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Trip Report Great Trip down the South Coast: Paracas to Nazca and on to Colca Canyon!

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My wife and I just returned from a really great trip to Peru (early Oct., 2011 for 10 days) that I would like to post here as our experiences might be useful to others. We have been to Peru a few times before, visiting places like Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, but now our interest is more to the less popular but still very interesting sites. As a measure of our success in meeting both of those goals, on this recent trip, several of the places we visited had few if any other tourists around and yet were places of great fascination and historical importance.

Our trip this time was limited to two areas of Peru; the South Coast and Colca Canyon area. We had been to both of the places before but were rushed -- this time we made sure we could spend all the time we wanted at each site and cut back on the scope of the trip if need be. For example, on this trip we were able to see the "Band of Holes" (http://www.world-mysteries.com/mpl_piscovalley.htm) which was out of the question for our earlier trip to this area. Further, instead of only seeing the Nazca (or Nasca) Lines, this time we also visited the nearby Palpa Lines which are even more fascinating and mysterious. For example, see the "Palpa Geoglyphs: Geometric Symbols" (http://www.nazcamystery.com/palpa_symbols_geometric.htm). Finally, we were able to actually explore some of the Colca Canyon which, again, we didn't have time to do on our first trip.

In our first trip to Peru, several years ago, we joined a tour group, and visited the usual sites; Machu Picchu, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Lake Titicaca, Nazca, and the jungle. We definitely enjoyed our first view of Peru, but because we wanted to see so much, it was rushed and we had little to say about where to go and how long to visit. On our trips since then, we have chosen to "free-wheel" but with a very reliable and informative guide we met on the first trip, Renato Auca Fuentes <rena_cusco@hotmail.com>. With Renato's guidance, we now visit each location of interest where Renato arranges lodging, meals, tours, transportation, etc. While a personal guide would seem to be expensive, we have found that the savings resulting from Renato's making all the arrangements more than compensates for what a pre-planned tour with a group would cost. Of course, the major benefit is being able to freely plan the trip as we go, seeing what we want, and staying at each location for as long as we want.

We highly recommend Renato's services. His web site is called "Cusco-Native" (http://www.cusco-native.com) and the site gives his cell phone number. He is a true native and lives in Cuzco.

You may want to look at our photographs of this tour that we have online at http://perspicuity.net/TravelPhotos/album/index.html.

Our Travelogue:

Day 1:

The flight from our hometown (Jackson, MS, USA) to Lima was long and tiring, mainly because we purchased the "economical" tickets which results in a great deal of travel in the US before you ever get to Miami for the last leg to Lima! We arrived about 11:30 PM in Lima where we are met by our guide, Renato, who had transportation to our hotel waiting for us. Our hotel is Hostal Las Retamas - Owner Richardo, very nice, speaks English - hotel is in Lince (North of Miraflores), 80 soles for double room. Clean, private bath, hot water, cable TV, room service. Lince is much less expensive than Miraflores. Thank you, Renato.

Day 2:

We walk to a nearby market to get breakfast. Lince is not a tourist destination, so you see very few westerners, but it does have plenty of good places to eat. We like to eat at local markets when possible. While enjoying breakfast, we talk about our schedule for the day. We decided this time to plan as we go, even though we did have a rough idea of what we wanted to do. So, we decided to catch a bus to Paracas. Renato took care of all the arrangements. We took a "Cruz del Sur" bus in the afternoon and arrived in Paracas close to dusk.

We stayed overnight at Brisas de la Bahia (60 soles for double room), a new hotel built since the destructive earthquake in that area in 2007. Their web page is http://www.brisasdelabahia.com.

Day 3:

Took first morning tour (6:30 am) of the Ballistas. We bought our tickets at the boarding dock to save commission fees from tour operators. 5 Soles for admission to the national reserve and another 35 soles (or so) for the guided boat tour to the islands. We saw gazillions of birds, penguins, sea lions . . .

After the Ballistas tour, we decided to pay a driver with car to take us to see what we call the mysterious "Band of Holes" (http://www.world-mysteries.com/mpl_piscovalley.htm) located on the highway, "Via de los Libertadores". On the way there we stopped at Tambo Colorado (http://www.nazcamystery.com/tambo_colorado.htm). While Tambo Colorado is easily accessible, the Band of Holes is down a narrow rocky road off the paved highway at the town of Humay. Our driver, Ricardo, with his quite new automobile was a bit reluctant to take this route!

