Instead of flying (and seeing nothing of the country) we decided to take the PeruHop bus through southern Peru from Lima into La Paz Bolivia.
After making all the pickups we left Lima on a mild and misty morning. As we drove through areas of Miraflores and Barranco our Peru Hop guide for this trip, Walter, told us stories of some of the history of Peru.
Over the years Peru has been in 21 wars and has lost 21 times! In the last war the Chileans conquered Peru all the way up to Lima before being deterred by the French who threatened to enter the conflict on Peru’s side.
The one “war” that Peru has won is that they qualified for the finals of the 2020 Football World Cup and Chile did not.
Like many growing economies there has been vast urbanization in Peru. Large numbers of people have left their rural communities and moved closer to the towns.
From 1961, vacant public land was declared a natural "land bank" resource. The central government implemented a tolerant land redistribution policy. permitting the poor to occupy this vacant land. Like many of these programs it was poorly designed and managed and consequently abused.
The scheme was based on squatters rights and after 10 year occupation would lead to ownership! All the way down to Bolivia you can see large tracts of land with a tiny unoccupied shack or at best a small house surrounded by a boundary fence! This being the only evidence of occupation.
Many of these properties are along the highway, others close to cities while others are on the ocean front. Development has started with some of the beachfront properties ... but there is a long way to go for them to be viable.
On this part of the journey we had to listen to a young woman who seemed to manage to talk without taking a breath for 20 minutes – she droned on with a piercing, twangy voice. My thoughts ... must she must be good at altitude - no breathing required!!
On the way to Paracas we stopped to visit an imposing, erstwhile hacienda which is now a 5 star hotel.
Paracas is the first night stop south of Lima. The sightseeing highlights are the Paracas National Park and the Ballestas Islands ... also known as “Poor man’s Galapagos”.
The Ballestas Islands trip takes about 2 hours. Half the time is spent getting there and back on high speed motorboats. These open boats take about 40 people ... don't sit near the back, you'll get wet.
Paracas National Park
The Paracas National Park is a few kilometers out of town. The coastal area of Peru is a desert with many interesting and beautiful features. Including the vasteness, the views and the unique geological features.
Paracas to Huacachina
A feature of this coastal drive are the solitary shacks in fenced off areas which have been earmarked for claiming under “squatters rights”.
The excellent road is a section of the TransAmerica Highway. There is desert and more desert with varying characteristics – all rugged and imposing.
Unfortunately blighted with a typical 3rd World condition – waste plastic bags and garbage!
The massive dunes here make it an ideal spot to do some sand skiing or sand boarding. There is a cheap few hour evening sand buggy tour including sand-boarding and watching the sunset over the desert.
Huacachina to Arequipa
This section of the route had a very different desert terrain. Colours varying from sandy beige to black. Imposing mountains rising from the coastal plain. Rugged with winding steep roads up and down the mountains.
In places there are lush, green valleys. Vibrant agriculture and alongside the Rio Grande river many truck wash stations.
Place names like Los Angeles and Sacramento.
We stopped in the late afternoon at the observation tower to see a limited section of the Nazca Lines. There’s an optional day trip here. Flying over the area to see the wider picture and all the lines. It is quite expensive and we had decided to go straight through to Arequipa.
The overnight bus arrived in Arequipa in the early morning to a frosty reception as everyone huddled waiting for the day to start.
Arequipa has a lot to offer. It is one of the cities where we would have liked to stay longer to see and experience more.
Arequipa to Puno Peru
Leaving Arequipa at 5:45am in the morning we arrived at Puno on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca. By this time we’d spent a few weeks at high altitudes – Bogata 2 640 Quito 2 800 metres , Cuenca 2 500 8 200 feet, Vilcabamba Cusco 3 300 10 800 Puno and Lake Titicaca 3 860 12 420,
We had an extra night in Puno as there was a transport strike and no public transport was available around Puno for a day.
Tip: When planning long vacations allow time and have some flexibility to reschedule for unexpected forced delays and also bad weather days.
Puno to the Bolivia Border
This is a short bus ride. After clearing the borders the trip is taken over by Bolivia Hop for the legs to Copacabana Bolivia and then on to La Paz.
Highlight: When taking tours try to select companies that are owned and managed by locals. The guides have added passion and local knowledge that makes these more engaging and unique.