Oh, Peru. I don’t even know where to begin when talking about this trip. I could probably write one post for each day of this trip; but alas, I will spare the Internet and do my best to consolidate my ramblings. This was a rather spontaneous trip – well, as spontaneous as it gets for me. My dear friend lived and worked in Peru for three years and planned an excellent trip to go back and visit. She invited me along (and by invited me I mean she told me she was going and I bought a plane ticket) to see her former home. In ten days, we hit desert, jungle, mountains and desert again. Before this trip, I could hardly place Peru on a map much less try to visit the country. The trip was absolutely fantastic and convinced me that I needed to live in another country immediately.
A volunteer and I taking a break from the day’s work in Ica.
We started off our trip in Lima, Peru, where we all met up and proceeded to our first hostel. We took a five-hour bus ride from Lima to Ica, a rural area in southwest Peru. There we met with my friend’s former host family who was kind enough to host us during our time in Ica. We were treated to a large guest room and delicious hot food each day, including fried eggs in the morning and new fruits. While in Ica, we had the opportunity to help with a latrine-building project in nearby Santiago. We spent one morning shuttling bricks and cutting re-bars. The women in the village fed us rice and beans made in an outdoor oven. They were so kind and hospitable.
The sun setting over a sand dune in Huacachina.
After our quick workday, we headed to Huacachina where we went sandboarding! This was so much fun I could barely handle it. Hucachina is an extremely sandy city surrounding a beautiful oasis. Professional drivers took us in dunebuggies that held about ten people. Our driver loved hitting every high dune and going down at steep angles. It was great. We were able to sandboard a few times and watch the sun set over the dunes. Pictures could never do it justice, it was so beautiful and peaceful. Minus the falling on the sandboards – this was before selfie sticks so action shots, sorry. We capped the night with some pisco sours (more on that later) sitting by the oasis.
Nasca Lines in Peru.
The ladder staircase we had to climb to get the best view of the Nasca Lines.
The next day we took a short trip (1.5 hours by bus) to see the Nasca Lines. These hieroglyphic lines have been in the desert sand for thousands of years with no definitive reason as to why or how they got there. There are twelve different “drawings” and often appear on calendars or other Peruvian crafts. A very precarious ladder-type staircase takes you up three stories to get the full view. They had painted the staircase just before we arrived so we left with red hands. There were a few merchants at the bottom of the staircase selling various crafts and souvenirs.
One of the bird islands in Islas Ballestas near Paracas.
We spent some time with our family for the week before heading out to Paracas, a coastal town about an hour to the west of Ica. I think I could live in Paracas. It was a beautiful city with tons of shopping and food options. The town is known to host mostly backpackers and my friend/tour guide found us a fabulous hostel. We took a two hour tour of Islas Ballestas, a group of islands completely covered by pelicans, blue-footed boobies, penguins, sea lions, and crabs. It was amazing. Everywhere you turn there was an animal of some kind pleasantly co-existing with other species. Some truly fantastic sites. We proceeded to have a wonderful lunch of extra fresh ceviche and other delectable seafood.
Birds, birds, and more birds on one of the Islas Ballestas.
After visiting Paracas, I didn’t think there was much left to see on this trip. Oh, how wrong I was. It was just getting good. We left Paracas to go back to Lima for a very short night. The next morning included an 8 am flight to Iquitos, a city in northeast Peru that sits on the Amazon River. This is how you know how much I trust my friend: we took a three hour flight to Iquitos then hopped in a tiny canoe and rode about an hour on winding tributaries to our jungle lodge in the middle of the Amazon – and I didn’t ask questions. My blind trust and my friend’s excellent planning skills absolutely paid off, because this was definitely a highlight of the trip. On the way to the Cumaceba Lodge, we spotted pink dolphins – and that was just the beginning. The lodge had limited electricity and no air conditioning. There were no hot showers, although that came as a bit of relief after being in the heat and humidity. On our first night, guides took us on a canoe to search for caimans (similar to a crocodile). Now, I am the last person to go looking for animals that are birthed from the dinosaur era; however, it was really nice to be on the water at night. You could hear every bird and creature in the rainforest and yet it was somehow very peaceful in the pitch blackness. I don’t think I paid attention to the caiman-finding techniques because I never quite got my eyes on one. Pro tip: look for orange eyes.
Pachito the monkey and I at the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve near the Amazon River.
On the second day of our jungle adventure, everyone got up at 6 am to go bird watching. The night noises kept me up all night so I didn’t quite make it to that adventure. I did make it to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, which was home to many animals that had been rescued. We played with a lovely cappuccino monkey named Pachito, as well as a toucan and blue macaws (extremely contraindicated by the doctor who gave me my vaccinations but hey, I live on the edge).
