Heading south of Lima, after four hours you reach the town of Ica, a bustling city set in a green valley that is renowned for its surrounding wineries and production of Pisco – a brandy-like liquor and main ingredient of the Pisco Sour cocktail. The city is also close to the sand dunes of Huacachina and its lagoon, which, backed by palm trees, is the only oasis to be found in South America and a beautiful place to spend one or two days.
Two hours from Ica in the sprawling desert are the phenomenal Nazca Lines, a collection of over 300 gigantic geometric drawings that were only discovered in 1930. Depicting animals, insects and flora, the existence of the drawings is so mysterious that there are several theories that researchers like Maria Reiche have developed, including an astronomical calendar, indication of subterranean water sources and messages for the ‘eyes of gods’. Perhaps the most unusual explanation is that they represent alien landing strips! Only viewable from the air, amongst the most popular of the lines are the llama, whale, condor, snake and spider.
The Peninsula of Paracas and the Ballestas Islands form one of Peru’s most important wildlife sanctuaries, sometimes described as Peru’s answer to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, and whilst less renowned it is nonetheless possible to see a good selection of wildlife such as penguins, sea lions, seals and even turtles. Ornithologists will also find the sanctuary of interest too, with species such as albatross, boobies and cormorants.
Peru’s southern coastal region is a tantalising mix of parched desert, protected coastal wildlife reserves and mysterious pre-Columbian giant figures etched into the sands – the existence of which remains largely unexplained and still manages to baffle some 1,500 years on. These attractions combined make it an area of Peru that, whilst sometimes overlooked, is one of the most intriguing, varied and wild, and due to its close proximity to Lima it is easy to include this land of empty desert and wilderness desert terrains into your itinerary.