Written by: Priya Ganpathy

Discover Paracas, Peru’s living cache of unexpected and unexplored treasures

Our van blazed down Peru’s historic Pan-American highway, the southern part of the world’s longest motorable road connecting mainland America to Chile and Argentina. But I was heading south of Lima to Paracas, a secret paradise in the desert in the Ica region, a mecca for eco-tourism. Half an hour from Lima, our guide Pablo pointed out green swathes breaking the dull arid surroundings. Pantonas de Villa or the Villa’s Swamps in Chorillos is a 263-hectare wetland home to several migratory birds.

We passed the sacred pre-Incan archaeological site of Pachacamac dedicated to Pacha Kamaq, the god of creation and earthquakes, though the pyramids were barely visible. Further on was Chilca, known for therapeutic mud spas, UFO sightings and E.T. ice creams! Paracas’ bright sunshine and peaceful coastline attracted the rich to build expensive summer homes and condos in the beach village of Asia.

Soon, we pulled into La Hacienda Bahia Paracas resort, an oasis of peace and luxury. With Spanish tiles in the courtyard and red bougainvillea vines on its walls, its rooms overlooked the glassy Paracas Bay. I would have savoured it longer but for the morning boat ride to the famous Ballestas Islands, pegged as the Galápagos of Peru. At the private jetty, Ronald the naturalist hollered, “Before Islas Ballestas, we stop at a geoglyph called El Candelabro of the Andes, because of its design. People don’t really know where, when or why it came into existence.”

Paracas Bay teems with rich marine life, birds and sea animals. Three of the six varieties of flamingoes are found in Peru while Paracas is home to the common flamingo. Four of the world’s seven sea turtles live here, besides otters and the endangered Humboldt penguin. “It’s one of the 17 varieties of penguins that live in Peru and Chile,” Ronald rattled on. The Paracas Natural Reserve is unique because it protects the ocean and the desert landscape. In 10 minutes we were face-to-face with what looked like a sand dune mountain with a gigantic cactus-like candlestand on it. This was the Paracas Candelabra.

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