion sun setting into the Pacific Ocean and the full moon rising over the Martian-like terrain.  

Boat trip to Ballestas Islands, Paracas National Reserve

At this spot, the small but prominent Paracas Peninsula juts into the ocean, forming a productive marine habitat sheltered from the cold Antarctic Humboldt Current. These tepid waters support a diverse population of birds and marine animals, protected in the Paracas National Reserve, the only marine wildlife preserve in Perú.

Birds of the Ballestas Islands

The area’s biodiversity is concentrated in the Ballestas Islands, a small archipelago known as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”. Just ten miles by boat from Paracas town, we spotted seals, sea turtles, and even an orca whale from our seats. At the islands, dozens of bird species flourished, including low-flying pelicans, kamikaze-diving Peruvian Boobies, and tuxedoed Humboldt Penguins.

Desert Oasis of Huacachina

Hopping back on the bus, we continued to Huacachina, the only natural desert oasis in South America. Here, we stayed the night in a small village built around a tranquil lake, framed by verdant palm trees and surrounded by the largest sand dunes on the continent.

Esther racing down the dune on a sand board

For a little adrenaline rush, we hired a dune buggy, hurdled across the dune field, and sand-boarded on our bellies down the steepest slip faces we could find. From the crest of the highest dune, our panoramic view revealed wind-sculpted mountains of sand extending for as far as the eye could see.

Nazca Lines from the air. Can you find the frog, tree, and lizard?

The aerial views only improved at our next hop-off destination of Nazca, famous for the mysterious Nazca Lines. Created between 100 BC and 700 AD by removing the iron-oxide stained surface layer to expose light-colored underlying soils, there are thousands of lines, including geometric shapes and over 70 plant and exotic animal figures.

Viewing the Nazca Lines from the sky

In high school during the late 1970s, I read Erich von Däniken’s book “Chariots of the Gods?”, which postulated that alien “astronauts” persuaded the ancient Nazca people to build the lines as landing strips. Ever since then, seeing the Nazca Lines has been one of the oldest remaining items on my travel bucket list.

Back on terra firma with our pilot and his Cessna 206

Although still a mystery, the lines are now thought to be astronomical markers indicating the solstice and constellations to be seen by gods from the sky. Now that I have observed the Nazca Lines for myself, I seriously question their alien origin, and simply believe them to exhibit the genius of human ingenuity.

Our excellent guide Fernando and the Peru Hop bus

In less than a week, we contemplated the Nazca Lines from the air, found our thrills in the desert oasis of Huacachina, and absorbed nature in the Paracas Natural Reserve and Atacama Desert. Thanks to Peru Hop, it was fun and easy to access these varied adventures, hopping around southern Perú. 

Feature Photo: Our Peru Hop group hiking (and hopping) on the Paracas Peninsula at sunset

Blogger’s Note: Just for the record, I have absolutely no personal interest in tooting Peru Hop’s horn. For independent travelers like us, Peru Hop allows for individual and flexible schedules, and takes care of all the transport logistics. With Peru Hop, we hopped-off at each location, stayed for as many days as we liked, and then hopped-back-on to reach our next destination. Peru Hop also provided convenient hotel pick-ups, an onboard English-speaking guide, and several in-route tour stops.

14 thoughts on “Hopping Around Southern Perú

  1. Joe, I am glad you managed to tick the Nazca Lines off your bucket list. That Oasis town also looks gorgeous and how fun to slide down a large sand dune on a sand board.
    The Hop-On-Hop-Off bus sounds just the ticket to explore without the stress of organising transport yourself. Also great to have the guide.
    Loving your Peru adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Gilda. Like you and Brian, we prefer to travel independently, making all of our own transportation connections and doing our own site-specific research. In this case, however, the Peru Hop option was a welcome change, especially at the beginning of our two-month trip. We learned a lot from our well-informed and enthusiastic guide. Since we didn’t have to sweat the logistics, we could just sit back, get to know our fellow “hopsters”, and have fun.

