There’s more to Peru than Machu Picchu, which has in recent years suffered from overcrowding and is in danger of “being loved to death.” So much so that new regulations have been put in place for crowd control. I headed south of Lima to explore the provinces of Pisco and Ica, which offer natural attractions and vinos excelentes. (This is the second of a three-part series on Peru.)
Birds of a feather: I slept through most of the three-hour drive down from Lima to the Paracas Peninsula, but woke up in time to see the rebuilding shantytowns of Pisco province, devastated by the 2007 earthquake, and the resort town of El Chaco, base for explorations of Las Islas Ballestas. We start seeing birds (pelicans). There will be more. Paracas, Peru.
Line in the sand: I’ve always wanted to see the Nazca lines, and they're not far from here, but I won’t get a chance. This is the lone geoglyph in the Paracas Peninsula. Its provenance is unknown but there are many theories. It’s called the Candelabra, but my guide Pedro thinks it’s meant to be the shape of a cactus. It was formed by someone(s) digging a two-foot-deep trench in the sandy rock. It could be old, or not so old; it probably pays to keep things a little mysterious.
Las Islas Ballestas are sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s Galapagos,” and indeed these tiny islands and their waters teem with wildlife, fed by the nutrient-rich Humboldt current. Besides sea lions, there are dolphins, penguins, cormorants, boobies, etc.
Put a bird on it: A nesting pair of red-footed cormorants and an Inca tern make the world beautiful. Islas Ballestas, Peru.
Shit show: They call it “white gold,” and for a while in the 19th century, guano was one of Peru’s most lucrative exports. Apparently the Brits felt it was a quality fertilizer and imported tons of the crap. It was so valuable a war was fought over it with Chile. The Ballestas islands are protected, but guano is still gathered once every eight years for market.
Ivy climbing the walls at the Hotel Paracas. Peru.
The first of what will surely be many ceviches this week. I say bring it on. Aranwa Resort, Paracas, Peru.
Despite appearing to be dry and dusty (annual rainfall is so rare it’s measured in measured in millimeters, and I noticed roadside trees actually accumulate layers of dust), the southern coastal region of Ica is said to have the country’s best wines, not to mention pisco, the national drink. In fact there’s a province here named Pisco, so that should tell you something. I'm no connoisseur, but it was all quite yummy. Now I have friends from Chile who will claim pisco as theirs, but since I’m here, we’ll go with what my new friends say. El Catano, Ica, Peru.
Happiness is when you race up the sand dunes at sunset in a buggy driven by someone who doesn't seem to know the meaning of “despacio” and he takes your camera and tells you to jump with your two new Peruvian besties, and despite your only jumping two inches off the ground and having a shoulder injury he gets this picture, which captures the day’s essence, if not the reality. Huacachina, Peru. Gracias, Ruben.
1001 Peruvian nights: A star-filled evening of Ica Malbec, grilled meats, and fireside stories, propped up by pillows in local indigenous textiles and lulled by Peruvian criolla music on the Spotify. Huacachina, Ica.
The road less traveled: Cusco and Machu Picchu lie to the south of Lima, but you and I are headed to the less visited north. After a flight to Jaen, it's a windy, four-hour drive to Chachapoyas. You may need Dramamine. Amazonas, Peru.
Roadside scenery: We’ve entered the Utcabamba Valley in the province of Amazonas. Not to be confused with Amazonia, this is the region between the Andes and the jungle, with elements of each. Peru.
God’s country: The predominant religion is Catholicism mixed with elements of Inca and pre-Inca beliefs. Maybe that’s what’s going on here with Jesus, Adam, Eve, and a tiger. Utcabamba Valley, Amazonas, Peru.
Don’t mind the sketchy vibe; this is the best restaurant in Chachapoyas. We’ll come back for dinner. Northern Highlands, Peru.
Chachapoyas was one of the first towns established by the Spanish in the 16th century. There is little left standing (because, earthquakes) from that early period except for a fountain in the middle of the town square. The plaza attracts families and young lovers. Amazonas, Peru.
