Before I knew it, my two days in cold and grey Lima were over and I was on my way down the coast in search of bluer skies. I had booked a bus ticket with a company called Peru Hop which would take me all the way through to Arequipa, with various stops and optional tours along the way. The first stop was Paracas, a small seaside town that was a short boat ride away from the Ballestas Islands, dubbed the poor mans Galapagos, which is home to sea lions, Humboldt penguins and a rather awkwardly named bird, the Peruvian booby. After that was Huacachina, a small backpackers haven nestled in the middle of the sand dunes just outside of the town of Ica.
It was an early morning leaving Lima to avoid the worst of the constantly chaotic traffic, hopping on the bus at 6.45am. We stopped somewhere about an hour outside of Lima for breakfast and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much from this roadside stop. I was proven wrong though – the place they took us to baked their own bread fresh on site and I had the most delicious ham and cheese roll, which I’m sure had a proper Spanish name, but I was too tired to pay attention at the time! After that it was only about 5 hours to Paracas. On arrival, I decided that as we were right beside the ocean it was time to try some ceviche in Peru. I walked myself over to Restaurant Paracas (very aptly named), sat myself down on the balcony and had ceviche, lomo saltado and tequenos which were filled with scallops and butter – a very tasty Peruvian meal! This was followed by sunset on the beach and an early night in preparation for the next day.
Early in the morning we were off an a two hour boat tour of the Ballestas Islands. Sailing about 35 minutes off the coast, past a candelabra carved into the soil that has been around since 200BC, the boat circumnavigated some rocky islands home to all kinds of wildlife including large population of sea lions whose life I immediately became incredibly jealous of – eat sleep swim repeat! After this the bus took us over to the Paracas natural reserve, where the desert meets the ocean in a fairly spectacular fashion.Once this adventure was finished it was back on the bus and on the road to Huacachina for some more sun and a lot of sand. This oasis in the middle of the sand dunes is a major stop on the Peruvian backpacker circuit, with the big drawcard being the teeth rattling dune buggy tours. These take you across the big sand dunes, flying over the top of them in a way that had me more than a little concerned. After about half an hour of this we stopped at the top of some dunes where we were handed a beaten up board and a candle to wax it with, and given free rein to slide down the dunes. What started out as terrifying ended up being great fun, although I ended up with sand everywhere! In Huacachina I ate at Wild Olive, which was the busiest place on the small strip and with good reason it seemed – the pizza had a nice crispy base with fresh toppings. After the sunset tour I spent a relaxing morning wandering around the lagoon before jumping back on the bus for a tour of a Pisco vineyard in Ica. It was a fun experience, learning about how Pisco is made now and how it was done in the past, before sitting down for a Pisco tasting. I learnt here that straight Pisco is one of the most awful things I have ever tasted – I think I will be sticking to the Pisco sours!With our heads buzzing from the Pisco, we were ushered back on the bus to begin the long drive to Arequipa – including a short stop near Nazca for some dinner and to climb a viewing tower to view a small part of the famous Nazca lines it was going to take a good 14 hours to reach Arequipa. What’s South America without at least one long arduous bus journey though right?!