Founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, Lima is a curious mix of high-rise condos, large but orderly slums and colonial architecture in the city center. Lima is built upon a valley surrounded by an extremely arid desert and is one of the driest capitals in the world. This desert is home to a few interesting destinations, which, in addition to a few islands along the coast, make for some great day trips from Lima.
Although this small seaside town is popular with locals, it is still not well known to tourists. Located about 70 km (45 miles) south of Lima, Pucusana is a great escape for visitors who want to visit a traditional Peruvian fishing village. The water in Pucusana’s bay is very calm, so it’s an excellent place to go swimming. Pucusana’s main draw is the picturesque harbor, the fresh seafood, and relaxed atmosphere. There are also two natural formations in the area, the Devils’ Mouth and Christ’s Face. The Devil’s Mouth is a rock formation that produces a booming sound when a large wave crashes into it. Christ’s Face is, as its name implies, a rock formation that resembles Christ in profile.
Although a large part of Peru is covered under the Amazon rainforest, Huacachina is home to a completely different type of landscape — huge sand dunes. At the heart of Huacachina is a small lagoon that is surrounded by palm trees, a true desert oasis. The massive dunes around the town are popular with adrenaline junkies who flock to Huacachina to try their hands at sandboarding and dune buggying. Huacachina is located about four hours south of Lima making it a bit far for a day trip from Lima, though it is doable.
The Palomino Islands are a group of small islands in the Pacific Ocean. The biggest claim to fame for these islands is the thousands of super friendly and inquisitive sea lions that live on and around the Palomino Islands. Tours offer visitors the chance to swim with these curious animals, which some people say are almost like dogs with flippers. The babies can be especially inquisitive and will approach swimmers. A boat trip to the Palomino Islands only takes about an hour and a half from the port of Callao. Visitors may also spy Humboldt penguins and other sea birds while on their boat tour.
Touted as the “oldest town in the New World,” Caral is believed to date back to 2600 BC. This archaeological site boasts pyramids that would have been built during the same period of time that the Egyptians were building their own famous pyramids. Visitors can also see the remains of temples, adobe complexes and several sunken circular plazas. It is located on a dry terrace that is located above the Supe Valley, which is about 320 km (200 miles) north of Lima. Caral is just one of 18 settlements that have been discovered in this area. Although the Caral ruins were first discovered in 1905, it has only been open to the public since 2006.
This pretty reserve is located on the Paracas Peninsula and has been set up for two main purposes. One is to offer a protected area for wildlife, especially birds. Some of the many birds that can be viewed in this area include the Humboldt penguin, Peruvian diving petrel and the blue-footed booby. Visitors to this area may also be fortunate enough to spy whales and sea turtles. And they will almost definitely get to interact with the area’s many friendly sea lions. Paracas was also created to preserve the cultural heritage of the ancient inhabitants that once lived in the area and the reserve is home to several archeological sites.
Pachacamac, which is located within metropolitan Lima, was once an important religious compound for the Lima culture that was built before the Incas. Upon their arrival to the area in 1450, the Incas added numerous structures themselves. The main attractions at this archaeological site are the massive Temples of the Sun and the Moon. Badly eroded, these structures were built entirely of sun-dried clay bricks. Pachacamac is a huge site that covers several square miles, so visitors should give themselves several hours to explore this compound.
This group of islands is located off the coast of Peru and is sometimes referred to as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” Like the more famous Galapagos, the Ballestas Islands chain is home to very friendly sea lions and to huge numbers of sea birds, including boobies, flamingos, pelicans, cormorants and Humboldt penguins. Visitors can reach the Ballestas Islands on board a boat from Paracas, which is located near Pisco. It takes approximately two hours to reach this marine wildlife preserve, and along the way, lucky visitors may be treated to the sight of a giant prehistoric geoglyph known as El Candelabro. This huge three-branched geoglyph, which was cut into the soil of a hillside, can be seen from as far away as 20 km (12 miles).
These mysterious 1,000-year-old lines have long captured the imagination of the world. Best seen from above, these lines that were etched into the desert floor form huge figures known as geoglyphs, including a monkey, birds, dogs and what appear to be supernatural beings. There are approximately a thousand geoglyphs located between Peru’s coast and the Andes Mountains. Because these figures are best seen from the air, travelers typically go with a small airplane tour to view them.