Peru1It is the geographical diversity which makes Peru so fascinating. Peru has three distinctive geographical regions: a narrow coastal belt, the wide Andean mountains and the Amazon Basin. The coastal strip, which is predominantly desert, contains Peru’s major cities and an abundance of sea life and mysterious archeology.

Most people arrive into Peru via Lima. The first glimpse of Lima leaves some people wondering why they came and what they have gotten themselves into. Upon leaving the airport, you’ll undoubtedly pass some adobe slums on streets scattered with garbage and the ever persistent beggars. Don’t be shocked to see young children cross two lanes of traffic to run up to your car begging for money. Couple this with some of the most chaotic driving you will encounter in your life! In Peru there are very few traffic laws and you’ll be hard pressed to find a traffic light. In the rare event you do find one, traffic moves through with horns blaring, slowing down only marginally for red lights. Also, the local people will drive nearly anything with wheels down the road. One local told me that the only part of an automobile that absolutely had to be in working order was the horn. When you get back to the States, you’ll have a whole new appreciation for our traffic laws and order.

Actually Lima has its share of charm. If you indulge in some dining, shopping and museums, you will not regret your time there. Lima has a good selection of restaurants, sea food being particularly recommended. For US$10, you can have a full meal at almost any restaurant with dishes including fresh Pacific sea bass, shrimp, scallops or Lomo Saltado, a local favorite consisting of chopped meat in a sauce containing tomatoes, onions and potatoes. Peru has a wide variety of handicrafts, with Lima being the main outlet for the sale of handicrafts and the main home for many artisans. The best craft market is the Indio Market located along Avenida La Marina. Here you’ll find ceramics from Cajamarca, tapestries from Ayacucho, alpaca products from Huancavelica and paintings from local artisans. When you are shopping at the markets, be sure to bargain. While the artisans are very proud of their work, they are happy to sell items at lower-than-listed prices.

Peru2Perhaps Lima is most famous for its nightlife. Lima’s nightlife is buzzing. Bars and clubs are full of young Peruvians and ‘gringos’ gyrating to anything from salsa to American pop. The heart of the city’s nightlife is focused in Miraflores and Barranco. The current hot spot for locals is Barranco, which bursts into life Friday night and carries on until the early hours of Monday morning. The live music clubs around the Parque Kennedy and the flashy discos in the Larco Mar shopping mall dominate the nightlife in Miraflores. Here you will find tourists and Peruvians hanging out in places like Señor Frogs, Hard Rock Cafe and Carlos & Charlies. Nightclubs generally have a cover charge between US$5 and US$10. But for the real dance experience, visitors should go to a peña (traditional dance show) in one of the small venues in Barranco, such as Manos Morenas, Las Guitarres, Los Balcones and Pericho’s. This is a good time to be had by all. You can sit back and have a few drinks while watching a dance troupe perform a variety of traditional Peruvian dances. In between sets, the audience dances to the sounds of salsa, jazz and Peruvian Creole, a music that combines European musical forms with native Peruvian and African rhythms.

Peru3Leaving Lima, the landscape is characterized by extensive desert plains set between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. Here you will encounter sand dunes cut by fertile valleys where cotton, sugar cane and vineyards are cultivated. The Panamerican Highway hugs the coast and passes through many areas of interest south of Lima, including magnificent beaches and quaint fishing ports. One particular port is Pisco, best known for its white grape brandy. Pisco shares its name with the white grape brandy produced in this region. The Pisco Sour, though not the only Peruvian cocktail available, is without doubt the best known. Pisco and the nearby Paracas Peninsula offer a welcome diversion from the archaeological sites that dominate so much of the tourist trail along Peru’s south coast. The attractions here are plentiful wildlife and unfettered coastal scenery, especially in the immense Paracas National Reserve which is often described as Peru’s version of the Galapagos Islands. The Paracas National Reserve encompasses two distinct areas, covering over 1,300 square miles of land and 3,400 miles of ocean surface. The ocean area is a vast maritime park known for its beauty and abundance of wildlife including condors, sea turtles and the nesting grounds of hundreds of pink flamingos. The land portion consists of rolling sand dunes that are ideal for hiking and four wheel driving. Included in the Paracas National Reserve are the famous Ballestas Islands, which are the natural habitat of various marine species, some in danger of extinction, such as the Humboldt Penguin, the Inca Tern, the Albatross and thousands of sea lions. The uninhabited Ballestas Islands can only be viewed from a boat. The boat excursion from Paracas to the Ballestas Islands provides a close view of all of these species and more. You can often spot dolphins and whales swimming in the surrounding waters. Along the way to the islands, the boat passes along the majestic cliffs of the Paracas Peninsula. On one particular cliff lies the etching of the famous “Candelabro” which is considered the beginning of the famous Nazca Lines.

Peru4The Nazca Lines remain one of the world’s greatest mysteries. Located in the desert between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean is a high plateau about sixty miles long and five miles wide. On this plateau lies what many have called one of the most baffling enigmas of archaeology. Huge geometric designs including perfectly straight lines, trapezoids and animal figures are immaculately etched onto the desert’s surface. From ground level, the drawings, or geoglyphs as they’re called, seem like a confused mass of lines. It is only when viewed from the air, that the lines and figures convey a sense of purpose or organization. The Nazca Lines are thought to have been made by the Nazca Indians who lived in the region between 300 BC and 800 AD. Predecessors of the Incas, the Nazca Indians did not leave any evidence of a written language, and none of their descendants survive today. Unfortunately, the purpose of the peculiar lines will always remain a mystery.

Peru5Returning to the Paracas National Reserve, you will be greeted by rolling sand dunes set against the blue backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Miles and miles of endless sand dunes make this an off-road paradise. There is no limit to the excitement that can be found here. Imagine skimming across the swells of smooth, ever-shifting dunes in a jeep. For an added adrenaline rush, try a guided dune buggy trip. With the sun and wind in your face, you can be one with nature while experiencing an unending thrill.

From the night clubs of Lima to the geoglyphs of a past Nazca culture to a condor soaring high above the waters of the Pacific, you’ll find it all on the desert coast of Peru. There is truly something for everyone.

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