The kids in the Amazon village loved my poncho!
We headed back to the lodge on our trusty canoe and stopped by a nearby village. The canoe captain gave us the opportunity to jump in the water, which was apparently good luck. One of us was brave enough to take a dive – that one was not me. We got off the canoe and talked with some of the village residents. These three girls became particularly interested in my poncho a.k.a. jungle dress. We played hide and seek before being summoned back to the canoe.
Lovely sights of nature on our jungle hikes.
Later that afternoon, we took a hike through the jungle to meet a indigenous tribe. The guides showed us tons of natural remedies from the plants and trees in the jungle, including using termites as mosquito repellent. Who knew! After walking for about an hour, we reached the village. They showed us a typical dance and even let us shoot a five-foot blow dart. We were told to barter with the tribe for crafts and souvenirs; however, my 20 travel size Bath and Body Works soaps and t-shirts and hats earned me one bracelet. It was an interesting experience where we introduced to a different culture.
Working together to make sugar cane juice – the natural way.
Suri: worm larvae that is a common treat in the region of Peru that falls within the Amazon.
Our day ended with a wholesome dinner provided by the lodge and relaxation on the hammocks. The next day we went out for another jungle hike where we got to see a sloth in its natural habitat. We made it to a different small village where we tried our hand at making sugar cane juice. It took two people to wring out the juice but it was mighty tasty! We also saw some artisanal tools for making rice and other local foods. The main delicacy in this area was suri, or larvae from the cocotero worm that lives in special palm trees commonly found in the Amazon. Many restaurants serve suri roasted but they were very alive during our introduction the area. While this dish did not make its way to my taste buds, I was able to buy some natural honey from the village and it was some of the best honey I have ever had.
I caught my first piranha!
The rest of our day included one of my favorite activities from this trip: fishing for piranha. This sounded so scary at first and then it just turned into a perfectly ridiculous afternoon. First, we were given “fishing poles”, a.k.a. a tree branch with fishing line tied on and a hook on the end. Then, we were given small pieces of meat as bait. Finally, we were told to stick our pole in the water, splash it around and wait. Of course I thought I would be reeling in a 20 pound piranha at any moment. After 30 minutes, my big kahuna still had not come. Fish would come nibble at the meat and swim away unhooked. Just as I was about to give up, I felt a tug! I carefully “reeled” in my line and there it was: my first piranha! He was hooked right in the eyeball. This beast weighed in at about half a pound and had nearly ten teeth. It was fierce. After a harrowing fight, my guide let the little guy off the hook and threw him back in the water. Exhilarating experience. Our crew caught a total of maybe five little guys before we ended our adventure. Now that I have clearly perfected this craft, I’m sure I will get the river monster next time.
One of the quotes at El Parque del Amor in Lima
Unfortunately, our time on the Amazon had to end. The next day we took a canoe back to Iquitos where we stayed for the night. After a quick flight to Lima, we took a stroll around the city and saw the beautiful coastline of the capital. Folks were parasailing and someone had a magnificent marriage proposal. We happened upon El Parque del Amor, a popular gathering place for couples that had quotes about love all around the benches and seating areas.
Fun pyramid fountain at Parque de la Reserva
Our final adventure in Peru was at Lima’s Circuito Magico del Agua (Magic Water Circuit) in Reserva Park. The park had tons of fantastic fountains outfitted with various lights and water sequences. The grand finale was a water show with a movie projected onto 30 foot waves of water. The movie included images of Peru’s traditional dance, the marinera, along with flags, celebrities, music and other images showing the pride of the country. It was absolutely beautiful to see all the ways they could make something as simple as water into something so magnificent. Simply amazing.
Somewhere along the way, we found ourselves at a pisco distillery in Ica. I cannot supply pictures here because it was a private residence. If you have ever tried homemade pisco, you probably have some hair on your chest. It is intense! Our distillery owner had six or seven types of pisco and two experimental wines, and we were obliged to try them all. Thank goodness we were not driving. Pisco is a strong alcohol made from grapes. The pisco sour is a very popular Peruvian drink made with pisco, whipped egg whites, lemon juice, and simple syrup. So refreshing!
These were my adventures in Peru organized by an absolutely brilliant friend and planner! Therefore, I have no idea how to find these things or recreate this trip. I hope this helps point you in the right direction if you ever find yourself in Peru – which you should! No visa required 🙂 (as of the date of this post)