Sunday, November 10, 2019

Hopping Through Peru

We visited the coast line of Peru! There were lots of different ways to see the sandy desert.

By Kathy
Actual Dates: August 28th - August 31st

The time has come to start hopping through Peru. Most people who visit Peru fly from Lima to Cusco to get to the Machu Picchu area. We wanted to do more of the backpacker’s route and see some of the Peruvian coastline and the historic city of Arequipa before heading to Cusco. Dan did lots of research and figured out that the best way to travel is by bus. It is not advised to travel via rental car around Peru and you cannot fly between the small towns along the coast. There are many different levels of bus travel in South America. The three main issues is luggage security, old buses, and long transfers. Dan did a great job finding a company called Peru Hop that specializes in bus travel in Peru. They provided an English speaking guide and lots of suggestions for lodging in the small towns. They also broke up the road trip into many smaller trips with some sightseeing a long the way.

Here is a map of our tour from the Peru Hop site

The Peru Hop bus picked us up bright and early in the morning. We made our way through Lima picking up everyone at their hotel or hostel and we soon realized we were at the two ends of the spectrum of travelers on the bus. The kids were the only kids on the bus and Dan and I were on the older side of the age range of everyone else. We were also the only family on the bus. I would say the average age was 25-30 years old.

Ready for the bus ride!

Our first stop was a rest stop outside of the Lima. We stopped for a quick breakfast and some fun with competitive guinea pig games. Yes, guinea pigs. The pictures below will explain it all.  They are called cuy in Peru and you can find them on the restaurant menus in any town in Peru.

This was a pretty nice rest area. It was different from what we see in the states. They even had a llama, a horse and guinea pigs behind the main rest area.

The kids were able to feed the animals

Getting ready for the guinea pig games

Everyone had a number and the guinea pig (cuy) was placed under the box in the middle and then they lifted the box. He ran around in the circle and then enters a box and the winner was the person with the same number as the box.  The prize was a shot of pisco for the adults (it was 9:30 in the morning) and a piece of bread for the kids. 

Decisions, Decisions!

Our bus ride on the first day after breakfast would be about 5 hours with a sightseeing stop at a Hacienda San Jose. Hacienda San Jose was a thriving sugar cane plantation and later they also found a series of slave tunnels underneath the plantation. Now it is a resort and restaurant and you can stop buy for a tour that includes walking through the dark tunnels underground. We thought it would be a stop along the route but it turned out to be off the beaten path. We drove for about 30-40 minutes from the main highway through little towns and even through a riverbed to get to the plantation. This would not be our first “off the beaten path” experience in Peru. The pictures below will show you some things that we saw above ground. It was so dark and dusty when we toured the tunnels that we did not get any pictures. 

The front of the main building

The church inside the hacienda

It was beautiful inside

We saw lots of artifacts as we toured the hacienda

I love signs that make me laugh

The boys enjoying their water with good grass

After leaving the plantation we headed towards our first overnight stop in the small coastal town of Paracas. This town was pretty darn small. On one side you had the ocean and on the other the Paracas National Reserve. We rested, played some foosball, and had dinner to finish our first day.

This is a glimpse of what we look like when we travel from place to place. 

This was a pretty nice hostel with a great foosball table

Walking to dinner through the streets of Paracas

The next day we had a relaxing morning working on some bookings for later in our trip and then toured Paracas National Reserve before leaving Paracas.

The desert coastline is beautiful

Had to take a quick picture before this moment ended

This was the first time we felt pretty chilly on this trip but it will not be the last. 

Jack says touring can be exhausting sometimes!

After we left Paracas it was just a short bus ride to our next stop, Huacachina. The landscape of this town makes it very unique. Unfortunately, you cannot get a good picture on land so I will have to rely on somebody else’s aerial shot of this oasis in the desert.

An aerial view of Huacachina (photo credit: wikipedia)

A few pictures of the town from a spot a little lower

The street of Huacachina. It would take about 5 minutes to walk from one side to the other.

Another view of the town

Getting ready for our Peruvian breakfast. Almost all of the hostels and hotels have breakfast included. This was a pretty good one with fresh eggs and bread. I think Jack might need a nap! 

