Four places not to miss in the desert of Peru

If you’re lucky enough to go to Peru and plan to go through its desert, then here are some things we advise you not to ever miss so your adventure’s even more awesome:

Ballestas Islands

From Paracas town you can access the Ballestas Islands in a ferry ride for few bucks. All add the animals housed on this piece of land and you’ll understand why they have gained the nickname of “Poor Man’s Galapagos“. Lots of animals, from large sea lions to Humboldt penguins can be seen in the Ballestas. As if that wasn’t enough, at the beginning of the tour we can observe a petroglyph called The Chandelier by its shape. This huge figure carved in the hills is over 150m high and 50m wide. As usual, we don’t know who made it, when or why, which gives rise to many theories.

Chauchilla cemetery

This cemetery’s placed only 30 miles from Nazca, with its disquieting open pit graves. It’s been preserved through the centuries despite its great antiquity, dating back to pre-Inca Chauchilla times. The fact that even today we can see mummified corpses with their clothes and various utensils like pots is due to the climatic conditions in this very dry region. Some of them still have some hair and skin. Besides the climate, the funeral rites have also contributed to its preservation: the bodies were dressed with embroidered cotton and painted with resin, which has possibly kept away insects and bacteria that could decompose the corpses besides subjecting them to a process of mummification. Its origin, like other mysteries of the Peruvian desert, is a subject of debate among experts. Perhaps its origin is from the Huari culture, or perhaps the Nazca culture; anyway, the result is spectacular.

Chauchilla's laughing mummy
Chauchilla’s laughing mummy

The Nazca Lines

The mysterious Nazca lines are one of the jewels of Peru, apart of Machu Picchu! In a desolate land, without a hint of air and vegetation, they’re one of the most impressive and enigmatic archaeological finds in the world. Over 500 square kilometers, more than 800 straight lines, 300 geoglyphs (geometric shapes of enormous dimensions) that can only be viewed from the sky adorn the plain. It’s unknown the purpose with which the ancient artists produced these drawings so precisely that have endured over time and nowadays visitors can observe them in bird’s eye view from an airplane. The most spectacular designs feature animal shapes, like a lizard of 180 meters long, a monkey with spiral tail, a 300-foot wingspan condor, a hummingbird or an owl-headed person called “Spaceman“. Who built them and why remains unresolved. What is striking is that these representations are made to be seen from above only, whom were they headed to?

Nazca's spiral monkey
Nazca’s spiral monkey

Oasis of Huacachina

Thi oasis’ the typical image that you recreate in your mind when you think of these landforms, such a beautiful, idyllic place that was set as back theme back of 50 Suns bills. In addition, here you can practice curious sports like “sandboarding” -surfing dunes-  and the few locals living here will tell you about the mysterious legend of the evil mermaid during your stay: a mermaid, Pirates of the Caribbean style, traps a person every year at the bottom of the lagoon unless it’s native of Ica or Huacachina.

The excursion to the dunes for sandboarding can be arranged in any hostel or agency. Initially they take you in buggies through the desert, speeding over the dunes like a roller coaster, but ultimately Huacachina’s also a good place to stop and rest while traveling in Peru.

Photos: Kees Straver, fesign