Driving south of Lima towards Paracas and Nazca the landscape is characterized by extensive desert plains set between the ocean and the Andes. Here you can see various dunes, cut by oasis-like fertile valleys cultivated with cotton, oranges and lemons, olives and vineyards among others.
This route has diverse zones of natural beauty and also archaeological remains, some of which are of exceptional interest, such as the Pachacamac temple, the Inca ruins of Tambo Colorado near Pisco, the Paracas Necropolis and museum and of course the world famous Lines of Nazca and other archaeological sites nearby, with the classic polychrome ceramics of the Nazcas as well as the Paracas textiles ceramics (which can be seen in the museums in Lima, Ica, Paracas and Nazca).
About five hours south of Lima is the fishing village of Paracas and the Ballestas Islands Marine Reserve. A beautiful area of the coast surrounded by desert, the reserve is home to seals, penguins, dolphin, pelicans and many other sea birds over 70 species In the Nature Reserve of Paracas you might see condors that sweep down from the heights of the Andes in search of food, flamingos, and a great variety of other birds. Near this reserve are the Islas Ballestas and an Gallán, where you can observe a great number of sea lions, Humboldt penguins, albatross and other sea birds.
These spectacular islands, eroded into many caves & arches, provide shelter for thousands of seabirds & hundreds of sea-lions. The islands fall just outside the Paracas National Reserve & are home to over 150 species of marine bird including the Humboldt penguin, cormorants, boobies & pelicans. Even condors have been known to visit. On the shores can be seen large numbers of sea-lions & in the sea it is possible to encounter dolphins & even whales. The only way to get to the island is by taking a tour boat.
Ica is also the land of wines and ‘Pisco’ – a drink which is very similar to a clear brandy and known as the official drink of Peru.
Paracas National Reserve and the Ballestas Islands
The Paracas National Reserve (340,000 hectares) was established in 1975 and is important for the protection of both bird life on the Paracas Peninsula and marine life in the sea. The Reserve is about 15km south from Pisco (not a particularly attractive place but famous for the white brandy named after the town). Places of interest within the Reserve include a visitors’ center (free maps available) and an archeological museum. A short walk down from the museum to the edge of Paracas Bay allows you to see several types of birds including flamingos feeding by the waterside.
The Islas Ballestas (Ballestas Islands) These spectacular islands, eroded into many caves and arches, provide shelter for thousands of seabirds and hundreds of sea-lions. Although the islands fall just outside the Paracas National Reserve they are protected by separate legislation. The islands are home to over 150 species of marine bird including the Humboldt penguin, cormorants, boobies and pelicans. Even condors have been known to visit. On the shores can be seen large numbers of sea-lions and in the sea it is possible to encounter dolphins and even whales. The only way to get to the island is by taking an organised tour.
Archaeological Remains of Tambo Colorado
Close to Pisco, this Inca urban center is the best preserved on the coast. It is presumed it was constructed during the government of Inca Pachacútec to serve as lodging for soldiers and high authorities. The name Tambo Colorado comes from joining the quechua word “Tampu”, which means resting place and the Spanish term “colorado” referring to the coloring of its walls
On an arid plain 22km north of modern day Nazca are the world famous ‘Nasca Lines’. Straight lines, abstract designs and outlines of animals are etched on the dark desert surface revealing a lighter colored soil beneath.
Images of birds predominate, some measuring up to 60m across, but there are also outlines of a whale, a dog, a monkey, a spider and a flower. The lines were not ‘discovered’ until spotted from above by aircraft in 1939. They are thought to have been drawn by the Nasca civilization (which reached its peak about 700 AD).
There have been numerous theories about why the lines were drawn. Maria Reiche, a German mathematician who spent most of her life studying the phenomenon, believed they formed part of a giant astronomical calendar. The more eccentric Eric Von Daniken attributes them to visitors from another planet.
As many of the lines are orientated towards water sources, many people now suggest that they are likely to be processional routes designed to be walked upon as part of the ritual worship of water (a very important commodity in the desert).
The best way to see the lines is to take to the sky. Flights over the lines leave regularly throughout the day on small planes which take between 3 and 5 passengers. The flight should last from 30-40 minutes. The flights can be a bit bumpy with less turbulence in the mornings.
Suggested Program 4 days / 3 nights
Other important attractions around Nazca
A visit to Nazca should not only include the flight over the Nazca lines and figures. There are other very interesting aspects of the Nazca culture and natural attractions that easily justifies a longer stay of 2 or more nights: the fascinating Cantayoc aqueducts, the Chauchilla cemetery, the impressive Cahuachi Ceremonial Center, the very didactic Museo Antonini and the Museo Maria Reiche. Up in the Andes and easily to reach from Nazca, there is the Pampa Galeras Vicuña Reserve. And for the off the beaten path nature lovers, there is the one day 4×4 desert expedition to Punta San Fernando, a lonely beach and a hidden Fauna paradise.