There is one main activity to do in Huacachina. A dune buggy and sandboarding tour. You can tell from the aerial picture that this is the perfect place to try this out. We signed up for the tour without hesitation thinking that it would be a pretty tame dune buggy ride to the top of some hills and then we would sand board down. The tour was only $15 per person so we were not expecting too much. Boy were we wrong! We had no idea it was going to be an adrenaline pumping two hours in the sand.

The buggies are lined up and ready to go!

We are getting strapped in. Thank goodness for the seat belts. We still had no idea at this point!

Dan and Jack had front row seats

We were placed in a dune buggy with a local driver and when everyone was loaded in the buggy and strapped in we took off with about 50 other buggies all at the same time. It did not take long to have our first OMG moment as we flew over the dunes and down the sand and then speeding up to do it again. Sometimes we could see what was over the hill and sometimes we couldn’t. Sometimes we could see other dune buggies beside us other times they came up by surprise. Sometimes we went straight down the hill and sometimes it felt like we were going sideways and would tip over at any time. To help with our heart rates we had a few scenic stops. Dan and I both looked at each other at the first stop with shock on our faces at the intensity of this tour. My knees were actually shaking. When we stopped we were amazed at the view. Desert and sand for miles and miles.

Phew!!! That was quite a trip to get to this spot.

The SandStar Crew and our buggy!

Then we had fun with pictures and the desert

This picture gives you a good idea of how vast this area was in real life. That is one of the big dune buggies in the sand. It looks tiny. 

After another half hour of a hold your breath experience in the dune buggy we came to the top of the hill and I almost lost it because I thought our driver was going to try to drive down the huge hill. It turns out this is where we would do some sandboarding. The first hill was steep and once the driver sent us down he took the buggy to the last of 3 hills to meet us at the end. After the dune buggy ride, the sandboarding was a piece of cake. Each hill gradually got smaller and smaller since we had to walk up the hills by foot.  Our cameras had to stay in the buggy while we went slipping and sliding down the sand, but I was able to grab it at the last hill to catch a few pictures of the kids with their boards.

The kids and their sand boards 

One of the last slides down the hill

Emma sandboarding down the hill

Sam taking his turn

Jack and his wipeout!

Time to go back to the buggy!

Then we were off to another nail biting 30 minute ride through the sand to our last scenic stop where we would watch the sunset over the sand. It was beautiful!

The desert looks completely different at sunset

Time for some fun on the buggy (while it is stopped)

Everyone is ready for the sunset

Just when we thought it could not get any more nerve wracking, the end of the tour was up and down over the dunes but without a lot of light since we just watched the sunset. When we got back we took a lot of deep breaths and emptied out our sand filled shoes. It was a heck of a tour for $15 a person.

We had sand in everything!!!

The next day we took off for our longest leg of the trip, an overnight ride to Arequipa. We stopped for a brief tour to learn how Pisco is produced and then we were off towards Nazca for dinner. Before dinner we made it to a stop on the highway to see the Nazca Lines. The Nazca Lines are drawings on the ground that were made by moving rock and creating a small trench. Anthropologist believe the lines were made by the Nazca people around 10 to 700 AD. We could see a few from a viewing tower along the side of the road but if you really want to see all of the designs you have to take a small plane and fly from Huacachina to Arequipa. 

Getting ready to load the bus!

The kids are ready to go

First Stop: A Pisco Tour

The mud containers in the picture are used to ferment the juice 

Time for a little tasting. We really only made it through one sip.

The landscape on the drive was beautiful. This was taken right off the highway when we stopped to see the Nazca Lines

If you look closely you will see the Nazca Line called Manos (hands)

This one was pretty big to try to capture from the tower. It is called the Arbol Tree

Not only would this be a long bus ride but we would also be going up, up, up in elevation to 7700 ft. This would be our first experience with the high elevation and trying to acclimate without getting sick. The kids were not huge fans of the overnight bus ride but we made it to Arequipa bright and early at 5:30 in the morning. Everyone was exhausted but we were very excited to explore Arequipa.

First breakfast in Arequipa while we waited for our hostel to be ready. Jack did not make it through breakfast!

In the next post we will tell you about our tour to see the Colca Canyon, lots of llamas, and a birthday celebration.

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