The dramatic topography and varied climate of Southern Coastal Perú surprised us at nearly every turn. We began by getting a taste of the Andes in Lunahuaná, a cute river town in the mountains only a few hour drive Southeast of Lima. The beautiful Cañete river flows along the curving mountain road near town, and we were lucky enough to find a camping spot right at the put in. We spent almost a week there kayaking the fun local run and enjoying the mountain scenery, a refreshing change from coastal living. It reminded us of how excited we are for kayak season in Chile.
Our next destination was Paracas, a small town on a bay next to the Paracas National Reserve, which encompasses a large peninsula stretching into the Pacific Ocean and creates the flat bay. Paracas was the most touristy town we have camped at in Perú, but the surrounding area offered both an incredible landscape and a variety of activities to be done. We were able to camp on the beach right at the most popular kitesurfing spot, thanks to the hospitality of the local kite school. The flat bay offered smooth foil kiting sessions and beautiful sunset cruising with the sand dunes of the peninsula in the distance. In the mornings we were alone, with a silence we were unaccustomed to after camping by waves or rapids for so long. Flamencos would wade in the shallow water, and Rio and I enjoyed paddle boarding around checking out the bird life. Mitch spent many of the mornings at the beautiful Playa Supay in the reserve, a great paragliding spot along the cliffs and dunes above the ocean.
One downside of Paracas was the silty fine sand that seemed to end up ground into every surface and pore of our things, not helped by Rio of course. On our last day in Paracas a sand storm blew in, a fairly regular occurrence in the area, with the strong winds blowing in a haze of dust from the sand dunes of the reserve. We decided to pack up camp before the sandstorm got worse the next day, with higher winds predicted.
The drive South from Paracas to the border with Chile was challenging but beautiful. We first camped just south of Nazca, after driving across the desert plateau famous for the pre-colombian geogliphs called the Nazca Lines, etched into an area spanning many miles in all directions. The complete figures can only be seen properly from the air, and we decided to forgo both the expensive plane flights and the janky ancient metal viewing platform, but it was still incredible to see bits of the lines as we drove through the area. The wind had picked up significantly by mid afternoon and the visibility and air quality were steadily decreasing, but luckily we found a nice camp with a windshield of eucalyptus trees. The area around Ica and Nazca is the main pisco and wine producing region of the country, and our camp was on a property with vineyards passed down through several generations.
The following day was probably the most challenging travel day we have had in the truck thus far. The first half hour of sunny skies and coffee-fueled optimism on the Panamerican highway soon evaporated was we started driving directly into dark ominous clouds. While the rain never got to be more than a heavy mist, the winds were creating dust devils and the road quality was terrible, with long dirt and potholed sections. The road climbed up into the hills, with heavy fog depositing moisture and creating a muddy road. When we finally descended back down to the coast and out of the fog we thought we were in the clear, but then began the long sections of steep curves climbing very high over the ocean, with beautiful views but zero guard rail and semi-trucks barreling down the hills cutting corners. We were very happy to arrive at our camp that night. The following day we were lucky enough to have been warned by some overlanding friends who had done the same drive the day about protesters creating roadblocks; we left extra early and were able to avoid any mishap. However, we did see the huge piles of dirt, rocks and burned logs blocking parts of the highway, the local community’s effort to raise their voice against copper mines polluting their agricultural river delta.
Finally, we arrived at the Chilean border, a very celebratory moment! Throughout our journey Chile has been on our minds, and we are very much looking forward to spending time here. Perú was, to quote Mitch, “stout,” and we would be lying if we said we weren’t looking forward to some of the familiar comforts Chile has to offer, such as potable water and organized driving. Yet we leave Perú with many new favorite places to come back to, and there is the whole beautiful Andes region we have yet to explore. For now, Chilean springtime is calling us!