I’m writing this while driving across the Reserva Nacional de Salinas y Agua Blanca, sitting as a co-pilot by my dad and appreciating the semi-arid landscape with its volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, skinny and fluffy vicunas, and a little out of breath due to the altitude of 4,500 m. We have been exploring Peru—known as the heart of the famous Inca Empire—for more than a month already, and while I was disappointed with the towns, aside a few places, I was also amazed by the extraordinary landscapes: from the northern deserts, to the high Andes and pre-inca/inca ruins cutting Peru at the center, to the hot and humid Amazon Jungle eastward. Peru is a country of rich culture, amazing food, and beautiful crafts; the perfect getaway for those wishing to surf the longest left in the world, for those who are lovers of trekking, for those who pursue superb culinary and metropolitan centers, and for those seeking to explore the depths of the biggest rainforest in the world, the Amazon Jungle.
As soon as we crossed the Ecuadorian border, we drove hundreds of miles in the desert, passing tiny villages and, sadly, mountain-loads of trash. The golden sands and dunes contrasted greatly with the dark hue of the Pacific Ocean, and sandstones were prettily carved by the natural forces of precipitation and wind. Our first stop in Peru was the city of Piura, where we just rested for a night. Funny enough, the owner of the complex was a man called Gonzalo, who we met in the Rosario Islands, Colombia, and had invited us to stay at his campsite (however, we had no idea where he lived…it was pure coincidence!). The campsite, Porta Verde Camping, was a true oasis in the midst of so much sand and heat; additionally, we met a lovely Brazilian woman, Cris, who had been biking the Americas by herself. Gonzalo offered to us the first taste of Peruvian cuisine, the famous lomito saltado and ceviche. From Piura, we contoured the coast until Chicama, one of the surf mecas in South America for having the longest left in the world (2 km long!). We ventured to surf there since it wasn’t the season of the biggest waves, and the frigid water was a challenge compared to the warm, Caribbean Sea of Colombia or the beaches of Costa Rica. A few days later we arrived in Trujillo, the city where the indigenous people of the Chan Chan tribe once lived (1,100-1,400 AC); the Chan Chan spoke the Muchik language–“chisoer tanen” means welcome. Another famous archeological site nearby was Huaca de la Luna, the city of the Moche civilization between 100-600 A.D. The Moche tribe extended from the coastal region of Huarmey until the northern lands of Piura, and took pride on their sophisticated society where religion and politics were tightly woven. From Trujillo, we skirted the dry coast of Peru towards Lima, where we would pick up my grandpa to spend about 10 days traveling in the motorhome with us!
Lima is famous for its exquisite culinary, and some neighborhoods—such as Miraflores, Barranco, and the malecon—are especially sought out by tourists. We spent a few days walking around the historical downtown, whose Spanish colonial buildings and narrow streets were beautiful; additionally, one must visit the plaza de armas, the Iglesia de la Merced and Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, and the San Francisco Catacumbas (a really fun tour through a convent!). The catacombs were once part of Lima’s cemeteries, and it’s estimated that about 75,000 people have been buried there! Miraflores is a high-end neighborhood in Lima filled with stores, restaurants and cafes, hotels, and a nice waterfront to walk to a beautiful open mall hanging off a cliffside. Unlike Miraflores, Barranco is known for its “bohemian vibe” and vibrant colors, as well as famous street art. Locals explained to us that Barranco was once home to fishermen, but eventually became the weekend getaway for the high socioeconomic status inhabitants of Lima due to its proximity to the Pacific and pleasant views. Unfortunately, our time in Barranco was quite short—we were able to visit the church La Hermita and the famous Bridge of Sights—but still quite memorable, especially due to our best gastronomic experience in Peru at Isolina Taberna Peruana: a small restaurant whose specialty is the mouthwatering creole food (be sure to make reservations in advance)!
From Lima, we drove through the desert to Paracas National Reserva—a park in the midst of sand dunes and the cool Pacific Ocean. We stayed in Paracas only for 2 days since we were on a tight schedule to arrive in Cusco; nevertheless, we were able to enjoy some of the local activities and appreciate the unique beauty of the desert with its diverse colors of red, gold, and brown. I highly recommend doing an ATV tour (we did with Excursions In Peru) throughout the desert, where one is able to visit the park’s most famous beaches quickly in a fun way. As for restaurants, I really liked the fish bathed in seafood sauce from Restaurante Sumac Paracas.
Another great desert destination—my favorite in the Peruvian coast—was the famous Huacachina (maybe you have seen dreamy pictures of an oasis on social media). We first stumbled on the little oasis as the last sun rays bathed the golden sand dunes, contrasting greatly with the green palm trees and lake of Huacachina. Lucky enough, the hostel where we camped at, called Eco Camp Hostal, was right on the dunes, and probably one of the coolest campsites I have ever been to: desert views, pool, great food, and super friendly staff (check them out)! Besides climbing to the very top of the dunes—a very hard task for vertigos like me—and contemplating the sunset from atop, another extremely fun activity was the buggy tour! I swear, it was one of the best things I have done in my life and it was just completely crazy (I thought we would tip over at any time)! I highly recommend touring with William Cabanillas from Paniacha Tours (+51931741318).