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Peru – Days 15, 16 & 17: Ballestas Islands, Huacachina & Nazca Lines

I knew that I wanted to visit the Nazca Lines during my time in Peru, but that was not included as part of Contiki’s itinerary for Peru for some reason. Given this, I tried to find a tour company that would take me there from Lima during the two extra days I had in Peru before I had to go home. During my research, I came across a company named Peru Hop which is a company similar to Busabout, where it is a hop-on, hop-off bus that takes you from city to city across Peru and Bolivia. You can hop-off the bus at any one of their designated stops and get back on a different bus when it comes through again. This company also organizes small trips from Lima, including one to the Nazca Lines with stops at the Ballestas Islands (the poor mans Galapagos Islands) and to go through the sand dunes in Huacachina. The company had pretty good reviews online & appeared to cater to the budget traveler, so I decided to give it a shot. I cannot be more happy that I did!

The tour started off with a very early pickup from my hostel (before 6:00 AM). I was going to stay there again the day before I left Peru, so I decided to bring a day bag and leave my backpack at the hostel in their secure luggage room. We boarded a very comfortable, modern coach bus and made stops at about a dozen hotels and hostels across Lima before hitting the road! Once everyone was on board, one of the employees introduced themselves and explained that it would be about a 3 hour drive to our first stop, Paracas, the departure point for the Ballestas Islands. Paracas itself was a relatively small, touristy town with one main block along the beach similar to a boardwalk. We were told we would have time to explore after the trip to the islands, so we immediately walked towards the docks and boarded open air speedboats that seated about 50 people each. It was a cloudy, cool day so the 25 minute ride to the island was quite chilly.

Over the course of the next hour, we saw quite a bit of wildlife including sea lions from the comfort of the boat as we circled one of the islands. The boat captain did a great job rotating the boat so people on both sides were able to see the same thing.

After we returned to the mainland, we had about an hour to explore the town. I decided to just walk around, grab a quick bite to eat & buy a souvenir t-shirt in the market. We then boarded our bus for another hour or so before arriving at the town of Huacachina, which felt like an oasis in the desert. Nestled in a valley surrounded by sand dunes, this town was exactly what I would expect to see if I saw a mirage. The town was small & cute, but had a lot of options for tourists to stay and eat. I decided to pay an extra $20 US and get my own room instead of a hostel, so I checked into my hotel, changed & met up with a small group of people from my bus for a late lunch. After lunch, we met up with about a hundred other people in town with PeruHop to take dune buggys up to the sand dunes where we went on one of the most exciting rides of my life. Our driver was great & traversed the sand dunes pushing the limits and to accelerate places we never would have been comfortable with if we were driving ourselves. It was like a 30 minute long roller coaster ride before we stopped to take a few pictures of the sand dunes. It felt like we were no longer in Peru, but in the middle of the Sahara Desert. We also had the amazing opportunity to sandboard down some of the dunes. While some people did it like a snowboard, I rode the board down as if I was on a sleigh. After a few wipeouts about half way down the mountain, I finally found something steep enough to keep my momentum all the way to the bottom. It was so much fun. After we were done, we drove to another part of the dunes to watch the sunset over the sand and take a few pictures of the town of Huacachina from above. It was truly a magical experience.

When we were dropped back off in the main town, I went back to my hotel to shower and get all the sand out of my clothes. I could not believe how much sand I took back with me! After I was all clean and cool, I ventured into the town to grab a bite to eat. The town had a very cool vibe & was definitely a primary tourist destination so there were a lot of restaurants that catered to travelers. I wound up at a restaurant which had a great view of the lake and found myself talking to a group of American travelers from Iowa. When we finished our meals, I headed back to my hotel to go to bed.

The following morning, we departed the lovely town of Huacachina to drive about 2 hours to the Nazca airport. It was here that we had our passports reviewed before heading out to the tarmac to board our small 8 seater airplane. Our pilot took a few pictures of us with the plane before assigning our seats based on everyone’s weight to ensure the plane was balanced.

After boarding the plane & doing a quick check to make sure we were balanced, we took off!

As we were gaining altitude, our pilot explained that there were about 300 figures across the region that the people that inhabited the region between 500 BC & 500 AD made by digging up part of the soil. Most of them were just lines, but some of the famous ones were actually depicting different animals and plants. They were originally discovered in the 1900’s when a Peruvian archeologist was on a hill and realized that the lines that people mistook for trail markers actually were meant to illustrate something.

The Whale

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