After we saw the Band of Holes, we tried to make it to the Palpa Lines (http://www.nazcamystery.com/palpa_symbols.htm) some of which can be seen from a viewing stand along the Pan American Highway, 3 hours away. We missed daylight by about 20 minutes, so decided to stay at the closest hostel and see the Palpa lines in the morning. We asked around and were told that there were only two hotels in Palpa. We stayed at the one on the north/east side of the highway. We can't really recommend it. Dinner at a decent restaurant about a block away. (our driver, Ricardo, had stated that for the fixed price we had agreed on, he would take us to Nazca in the morning, so we all stayed over in Palpa).

Of course, to properly see the lines and geoglyphs of Nazca and Palpa, one needs to charter a flight. However, the cost at $200 to $300 per person was just more than we could afford - so we saw what we could from the tower. Unfortunately this did not allow us to see the mysterious "Sun & Star geoglyphs" (http://www.nazcamystery.com/images/palpa_26.jpg). Sigh.

Day 4:

Up early at 6AM to see the Palpa figures and then on to Nazca. Booked a hotel on the square in Nazca, The Mirador, which was clean and reasonably priced. We ate breakfast at the restaurant next to our hotel in Nazca - it was very good. I recommend the BBQ Beef (Can't remember the Spanish name for it).

Now with the same car/driver, we travel to the Chauchilla cemetery (http://www.traveladventures.org/continents/southamerica/chauchilla-cemetery.shtml) and Cahuachi (some great pictures at http://www.nazcamystery.com/nazca_cahuachi.htm including images of what it may have looked like before it was abandoned).

The Chauchilla cemetery contained many excavated tombs with little explanation of the burial practices of the people of this time. Cahuachi was a real surprize. In the middle of nowhere and after a 25 Km ride through the desert, here lay the center of the Nazca culture, buried under miles of dirt and sand (supposedly buried by the Nazca people when they abandoned the area). We were able to see one pyramid which is mostly excavated, but there are at least 30 more waiting. My guess is that this site will be one of grandest in Peru sometime in the future. At both of these places, there were chards of pottery, pieces of 2000 year old woven cotton, and many, many human bones, just lying around. And no tourists -- except us!

After returning to Nazca we found a restaurant for dinner just off the square. Unfortunately, we finally left because of lack of service and had to find food elsewhere.

Renato then arranged for bus tickets to Arequipa for the following day.

Day 5:

We went to the Nazca market, then the Museo Arqueologico Antonini to try to learn more about this fascinating Nazca culture. Best described by this excerpt from http://www.peruforless.com/travel-guides/nazca-guide-attractions.php:

"The Museo Arqueologico Antonini is an excellent informative museum that gives an extensive overview of the regional Nazca culture and gives visitors a taste of Nazca’s outlying sites. Indoors guests can view reproductions of burial tombs, as well as a valuable collection of ceramic pan flutes. Outdoors there is a piece of Nazca history left behind with the running aqueduct flowing through the museum’s garden. It is located on Avenida de la Cultura 606 (follow Jr Bolognese about 1km east)."

Later we caught our bus to Arequipa. Got in late, stayed at the Colonial House Inn, 4 blocks from the plaza. Very economical but not real fancy. As the name suggest, it is of Colonial architecture, and as a plus the innkeepers were very friendly and helpful.

Day 6:

Renato and Leon went out to book a trip into the Colca Canyon. We decided on a 3 day trip plus an extra day, with the extra day to be spent in Yanque on our own. This was necessary because, while they had a "4 day" trip, we wanted the itinerary for the 3 day trip since the 3 day trip had mule transportation and the 4 day trip did not.

Day 7:

At 3AM !!!, the tour bus picked us up at the hotel. For the next hour, or so it seemed, other travelers were picked up at various hotels scattered around Arequipa, completely packing the small bus. Finally we got underway for a 3-4 hour trip to Chivay near Colca Canyon. No coffee? Rough! But near Chivay, the guide pulled us in to a nice cafe (I have forgotten the name) where we had a continental breakfast and coffee or tea. We survived. Then on to Yanque were the three of us exited this group for our 1 day stay on our own.

Our day in Yanque: We stayed at a Hostal, Casa Del Turista Yanque (what we would call a "Bed and Breakfast") off the main square (Av. Chacapi and Caraveli) run by a very nice woman named Gloria. The hotel is part of her home and her husband and children help with taking care of guests. Gloria cooks whatever you might want that is available. She made us some fantastic omelets for breakfast, with fresh squeezed orange juice, bread and cheese. I believe her phone number is 054-760119.

