I’m getting picked up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 this morning, so I’m grateful that I’m the only one in my dorm right now. However, its unbearably cold in my dorm tonight, and I never quite manage to nod off for more than an hour or two. I keep grabbing my phone and getting more and more frustrated when it’s been less than 20 minutes since I last checked.
Needless to say, getting up at 5 was childs play, and I had my bag packed and ready to go at 5:20. I was told Peru Hop will come to the door to get me, so I wouldn’t need to wait outside on the street (which frankly was a huge relief), but was grateful I had the additional ten minutes, because the gentleman manning ‘reception’ had an issue with my bill. He was wanting me to pay, despite the fact that I was certain I paid for three nights the first morning specifically to avoid this – and he didn’t speak English so we couldn’t quite work it out. It ends up with him calling the owner that speaks English (poor woman) to explain the situation, and I’m free to go just as Peru Hop comes calling.
I’m the second person picked up, so have my pick of seats – but end up slipping into the set behind my first choice when a pair sit in front of me and crank the recline all the way back and drastically reduce my space. As it turns out, just about everyone does this, so moving was pointless, and all I can do is recline my own seat to regain some room.
Our Peru Hop guide for the first leg is a gentleman called Renzo, who spends the trip to Paracas collecting our passports and confirming where we’ll be staying and if we’re doing the tour to Ballestas Island. I feel a little foolish – I’d seen the time the bus was meant to arrive and assumed that meant we wouldn’t get there in time to do it so booked it for tomorrow. At least I can do the free trip to Paracas Nature Reserve that runs at 11.
We roll into Paracas around 9:35, and it honestly looks exactly like what you think a tiny beach town in South America would look like. Every building is either are store, hotel or hostel, and there are signs everywhere offering tours or discounts on sights. Reminds me a little of when I’d got to Tenerife as a kid and see the slightly less expensive areas of town. On the plus side, everyone is friendly enough, and the sun is finally shining.
I’m spending 2 days in Paracas, and will be staying at the Kokopelli Hostel just a few minutes away from Peru Hop’s only stop in Paracas. I chose it mostly because it has a pool and after the island trip tomorrow, I intend to have a lazy day before I have to start worrying about all the hiking I have planned next week. My first impressions are definitely positive – it’s got a good vibe and a nice area in the back with a bar and a (slightly overpriced) restaurant attached.
I head back to the bus for 10:45, and we head out for the Paracas Natural Reserve just after 11. This area is actually part of the same reserve hosting the Ballestas Islands, and the government isn’t elated – this area, much like the Bolivian Salt Flats, was once underwater, and as the seas reclined, it’s created a collection of different coloured sands…that exist above hoards of salt. The government would dearly like to mine it, but the special protections brought in during the 1970’s means they can’t, and we can continue to enjoy the area.
I’m mostly just fascinated by the amazing sand dunes, which come in just about every natural colour you can think of, and will just randomly pop up into a mountain in the middle of nowhere – I’ve never seen anywhere like it.
Our first stop is The Cathedral, which in recent years has become a misnomer. Once the most photographed site in Peru, this rock formation took the appearance of a religious Cathedral out in the water, right up until the most recent earthquake in 2007, which saw the structure crumble into the ocean. People’s opinions on what it looks like now vary, but apparently gorilla is a popular one.
The second stop is the Peninsula, where we can overlook one of the area’s many beaches and the small fishing areas within the park, and then we head down to the beach itself. On the far left, cordoned off for protection, you can find the red sand beach. Thanks to this origin, the sand isn’t renewable, and is protected from harvesting in order to preserve it.
Overall, the tour takes about 75 minutes, and we head back into Paracas for the early afternoon. By this point I’m starving, and although I hate eating at one of the fancier restaurants alone, I dig out tripadvisor to see if there’s anywhere that sticks out.
To my surprise, the restaurant just around the corner from Kokopelli, Lobo Fino, is ranked in the top 3. That’s enough for me to go check it out, and my interest rises when I see how busy the outside area is. On the wall there are 2 day menus, one for 25 soles and another for 15, and I sit down while desperately trying to translate the 15 sole menu before the waitress comes out. I don’t quite succeed, but she’s clearly used to stupid foreigners, because with pointing and charades I get an order down.
