Islas Ballestas

The Islas Ballestas are a group of three rocky islands 18km off the coast near Ica, in Southern Peru. They are part of a protected reserve and are sometimes called the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’. Boat trips take you around the islands, but you can’t step foot on them unless you’re collecting guano, which happens every seven years (did you know there is even a bird called the ‘guano bird’?). I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere with so many birds. Or anywhere that smells so much of bird.

On the way to the islands, you pass a giant geoglyph known as The Candelabra (or The Cactus, or The Trident). It’s age and purpose is unknown, but one theory sees it as a giant signal for fishing boats.

Humboldt Penguins and Boobies

The guide on the boat said these were called ‘moustache birds’.

Birds aren’t the only wildlife here.

On the way back, we saw a gazillion birds flying back to the islands. Their flight formations rippled like a ribbon.

A half-day tour costs 60 Soles, with an early pickup in Huacachina. The actual boat ride is only two hours, but that’s pretty standard. Most hostels in Huacachina offer the same tour, with a small difference in price.


Huacachina was one of those places we just decided to visit on the spur of the moment. I wasn’t really looking forward to this ‘backpacker oasis’, but the chilled-out atmosphere, delicious seafood and huge sand dunes, not to mention another spur of the moment decision to go sand-boarding, meant I ended up loving our short time here.

An oasis in the middle of sand dunes, Huacachina felt, and looked, like a film set.

Getting to the area where we went sand-boarding was like a roller-coaster ride. All the different drivers were competing with each other to make their tourists scream the loudest.

Sand-boarding on the belly is a lot easier than trying to stand up.

I ended up with pockets full of sand and very bruised hips. But it was worth it.

A two hour sand-boarding trip costs 35 Soles.

The three best meals in Peru

So yeah, everyone talks about Peruvian food. We ate some good stuff there (we also ate stuff that was just like Bolivian food too). But three meals easily stand out as the best.

Ceviche in Huacachina
This is the best ceviche ever. It was super fresh and tender, perfectly marinated and a good-sized portion. We also ordered fried squid which came with yucca and salad. Also out-of-this-world delicious. It was so good that we went back the next day and ordered it all again.


[I have to apologize for this picture. I assumed we’d be eating ceviche like this all over Peru, so I only took pictures with my iPod. It wasn’t true. No where came even close to this meal.]

Tamarind pork in Lima’s Chinatown
Peruvians are quite proud of their chifas. Certainly they have the best in South America, although the food is very Westernised (and bizarrely some Chinese restaurants only serve fried chicken). But at a random restaurant in Lima’s Chinatown we ate an almuerzo that included wonton soup and main dish for 8 soles. The pork was lovely and barbecued, with lotus and radish in a thick, sour-sweet tamarind sauce. Heaven in my mouth.


[Are you noticing a theme with these pictures? Also shown here is a chicken and vegetable dish with -gasp! – bean sprouts and bak choi. Virtually non-existent in South America.]

The old standby of Lomo Saltado
Chopped up steak, onions, tomato and chips, all fried up together and served over rice. This particular one was served at a roadside restaurant on a tour we took in Huaraz. I don’t even really like steak very much. Or onions. But these ingredients were fresh and perfectly cooked. I couldn’t get enough.


[Look at all those vegetables. It’s got to be healthy, right?]

What’s your favourite Peruvian food?

Chauchilla Cemetery

I thought about posting this for Halloween. But you know what? Chauchilla cemetery is more than just a novelty.

Yes, there are mummies – plenty of them – so if you like that kind of thing, enjoy. If you’re interested in the history too, I’ve tried to add information from my scribbled note-taking. I can’t promise it’s perfectly accurate but it is what the guide told me.


Although close to modern day Nasca town, the cemetery is hard to spot without knowing where it is. Unfortunately this hasn’t stopped grave-robbers over the centuries from looting the tombs. All that’s left of much of the cemetery are depressions in the sandy terrain where empty graves used to be.


Fragments of bone, textile and ceramic are scattered around the surface. Where possible, archaeologists have gathered what they can and reconstructed the graves which now sit open, under simple roofs to protect them.


The cemetery was used by the Paracas, Nasca and Inca cultures although most burials are dated to the period of 200-900AD.


The wonderful preservation of the bodies and artefacts is due to two things: the naturally dry atmosphere of the desert and the mummification processes.


In some cases the innards were taken out and the bodies packed with salt to remove moisture. Other times, it’s thought the bodies were dried out on platforms in the desert before having the ligaments cut to enable placing in the foetal position. A kind of resin was also applied to aid preservation. Apparently, coca leaves also helped and they have even been found in Egyptian mummies (I’m very sceptical about this).


In the photo above, you can see a clumpy shape in the earth on the right side. This is the remains of a body that, for some reason, decomposed completely. As the fat and grease left the body, it gathered in the soil and this impression is all that’s left.


From studying the bodies it’s possible to identify the diet of these people. Those from inland ate meat and vegetables and have very worn or broken teeth. Those from the coast ate seafood which was easier on the teeth, hence their pearly whites are intact.


The grouping of the bodies within graves is not entirely clear, but it’s suggested they were family groups as children are sometimes also present.


It’s also believed that ‘shamans’ can be identified by their long hair, although many mummies had this feature so either they were pretty ubiquitous in this society or it symbolises something else.


Chauchilla cemetery can be visited from Nasca on a 3 hour tour for around 30 soles. This also includes a visit to ceramic and gold workshops, which I wasn’t thrilled about but turned out to be really interesting. At both places they use traditional techniques (my favourite of which is rubbing a finished ceramic piece on human skin so that the natural oils add a gloss to the pottery).