While there we visited "Museo de Yanque" (http://www.viajeros.com/actividades/museo/museo-de-yanque). For such a small village, this was an exceptional museum. Excellent displays of mummies, textiles, etc. There is a woman there that weaves textiles on various looms that are set up in the museum and sells them to the public when asked.

We hiked across Rio Colca via a nice modern bridge and road that leads up to the Uyu Uyu pre-Inka ruins (a picture is at this site, http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/2ibmYVtO9XL-NhJs3pHaoQ). Not as impressive as some ruins we have seen but still worth the hike. And the surrounding farm lands were beautiful. A local dog joined on this trip that seemed to want to be our local guide which was ok for we didn't have one :-)

Day 8:

Trip down into the canyon: After the extra day, we were picked up early in the morning by the tourist service that we had arranged for in Arequipa. We met Luis on the bus and he was to be our guide from now until we returned to Arequipa. We were very pleased with his services. He can be contacted via email at romantico_ 2084@hotmail.com or gatito-2084@hotmail.com. We were very lucky in that the only other trekkers in our group this day was a very nice couple from London on a 5 month tour of South America.

The bus let us off at the point of access to a trail down to the Rio Colca and the village where we would be staying, San Juan de Chuccho (a nice picture album is at http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/jeffsadventures/jeffswalkabout/1227989820/img_1205.jpg/tpod.html). The trail was narrow and rugged (see our pictures at http://perspicuity.net/TravelPhotos/album/index.html) but was downhill all the way to the river. Unfortunately, on the other side of the river, it was a rough and steep trail again up to the village.

Day 9:

Trip to second lodging, "Paraiso Lodge", at Sangalle (Oasis): We trek along the Rio Colca to the villages Cosñirhua and Malata on our way to our next lodging at Sangalle (Oasis) (This web page has some very nice pictures - http://trailsandtreasures.com/blog/2009/11/03/colca-canyon-part-5-the-oasis-of-paraiso/). While the trip was a bit rugged in places (My wife Diane and I rode mules!) it was very beautiful and primitive. The villages are supplied entirely by mule train. Electricity is very limited (a power line comes down from Cabanaconde. Our cabins were illuminated by candle (when we could find one!). In our cabin we had twin beds and nothing else! No table, no clothes/towel hangers, nothing but two beds! Fine, considering the location. The bathrooms and showers were some distance away across a nice green and flowery lawn. Thank goodness we remembered to bring our own toilet paper!

The site was beautiful with much tropical vegetation and flowers and a beautiful swimming pool (more pictures and information on other lodging, etc., at http://cabanacondeperu.com/us/sangalle.html). All in all, there was good food and primitive but nice cabins. We enjoyed our stay.

Day 10:

Trip out of canyon, a visit to hot springs baths, and bus ride back to Lima:
We took the long (3-4 hours) and difficult trail back to the top of the canyon at the village of Cabanaconde, some of us riding mules. There we caught our tour bus for the trip back to Arequipa, with interesting stops along the way.

Again we stopped along the canyon in the hopes of seeing some condors soaring. We were lucky -- several came close by.

Finally we made it back to Chivay where we had a very nice lunch. After lunch, we visited a commercial hot springs bathing facility, La Calera Hot Springs. For our sore bodies, the hot water soak was just wonderful. The smell of sulfur was tolerable. A nice page on La Calera Hot Springs is at http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/wadeoliver/worldtour0708/1195548600/hot-springs-pool.jpg/tpod.html.

After that wonderful soak, we board the bus for our trip back to Arequipa. The highway takes us over the pass at 14,000 feet or so where we get to see flocks of both Alpaca and Vicuña.

That evening, we board a very nice bus back to Lima. We chose the bus instead of a flight because the seats were far more comfortable and it saved us a hotel bill for the night. It was also somewhat cheaper of course! We did select the lower deck with the seats that incline back to almost horizontal that made it especially comfortable. We slept good and woke up near Lima.

Day 11:

Flight back to States: After our overnight trip by bus from Arequipa, we marked time while waiting for our flight back to the US that would leave at around 10:30PM. We did not want to push our luck too far and maybe miss the plane, so we just visited an archaeological museum. Turned out to be a poor choice of museums as many of the exhibits were closed and, in general, it was just not very interesting.

We ended this wonderful trip with a nice flight back to the US only to almost miss our connecting flight in Miami due to the hassle of Customs and TSA. Welcome to the USA, sigh. They seem to be totally unconcerned about causing you miss your flight. The biggest problem was the ridiculously long and slow lines.

After Miami, the connecting flights were uneventful and we arrived back home safely, very glad to see our friends and, of course, our pets.

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