I’d spent years dreaming about Machu Picchu and to be honest, that one sight was the extent of my knowledge when it came to thinking about Peru. Yes, Machu Picchu will blow you away; but once you start to research deeper into Peru, you’ll see the extent of what is on offer and boy is it good!
On arrival into Lima I based myself in the Barranco District . Its very Bohemian and this is where Peru’s musicians, artists and creatives tend to live. You’ll find randomly placed, colourful pianos in the streets that welcome you to play. This is a really great place to start your explorations! With quirky cafes, art exhibitions and an evening market to while away the hours.
From there, it’s a relatively short walk to the upscale shopping district of Miraflores, where high end hotels and exclusive apartments line the coast.
If you’re a cat lover then a visit to Kennedy Park is a must, with over 100 cats lounging the hours away. You can also visit the Larcomar shopping centre which looks over the Pacific Coast. There are plenty of great cafes to sit, have a fresh juice and watch the surfers below.
There are beaches in Lima, but don’t expect to be sunbathing as they are very rocky, and with the waves, it’s become a surfer’s paradise. If you surf, you’ll find an abundance of surf shops to hire equipment or take a lesson, or for the more daring, you can paraglide off the costal cliffs. Providing there’s enough wind, you can take to the skies for dramatic views over the ocean and City.
Eating out and the famous Pisco Sour
In recent years, Peru, and in particular Lima is outing itself on the map as a foodie destination. However be warned, Peruvians enjoy their carbs, so you’ll soon find that every meal comes with both rice and potatoes! Avocados and Quinoa are grown locally, so you will find these also pop up on every menu.
Aji De Galina is a tasty chicken stew mixed with garlic, walnuts, Aji Amarillo chillies and parmesan that leaves you craving more. Lomo Saltado is another favourite. A stir fry with marinated strips of sirloin, onions, tomatoes, French fries and of course rice!
Ceviche is one of the classic dishes you will find on a Peruvian menu. It’s a popular dish of raw fish stewed in the juices of either lemon or lime, with salt and coriander sometimes added in too. I would only recommend eating Ceviche when you’re near the coast as the highlands are far away so you don’t know how fresh the fish is.
When it comes to the local tipple, there has long been a battle between Peru and Chile as to who invented the Pisco Sour. Having visited both countries, I have to say that in my opinion Peru has the edge on this drink! A blend of lime, syrup, egg white and angostura sours are the makings of this fine cocktail, but I found myself hooked on the Maracuja (passionfruit) Sour. Both drinks are very strong, so drink responsibly!
An abundance of Sea-lions at the Ballestas Islands.
Only 3 hours from the capital (260 km), a pleasant coastal drive will bring you to Paracas. This town is the jumping off point for the Ballestos Islands or ‘Poor man’s Galapagos’ (not my words, you will hear this from your guide!). In these less well-known islands, you’ll find an abundance of sea-lions, pelicans and Humboldt penguins.
With a range of accommodation including some high-end hotels and a small beach this is the best place for a few days relaxation.
The Ballestas Islands
It’s an early start to catch the boat to the Ballestos Islands. Make sure you bring a waterproof jacket, a hat (there are a lot of birds flying overhead), sunscreen and camera. Also, a nose clip if you’re very sensitive to smells, as those sea lions have a very distinct smell!
The cruise lasts approximately 2 hours, and you will remain on the boat for the duration. Your guide will explain the history of the Islands and how Sea-lions, pelicans and Humboldt penguins came to inhabit here.
Your first taste of what to expect from the Nazca Lines is also visible whilst on this cruise, as a prehistoric geoglyph has been etched on the hillside. I saw it as a Candelabra, but others say they see a cactus.
The main village here is called El Chaco, where you can purchase souvenirs and eat your fresh Ceviche.
Do you see a cactus or candleabra? Nazca lines at the Ballestas islands
Huacahina & The Nazca Lines
These two days were the highlight of my time in Peru! Its activities galore to get your heart racing.
Built round a small Oasis (the Oasis of America), Huacachina serves as a resort for families from the nearby City of Ica. For active tourists this is where you dune buggy and sand board. Your guide will supply the boards and then you set of in the dune buggy’s. I don’t know if I was laughing or crying (probably both) as I screamed my way round the dunes. Being a wimp, I couldn’t believe I was instantly hooked. You will get thrown all around as you whirl up, down and around at great speed, so hold on tight.
Pit stop to take in the Oasis on your buggy ride.
Huacachina has the highest sand dunes in South America, so its not for the faint hearted! Having only just met the group, I had to save face and throw myself into it face first (literally). Had they not been taking bets that I would bail, I would not be telling this story. Do it! Don’t let the fear cripple you. As you lay on that board face first and they push you off you will scream all kinds of words your mother should not hear, but it’s an incredible feeling and you will leave Huacachina with the biggest smile on your face.
One of my happiest memories in Peru
After lunch, its back onto the road for a 2 ½ hour drive to Nazca. Spend the evening relaxing; as if you chose to fly over the Nazca lines then its another early pick up.
There are many myths and theories as to how and why the Nazca lines were created, yet no theory has been confirmed. Its believed they have been around since 500BCE, with the most recent one being discovered in 2011.
A flight over this UNESCO World Heritage site needs to be thought through carefully, and make sure you choose a reputable company, as many did not comply with health and safety standards resulting in crashes over the years. Thank fully now it’s a well-oiled machine. But again, do your research.
No jumbo jets on this flight!
Most aircrafts are propeller planes sitting 6 (including the two pilots). You will wear headsets with microphones, so everyone can communicate.
It’s a magical flight as you see a hummingbird, condor, monkey, whale, human, spider, dog, tree and hands staring up at you. The pilots will talk you through the theories and no doubt you will come up with some of your own. How-ever they appeared, they are breath taking.
Flying over the Nazca Lines
You'll be finished by lunchtime, and can either head back to Lima, or get the night bus onto Arequipa as we did, and that is where part two of Peru will pick up. Stay tuned.......