In the end I realise I’ve ordered some kind of chicken wing soup and chicken steak combo that comes with either classic or incan coke, which certainly sounds edible. It turns out to be even more than that when it arrives – the soup bowl is huge, and I would probably have been happy just eating that! It’s a soup with a creamy texture and filled with pasta circles, as well as a chunk of cobbed corn, and a chicken wing. It’s so filling that when my main dish arrives, I abandon the soup despite still having a fifth to go, just so I can get through my main.
I also order the incan cola, which I’m coming to love because it tastes a lot like a very sweet irn bru, and that’s a welcome thing in my world.
The main also solidifies my belief that 15 soles and above is the magic number, because this is amazing. The chicken is well cooked and juicy, and the deep fry is so well done it could give my favourite Scottish fish and chip shop some pointers. It has admittedly come with a healthy portion of rice and the creamed item (although i’ve since learned that’s probably corn, not potato), but I mostly ignore it to tuck into the chicken.
I end up having to leave about half the meal, but only because I’m SO FULL. I’m definitely coming here for the day menu tomorrow.
I also get talking with another Peru Hop woman who has been here 2 days already, and she recommends that I get on the ‘Sunset Shadows’ tour that runs in the evenings. This is a tour run by the desk at Kokopelli, and leaves at 3:30 to head into part of the reserve most people don’t go, and hike up the cliffs in order to watch the sunset. It is admittedly, 97 soles, but it sounds so good I decide I have to try it.
When I arrive an hour later for pickup, I also get the pleasant surprise in finding Garreth, one of the men from the walking tour in Lima I spent the day with, also on the tour. He’d arrived a few hours before and was staying at Kokopelli, so I’d have a chance to catch up.
Although the tour was meant to leave at 3:30, it ended up having a shaky start – barely getting out at 3:50, and having to go back because two passengers had shown up late and needed to be picked up, but eventually we were on our way to the park.
Frustratingly, this is where being part of Peru Hop doesn’t help. Although they cover the entrance fee for the park tour, they don’t give us any ticket to prove we’ve paid for entry. The Ballestas Island tour they recommend is also the same, so we have to pay an additional entrance fee for the tour. 11 soles for today, or 17 soles if they planned to come back tomorrow.
Before we start our hike, we come across a breeding ground of Paracan Flamingoes, and stop for a closer look. This bird is in fact the inspiration for the South American flag – unlike other flamingos, this bird is white, with bright red feathers on it’s bottom wings. We can’t get too close, but do get treated to them in flight when we accidentally startle them.
We also stop not far from the salt mines – which is one of the few places it’s legal to mine the salt here – and near where they drag the seaweed from the ocean to dry for sale, before heading up the hill in the wind and sun.
It’s not a sheer climb, there’s just a moderate incline, but it still takes more out of me than I want to admit. I’m relieved when we make it to the top, and we can start to take in the views from the cliffs.
Incline included, we’ve got about 2km to walk in order to get to the ‘golden shadows’ area, and since it’s mostly flat, it’s easy sailing. Our biggest hold up was stopping to take awesome photographs along the edge, and one guy deciding to bring his drone out to play – and confusing the hell out of the local vulture population who couldn’t decide if it was a threat or food.
We spend so much time posing that when we make it to the spot, we’re given the choice of speeding down the mountain to watch the sunset from the yellow rocks near the bottom, or staying where we are – we choose to stay, and joy one of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen in a while.
Admittedly, the cloud bank meant we couldn’t watch the full thing, but it was a very close approximation, and well worth the hike. When the last slivers vanished from the horizon, we then learned that in order to get down, we’d have to take a…very…steep route down.
The route we took was actually the easier of 2! And still required me to hop into L stance and half skid down a chunk of it in order to get down. Definitely getting to give these hiking boots a good test drive, sand and steep inclines are no challenge to their grip…although the wind blowing in my face at speeds probably helped keep me upright too.
It takes close to an hour to drive back to Paracas after that, but I highly recommend the Sunset Shadows tour if you’re spending a night in Paracas – that sunset was definitely worth the price, and it certainly felt like a great way to finish up my first day.