With our second visit to Peru we decided to enjoy some of the Peru tourist attractions in southern Peru. A month earlier we’d done the trip to Machu Picchu via Cusco and Lima and realised that Peru had many other places to visit.
Instead of flying (and seeing nothing of the country) we took the Peru Hop bus from Lima to La Paz in Bolivia.
We stayed in Paracas, Huacachina and Arequipa for 2 nights each and Puno for 4 nights as we had to extend our stay due to a transport strike. As a result of this we only stayed in Copacabana for 1 night. In addition there was one night on the bus between Huacachina and Arequipa.
The first leg of our trip was from Lima to Paracas.
On the way to Paracas we stopped to visit an imposing, erstwhile hacienda which is now a 5 star hotel. This hacienda was the center and last outpost of slavery in Peru. A place where slaves from Nigeria, Ghana and Somalia were brought, traded and forced to work in the cotton fields and sugar cane plantations.
Even after slavery was abolished there were some wealthy farm owners in this area who continued to use slaves.
We went through the dusty, dark tunnels where the slaves were traded, disciplined and lived. It was not pleasant walking through … let alone having to live in them.
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”.
Like many beach side resorts it's scarred with half started housing developments. Perimeter walls without any, or with very few, houses.
Like many tourist centres there is an total lack of creativity of the offerings of goods and services. Restaurants and excursions offered are all same same … but different! The same offerings with the same prices … the difference being the enthusiasm of the salesman.
Another of the Peru tourist attractions, 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.
The islands are home to thousands, or tens or hundreds of thousands, of sea birds. Whose droppings (guano) are harvested and sold all over the world as fertilizer. The inhabitants also include a few seals (sea lions) and penguins.
These islands are wild, constantly pounded by the Pacific. For the inhabitants, they are safe havens with few predators and for this safety they endure these harsh conditions.
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 vastness, the views and the unique geological features.
Visiting the Park is an ideal day cycling trip. The roads vary between paved and corrugated – there are no big hills – the weather cooled by a sea breeze – the distances are not too long – and there are a number of routes.
There are many bike hire shops, with varying quality of bikes, so take time making your selection. Take water and food for the day as there’s nothing available out there.
The toilet facilities in the Park are high quality. I wondered why the same quality were not available on the 4 days of the Inca Trail?
After 2 nights in Paracas it was back on the bus for the short ride to Huacachina.
The massive dunes here make it another of the Peru attractions. It's an ideal location to do some sand skiing or sand boarding.
To save the exertion of climbing these dunes there's a cheap, few hour, sand buggy tour in the late afternoon which includes sand-boarding and watching the sunset over the desert.
The sandboarding involves lying on a snow board with handles added to the front and then launching yourself down a series of steeper and steeper dunes.
The last one was a monster. As I stood at the top it felt like I was going to tumble head over heels to the bottom. It was an exhilarating, adrenaline pumping ten second explosion down the face of the dune.
The next leg of our trip was an overnight ride from Huacachina to Arequipa. The first stop on the way was at a Pisco winery where we had a short tour and tasting – the Pisco cream was very good so we bought a bottle. We stopped again in the late afternoon to see the Nazca Lines.
Nazca Lines Peru
These lines, which are a World Heritage site, are in the middle of a red, rocky desert – like something from Mars! We climbed to the top of the 13 metre high observation tower. From here you can see the basic outline of three of the Nazca figures.
Photos aren’t very impressive as they are taken into the setting sun but you do see these lines.
There’s an optional stay and day trip at Nazca. A flight over the area to see the wider picture and all the lines. It's 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 at the hostel so everyone huddled around waiting for the day to start.
“Free” walking tours are a feature of many Central and South American cities and towns. We'd met the owner of the Inkanmilkyway Walking Tour in Lima so decided to do their tour in Arequipa. It was different but didn’t disappoint.
The following day we did the one day tour to Colca Canyon. There are also 2 and 3 day hikes on offer. On reflection the 3 day hike might have been a better choice.
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
We left Arequipa early in the morning and arrived in Puno on the banks of Lake Titicaca at midday. Puno and Lake Titicaca are at an altitude of 3 860 metres or 12 420 feet … so there is a noticeable shortage of oxygen! However, by this time we’d spent a few weeks at high altitudes – Bogata at 2 640 metres or 8 500 feet, Cusco 3 300 metres or 10 800 feet, Quito at 2 800 metres or 9 100 feet then in Cuenca at 2 500 or 8 200 feet so were accustomed to being short of breath with every slight exertion!
Arriving at lunch time we made our way to one of our favourite eating venues for “almuerzo” – a lunch menu with a limited selection of dishes including an appetiser of a soup or salad, a main course, a glass of juice and sometimes a desert (postre) – the more expensive “executivo” version with bread and a “dip” of onion and tomato and various, varying herbs. Although they vary in price and selection many of the cheaper ones we’ve eaten have been delicious.
From Puno we did one of the unique Peru tourist attractions, the overnight stay on Lake Titicaca. Visiting the Uros Islands, spending a night on Amantani with a local family and visiting Taquile Island.
We had an unplanned extra night in Puno as there was a transport strike and no public transport was available around Puno for a day. Strikes around Peru, Bolivia and Argentina seem to be an everyday occurrence!
Tip: When planning long vacations allow time and have some flexibility to reschedule for unexpected forced delays and also bad weather days.
Puno Peru to the Bolivia Border
From Puno Peru to the Bolivian border is a short ride. Here you first go through the Peruvian border. Then drag and carry your belongings a few hundred metres to the Bolivian side where you trudge through the inevitable bureaucratic sludge ... and as a South African pay for the experience!
The Peru Hop and Bolivia Hop guides are a great help in making this as seamless as possible.
From here it’s climb aboard a Bolivia Hop bus for the final ride to La Paz.