We were surprised to discover this lesser known Hotel on our way to Nazca. This quiet resort has excellent criollo (Peruvian) food included in your accomodations (along with fossil tour of desert, horsback rides, bike paths, tour of giant sand dunes and dinner in wine cellar by candle-light). A nice pool and jacuzzi with simple rooms in colonial-style clusters distributed throughout gardens. Centuries-old trees and whale skull fossils on grounds. Also included in stay is a tour (in Spanish) of wine cellar/production and tasting of a couple of wines and Pisco, Peru's national "spirit" (not for the faint of heart).
The transfer to the Las Dunas Aerodrome takes five minutes; I have never stayed at a hotel with its own airport before. It’s a cool place, all cane and thatch with open sides. Free soft drinks are laid on and they show a disastrously bad video of the Nazca Lines. Maps of the various drawings are explained and presented to us by the cartographer – at a (small) charge of course. I have harboured a dream of seeing the Lines since I read Eric Von Daniken’s book some 30 years ago, and I can’t believe I’m finally here. The Nazca Lines are our only reason for being in Peru – I hope they are worth it.
Once we reach the drawings, we circle around each of them so that people on both sides of the plane can see and photograph each one. The first one is the Space Man that inspired Von Daniken to write his book. We see the spider, the hummingbird and the monkey, all very familiar to me from various books.
The drawings themselves are not so remarkable - made by removing the top layer of earth and exposing the paler layer below - it's the mystery surrounding the lines that fascinates me: why did the peoples of Nazca make these figures 2000 years ago when they are only visible from the air? Did they have the knowledge of flight back then? What was their purpose? Are they of astronomical importance? We may never know.
At Paracas we board a boat that is already crammed to capacity with Germans. We manage to squeeze in right at the front behind the wind shield. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise as we are out of the wind. The seat is not wide enough however and I’ve got nowhere to put my left leg.
Islas Ballestas more than make up for any discomfort though. Billed as a mini-Galapagos, they certainly live up to their reputation. The rock is porous and the colourful strata are showing in many places, the cliffs are craggy and there are lots of tunnels, coves and ‘bridges’.
The main attraction of course is the birds: boobies, shags, oyster catchers, cormorants, terns and others. Not to mention penguins, it is rather unusual to find them this far north. The sea lions manage to get high up on the rocks – how do they do that? In one cove there are hundreds of sea lions crawling over each other on the rocky shore. We name it ‘the nursery’ and the noise is deafening, like an out-of-tune rock band. The sea is full of little sea lion heads bobbing up and down around the boats and the birds fly in formation low over the water.
Our day trip to see the Nazca Lines and the town of Ica included a stop for lunch at the hotel Las Dunas. This was actually a very charming spot, created for tourism but respecting the natural habitat and aesthetics of the surrounding area. The views were lovely from here, and we ate a nice buffet meal while we soaked up a little sun at the pool. If you go this route, be sure to bring your bathing suit for an afternoon swim!
"Huacca China Lake" is a lovely little oasis at the edge of Ica. We stopped by just to drink in the view of the sand dunes and the palm trees. A nearby plaque made of stone has a poem chiseled into it, telling the tragic story of a princess and the lake. It was peaceful here, as the sun was low in the sky and the water was so still...
What a nice memory.
If you tack on a day tour of Ica, you'll notice the very cool looking sand dunes that surround a good part of the town, at close proximity. We marveled at their beautiful formations - and then I noticed something. It looked like a small moving dot...as we drew closer, I saw that it was a person scaling the dunes, leaving a graceful track in his wake. Our guide explained to us that the locals often train for marathons by running up and down these dunes. I thought that was really resourceful! Anyone familiar with running in sand can appreciate how difficult it must be to run up and down a sand dune!
I loved this little museum. It wasn't too much, just enough to hold your interest. The museum features everything from ancient pre-Colombian pottery and textile weavings, to amazingly well preserved mummies - many with what looked like evidence of lobotomies! Sure enough, I learned that scientists today have pieced together the historical evidence that suggests ancient anatomical and medical experiements were performed...sometimes even on children!
The town of Ica sort of has a bit of a desert outpost feel to it, although it's surrounded by beautiful valleys where today's pisco and wines are produced locally. Most people who are seeing the Nazca Lines will arrive and depart from Ica. I enjoyed visiting this town because of its little museum, its peaceful, gorgeous oasis (Huacca China), and the sandy dunes that border it.
Although Ica is really a Spanish colonial town, the first settlers in this area were the Paracas, a pre-Colombian civilization recognized for their mummification process and distinguished by their highly evolved, expert textile skills.
It's definitely worth adding a day trip to your Nazca Lines adventure so that you can see this town and better appreciate the contributions and kinds of ancient civilizations that were living in this part of the world long before Western civilization moved in.