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    • So true, Man! This country seems to have such a wide range of attractions and natural settings, and we are just getting started. Besides a marine ecological reserve, enormous sand dunes, and mysterious lines in the desert, we also expect to see volcanos, deep canyons, high-altitude lakes, archeological ruins, and snow capped mountains. The only things lacking are large cracked bells and cheese steak sandwiches. See ya!

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  2. What a start to your Peruvian adventure. Oh that sand dune boarding has got to go on our wish list, it’s fun enough to run down them but on a board…ahhh yeaaahh. By the way, I remember reading von Daniken too, years ago as an inquisitive teenager….and then on this very trip we got talking to a guy at the Pyramids in Giza who reminded me that von Daniken also ventured alien involvement in their creation. Strange he should crop up twice in quick succession after so many years. Anyway, you’ve had a fabulous start by the sound of it. We’ve heard a lot of good things about the street food in Lima – did you find it as good as it’s meant to be?

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    • Thanks Phil & Michaela! Sand boarding on our bellies was a blast. You guys could sand-board standing up, but I probably would have broken my neck. That is a crazy von Daniken coincidence. As I recall, to prove the thesis of his book, he used multiple examples of remarkable human feats of ingenuity, including the Pyramids in Giza, Stonehenge, Easter Island, and the Nazca Lines. In Lima, we didn’t see a lot of street food, like you do in southeast Asia or Mexico, but the restaurant culture and cuisine is outstanding. The seafood and ceviche are fresh and phenomenal. The traditional Peruvian dishes are creative, hearty, and tasty. Also a fusion of Peruvian ingredients with a strong Chinese food influences adds some unique items to the buffet of food choices.

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      • Ah now that’s very interesting. Earlier this year in La Fortuna in Costa Rica we ate a couple of times at a restaurant run by a Peruvian family. The dishes were delicious and had Chinese influences – it was a bit like eating Mexican with soy sauce thrown in. We thought it was just a quirk of that restaurant but from your description, it seems not!

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        • That jives with our own food experience, so far in Peru. Small, casual, inexpensive restaurants abound here. Many offer two-course lunch menus with multiple options, so you can try all the different dishes. There are a lot of Peruvian Chinese restaurants that they call “chifa”. In Lima, we had a chifa lunch in their Chinatown. Since Peru is the birthplace of potatoes, the chifa dishes not only come with rice (as you would expect), but also french fries (chips). Delicious!

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    • Thanks a lot, Marty. Esther had to overcome her fears sand-boarding on the dunes. Because I suffer from motion sickness, I was more worried about the dune buggy ride. The Nazca Lines flight in a single-engine plane was another phobia I had to conquer. I think that being put into uncomfortable situations like these and finding your inner courage (or in my case dramamine pills) are some of the many benefits of travel. It felt a bit surreal traveling again, but it now seems that we are finally hitting our stride.

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    • Hi Ann. Peru has an amazing range of landscapes including the driest desert on earth. Traveling through this region, I gained a renewed appreciation for the importance of water to the survival of life. We would ride for hours without seeing any vegetation or sign of human life. Then, once a stream, spring or other water source became available, we would see houses, people, and some green amidst the dry and brown countryside. It would be extremely difficult for you or I to live in this environment, but the people have adapted and seem to get along pretty well.

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    • We really did hit the ground running, Dave. Because I read von Daniken’s book as an impressionable teenager, I have always had a desire to see the Nazca Lines for myself. It surely was a “pinch me moment” when the pilot reached altitude, banked thirty degrees to my side of plane, and pointed out the first lines below. My curiosity about Machu Picchu doesn’t extend back so far. More recently, I have read a couple of excellent books about the Inca civilization, and am now excited to see Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. As a result, I am looking forward to a few more “pinch me moments” in the weeks ahead.

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