Amazonas Avenue is a pedestrian-only street, lined with colonial-period houses, some private, some repurposed as hotels and restaurants. The condition of some of the other streets is mildly derelict. Chachapoyas, Peru.
Roller skates and pink seem to be a thing here. On weekends, families gather in the squares and plazas. Chachapoyas, Peru.
Evenings are cool in the northern highlands in July, perfect for a stroll in the main plaza in Chachapoyas. Peru.
Getting hungry? The starter drink at El Batan del Tayta is a eucalyptus-flavored pisco sour. Chachapoyas, Peru.
Jungle menu: Chachapoyas was once the gateway to the Amazon and its cuisine fuses Andean and Amazonian. This restaurant leans toward the latter in decor and menu. Dishes and drinks include fried corn (canchita), molasses chocolate milk with liquor made with macerated ants (caspiroleta de hormigas), fried guinea pig (cuy), yucca boiled in purple corn and then fried. Yes, there does seem to be a lot of grease involved. The food is served on stone slabs or coconut husks or wood boxes; it’s all a tad gimmicky, but it works. The food is tasty, even the ant drink (skip the actual ant--bitter aftertaste).
There’s beauty in the most humble objects. Colonial-era door latch. Chachapoyas, Peru.
On the banks of the Utcabamba River, the Spanish colonial style Casa Hacienda Achamaqui recently re-opened, as tourism to the region has started to pick up. From the grounds you can view a sarcophagus from the pre-Incan Chachapoyas culture set in the cliff face. Amazonas, Peru.
Wondering where on Earth I’ve taken you? We’re in this square in the Amazonas region of the northern highlands of Peru. To the north, Ecuador; to the east, the Amazon; to the west, the coast; to the south, the Cordillera Blanca.
We’re off to see Gocta Falls, the third or sixth highest falls in the world. Why the discrepancy? It depends on how it’s measured; no matter, it’s high. We’re in the able hands of local guide Ruben, his horse Dino, and his dog Perroquin. They’ll take us about 3/4 of the way and then we’ll hike. We could walk there, and many do, but it’s a steep ascent at altitude. Let’s enjoy the ride and the company. Cocachimba, Peru.
Aren’t you glad we’re on a horse, otherwise we’d be constantly watching our step and missing out on views like this. We’re at 5900 feet in elevation and climbing to 8300. The scenery is breathtaking, or is it the altitude? From Cocachimba to Gocta Falls, Peru’s northern highlands.
It’s hard to fit a 2,531-foot tall falls in one picture. It’s like 4 1/2 stacked Washington monuments. And the crazy thing is that Gocta lay hidden in plain sight, unknown to all but nearby residents until 2006. Apparently a local legend kept people away from the site and no one ever bothered to come close or tell anyone until a German visitor saw it and measured it. A paved road was built to the town of Cocachimba, and a new tourist site was born. So far, from what I’ve seen, the site is managed pretty well and the locals benefiting. Amazonas region, Peru.
Secret waterfall: Gocta Falls, Cocachimba, Peru. Those dots are normal-sized people, not Lilliputians.
Heading back from the Gocta Falls, a second chance at the views. They call this area the Andean Amazon, or sometimes the Amazonian Andes. The topography is mountainous but it’s always green. Amazonas, Peru.
Room with a view: Gocta Andes Lodge, Cocachimba, Peru.
When it’s Take Your Daughter To Work Day, every day: This Cocachimba guide leads a tourist-laden horse up and down steep Andean trails daily, with baby in tow.
Quinoa balls on an avocado mash at the Gocta Lodge. Long before quinoa became a trendy superfood everywhere, it was a staple of the diet here. Amazonas, Peru.
What’s cuter than a baby alpaca? A baby alpaca in a bow tie looking to its mum. Gocta Andes Lodge, Peru.
Photos © Norie Quintos