The coastal strip of Peru is a desert far from the high temperatures of its African counterparts. This is because the coastal desert climate is regulated by the Pacific Ocean, which transports a lot of humidity to the coast. Thanks to this natural climate regulation, the desert of Ica is a land of a great wine tradition and the birthplace of the national liquor called “Pisco. It was also the place chosen by General San Martin to disembark (from Chile) and begin the liberation of Peru from the Spaniards.
If you want to get to know this fascinating area and are wondering about when to come here, read the following article on the Best Time To Travel To Peru.
Thanks to its sea full of fish, bays and hidden beaches, Paracas is the perfect destination for nature lovers, (you can have a look at our Nature Tours if you identify as that too!). On top of that, it is located close to some islands that are inhabited by thousands of protected animal species.
Chincha, for its part, is a place with a lot of rhythms. It´s a stronghold of the Peruvian black culture and famous for its afro music and mestizo dishes such as carapulcra, as well as for the cultivation of cotton.
The department of Ica is one of the epicenters of the fruit industry. This may sound surprising given the scarcity of water in the area. But the dry land is made fertile and suitable for the growth of all kinds of products thanks to the abundance of birds in the area and, more specifically, the amount of guano that they leave behind. (For those who don´t know: “guano” is the accumulation of seabird excrements that can be found all over the Pacific coast of South America).
In Ica, we also find Ocucaje, Palpa and Nazca. The first place is famous for being one of the most important marine paleontological sites in the world. As you walk through its desert, you can find the bones of cetaceans from 5 million years ago.
If you go further south, you find yourselves in Palpa. Here, you can appreciate the influence of the Paracas culture, with countless anthropomorphic figures carved on the ground and hills of the desert.
Finally, we arrive in Nazca, which is a lot more famous than Palpa for the formations you can admire here. Here, our imagination leads us to make all kinds of speculation. Why and how could the famous Nazca lines have been made? Many theories have been elaborated but the most likely one is that the lines display a monumental astronomical calendar, created three hundred years before the Christian era. The figures are huge, some are up to three hundred meters long, and can only be fully appreciated from the sky.
In Nazca, you will also find archaeological remains such as the mud citadel of Cahuachi. It is said to have been the capital of the Nazca culture and the origin of amazing hydraulic engineering works such as Cantalloc, a complex of aqueducts, which is still in operation today.
Nasca, is undoubtedly a place of pure mysticism, offering a unique culture and breathtaking landscapes of dunes higher than 2000 meters that remain yet to be fully discovered.
What we recommend for you when traveling to the Southern Coast
Usually, the traveler who decides to set off to this region leaves Lima following the coastal road of the Panamericana Sur. The first suggested stop would be the district of El Carmen, located in the province of Chincha. This valley aroused great interest thanks to its Afro-descendant population and its rhythmic dances. Most of the Afro-Peruvian dances are the product of the social and religious confluence of people devoting themselves to Jesus and the Virgin of Carmen.
Continuing another hour on the road, you reach Paracas. It is one of our favorite places, whose bay greets you with various shades of turquoise as soon as you arrive. This enclave is of historical importance, as it was the point chosen by San Martin to start the liberation of Peru. Legend has it that he envisioned the colors of the national flag here, being inspired by flamingos flying over his head.
The area offers countless options for the traveler and obviously, our recommendations will be the ones leaving the least impact on the environment. Let’s start with a Sea Kayak Tour in Paracas Bay, very early in the morning to avoid running into the Paracas winds, which can be very violent. Paddling in the bay, you can see migratory seabirds coming to this important stop of their route to take a rest from their journey. Additionally, families of bottlenose dolphins use this place to hunt fish.
The next activity we would recommend you is exploring the Paracas Reserve. You can do this either by walking or cycling. Both options allow you to discover the desert and come across the spectacular scenery of this unique place.
Another option is to head in the opposite direction from Paracas, where you can enter the desert in search of the local people living here. They have adapted to the somehow difficult conditions and have learned to grow cotton and corn in a natural environment of great beauty, surrounded by sublime sand dunes. Getting across the settlements, you will discover the beautiful oasis of Moron where you can spend the night and be accompanied by a sea of stars. Go on our Magic Desert Tour if you don´t want to miss this experience!
The next day, you can continue along the coast until you come across Palpa, where you can find lines, which are similar to those of Nasca but less well-known. These figures have been drawn by the Paracas. Among more than a thousand lines with very different motifs, you can make out some anthropomorphic figures (= resembling humans) that can be seen from the hills.
A few kilometers away lies Nasca, which unlike Palpa is very famous for its enigmatic lines. The latter lies at around 460 meters (1500 feet) above sea level and are best observable by taking a plane. But if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground and travel through this enigmatic area on foot or by bicycle, we highly recommend that! You can make your way into the fertile valleys and meet its people while you approach the cemetery of Chauchilla, where mummies of the Nasca era rest.
Another enigmatic place is the pyramid of Cahuachi, one of the most important ceremonial and administrative centers of the Nasca culture. If you want to know more about it, we recommend a visit to the Antonini Museum, which collects many of the pieces found during the excavations in the sanctuary of Cahuachi.
Also not to miss are the Cantalloc aqueducts. This is a network of subterranean canals and spiral-shaped reservoirs built by the Nazca. There are 46 aqueducts, 32 of which are in good condition.
Finally, we have a couple of additional recommendations for you. First, Punta San Fernando, which is especially interesting for nature lovers. It is one of the last very intact natural spaces on the Peruvian coast, a pristine area in a wild state and with very little human intervention. Here, you can see the various animals living here, such as foxes, boobies, sea lions, and even the Andean condor in search of food.
And second, Pampa Galeras, a vicuña sanctuary, where you can learn about Peru´s textile industry, which is closely linked to its nature. More specifically, the ancestral shearing ceremony called Chacu takes place here.
It is clear that the options to visit the Southern Coast are many and so are the combinations. That is why we offer you to Customize Your Itinerary, helping you prepare for your fascinating immersion in this enigmatic region.
Access routes to Paracas, Ica and Nazca:
Due to its proximity to Lima, Paracas is quite accessible. If you travel by car, you only have to take the new Panamericana Sur highway for about 3 hours. If you go by bus, there are several lines that go directly and that travel the route for different fares. There are no direct flights to any of these places.
To get to Nazca you have to add about 3h 20min and just keep going along the Panamericana south. This is a journey through the desert with numerous villages en route. Again, you can go by car or take one of the numerous bus departures from Lima, Paracas or Ica.