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Travel Guide for Paracas & Ica & Nazca at the Southern Coast

The southern coast of Peru keeps in its land the deepest secrets and refuses to reveal them. Nazca offers you places full of mystery, a lot of mysticism and a dose of adventure. Drawings that remain in time, archaeological remains that reveal the life of our ancestors and the most beautiful deserts waiting to be explored; it is the land of wine and Pisco, the national liquor. Chincha, with its cotton fields from where towns like El Carmen emerge, famous for the expressions of its afro-descendant population. The Paracas National Reserve, a place where the desert and the Pacific Ocean converge, home to sea lions and countless coastal birds and the famous “Candelabro” await the traveler to be seen and visited.

Paracas Chandelier
The Paracas candelabrum is still a mystery it is said to have been created by pirates

The coastal strip of Peru is a desert far from the high temperatures of its African counterparts and this is due to the fact that the coastal desert climate is regulated by the Pacific Ocean, which brings to its interior a great amount of humidity. It is for this reason that the desert of Ica is a land of a great wine tradition, birthplace of the national liquor, the “Pisco” and place chosen by General San Martin to disembark (from Chile) and begin the liberation of Peru from the Spaniards. If you want to know more about the best time to travel in this area, read the following article.

On the Peruvian coast the dunes take on curious forms
Travelling through the desert is undoubtedly a great experience

Paracas, a perfect destination for nature lovers, with a sea of fish, full of bays, hidden beaches and close to islands that are inhabited by thousands of protected animal species.

Chincha, a place with a lot of rhythm, 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. Ica is one of the epicenters of the fruit industry due to the accumulation of guano from the abundance of birds that make this desert a fertile land for the growth of all kinds of products, but where water is scarce. 

In Ica we also find Ocucaje, Palpa and Nazca; the first, famous for being one of the most important marine paleontological sites in the world, walking through its desert is to find the bones of cetaceans from 5 million years ago. If we go further south we find ourselves in Palpa, here we can appreciate the influence of the Paracas culture, with countless anthropomorphic figures carved on the ground and hills of the desert. Finally we arrive at Nazca, a place where the imagination lends itself to all kinds of speculation, the first question we ask ourselves is why and how the figures were made? There are many theories, but the most likely is that it is a monumental astronomical calendar, created three hundred years before the Christian era. The figures are huge, even 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, which is said to have been the capital of the Nazca culture and the site of origin of amazing hydraulic engineering works such as Cantalloc, a complex of aqueducts, still in operation today.

Nasca, is undoubtedly pure mysticism, with a unique culture and breathtaking landscapes with dunes that exceed 2000 masl, no doubt still waiting to be discovered.

Afro-Peruvian dance
Afro-Peruvian dance comes from the crossbreeding of European, indigenous and African cultures Credit Go to Peru

What we recommend for you?

Usually the traveler who decides to get to this region leaves Lima following the coastal road through the Panamericana Sur. The first suggested stop would be to visit the district of El Carmen, located in the province of Chincha, this valley aroused great interest for its Afro-descendant population and its rhythmic dances, most of the Afro-Peruvian dances are the product of the social and religious confluence in devotion to Jesus and the Virgin of Carmen. About one hour later you reach  Paracas, one of our favorite places, because just by arriving, the bay greets you with shades of turquoise. This enclave has a historical importance, as it was the point chosen by San Martin to start the liberation of Peru and legend has it that it was there where he envisioned  the colors of the national flag, inspired by seeing flamingos flying over his head. 

The area offers countless options for the traveler and obviously our recommendations will be those that have the least impact on the environment. Let’s start with a kayak ride, very early in the morning so as not to run into the Paracas winds, which can be very violent, paddling in the bay is a great experience, as it is of great importance for migratory seabirds that come to rest from their journey and for families of bottlenose dolphins, which use this place to hunt fish. The next thing you could do is to go into the Paracas Reserve, either walking , or on two wheels, in both, the idea is to discover the desert and come across the spectacular scenery that this unique place gives, where the desert and the Andean mountain range rests on its wide beaches. 

Kayakers from the back paddliing towards the mountanous desert coast of Paracas | Responsible Travel Peru
No one else but kayakers in this experience

Another option is to take the opposite direction and go into the desert in search of the local people, who have adapted to the somehow difficult conditions and who grow cotton and corn in a natural environment of great beauty, surrounded by sublime sand dunes. Getting across the settlements, you will find the beautiful oasis of Moron where you can spend the night and be accompanied by a sea of stars.

Moron Lagoon
Moron Lagoon, still a hidden secret

The next day you can continue along the coast until you come across Palpa, where there are also countless lines like those of Nasca, but much less known. Here you can see the initial figures drawn by the Paracas, among the more than a thousand lines with very different motifs there are anthropomorphic figures that can be seen from the hills. A few kilometers away is Nasca, known for its enigmatic lines which are observable by plane in their magnitude at 1500 feet above sea level. But if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground and travel through this enigmatic area on foot or by bicycle, our recommendations are to go into its fertile valleys, to 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 in the excavations in the sanctuary of Cahuachi.

Cahuachi Nazca
Cahuachi was a ceremonial centre of the Nazca culture that lived its period of splendour between the year 1 and 500.

Another emblematic site is the Cantalloc aqueducts, a network of subterranean canals and spiral-shaped reservoirs built by the Nazca, where there are 46 aqueducts, 32 of which are in good condition. Finally, a couple of additional recommendations; one is for nature lovers and the reference in question is Punta San Fernando, one of the last intact spaces on the Peruvian coast, a pristine area in a wild state and with relative human intervention. Here, you can see an important population of resident animals such as foxes, boobies, sea lions, and even the Andean condor in search of food. The next recommendation is Pampa Galeras, a vicuña sanctuary where the ancestral shearing ceremony called chacu takes place; a traditional and friendly proposal with nature and the textile industry.

The options are many and so are the combinations, that is why we offer you the best possible specialized advice, ready for you to have the best possible immersion in this enigmatic region.

Access routes:

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, it is a journey through the desert with numerous villages en route and transportation options are focused on car or bus, there are numerous departures either from Lima, Paracas or Ica.

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RESPONS’ mission is to improve living conditions in Peru through developing and promoting sustainable tourism. We’ve implemented a business model in which all areas of human relations are respected, and - equally important - respect for the planet is incorporated.

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