Lima Peru: Day trips to temples, funky fishing villages, and more
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Bohemian at BarrancoSituated on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Barranco started out as a simple fishing village in the late 19th century and then morphed into a summer retreat for wealthy Limenos in the early 20th century. These urban invaders built the colonial homes characteristic of the barrio. Now the Barranco has been revitalized in the Bohemian district seen today. You can enjoy a leisurely walk around the neighborhood and ferret out some of the local art shops. Start out from the well-manicured Municipal Park with its central plaza, palm trees, shady benches and brown tile walkways then explore in all directions. Nearby, the Bridge of Sighs is ideally enjoyed with that special someone as it is a popular place for lovers to meet. For those who are self-conscious, stop at the middle of the bridge and look down at the all the people enjoying drinks on the many rooftop terraces below. The cobblestone promenade beneath you, lined with bars, cafes and restaurants, leads down to the beach. Arriving at the opposite side of the bridge, La Ermita is a charming church dating back to the old fishing days. Now under reconstruction because of an earthquake 3 years ago, the yellow building with white trim is not open to the public. Visitors find that the arched roof has been badly damaged; the wooden ribs are now exposed. Walk along the side of La Ermita overlooking the promenade for approximately 500 yards you come to a mirador with a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. You may wish to sit and relax for a few minutes before returning to the Municipal Park. At the south side of the Municipal Park is the beautifully restored art deco municipal library. After taking a photograph of the library, consider a short 5-block ride on Barranco's antique tramway running along scenic Avenida Pedro de Osma. Meandering back to the Municipal Park is your opportunity to explore the eclectic shops along the way for that perfect souvenir. If you happen to find the one bar that is just right for you, try Peru's national drink – the Pisco Sour. This drink is reminiscent of a Margarita except that it is made from a distilled grape wine known as Pisco rather than tequila. The drink is topped with frothy whipped egg white and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Your visit doesn't have to end when you finish your drink; Barranco also has a lively nightlife.
The Ruins of PachacamacRescued from a poverty-stricken barrio just across the highway, the site known as Pachacamac boasts at least fifteen majestic pyramids still being excavated from a sea of undulating sand dunes. Pachacamac, the god of earthquakes, was a fearsome deity. In dubious fashion, he allowed his worshippers to see the past and future through an oracle. For over 1500 years, until the arrival of the Spanish, pilgrims climbed to the summit of the Old Temple and posed their questions to oracle priests. These pilgrims also presented offerings to a wooden effigy of the deity. You can see a reproduction of this wooden carving at the on-site museum which also houses other finds from the area.
With the arrival of the Incas in the early 15th century CE, the Pachacamac site became a regional administrative center within the empire. The Incas were sun worshippers; the locals were not. While the Incas required all conquered peoples to worship the sun, they were tolerant of other religions. The god Pachacamac became the son of the Inca sun god and therefore a subordinate.
The Incas constructed the Temple of the Sun as the tallest and largest structure on the highest promontory in the area. You can ascend this four-tiered stone and adobe brick pyramid by means of a winding path around the periphery. As you climb higher, you have a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean in the distance, separated from you by lush green fields close to the shoreline. Near the summit, on the north side of the pyramid, the so-called chosen women were sacrificed to the sun on top of a ceremonial platform.
The chosen women were selected at the age of 6-8 years from the best local families to reside in the Acllawasi or Temple of the Moon – partly reconstructed and now the best preserved temple on the grounds. The girls were raised within the creamy coffee-colored adobe structure under the guardianship of matrons. In their late teens, some of these chosen women were sacrificed while others married Inca nobility or became the next generation of matrons.
When the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire, the oracle and the sun sacrifices disappeared, the original statue of Pachacamac was burned and the regional administrative center was abandoned to the desert sands.
A Boat Ride to the Ballestas IslandsThe Ballestas Islands, a protected national park and preserve, are just off the coast from the fishing village of Paracas. Visitors enjoy a 2-hour nature excursion around the “Galapagos of Peru” in a high-powered boat.
En Route to the islands, undulating sand dunes tell you that you are at the edge of a desert. Suddenly, seen from about a mile away, you pass a three-pronged geoglyth on a sandy hillside known as the Candelabra. While the origin and purpose are shrouded in mystery, the geoglyth is believed to pre-date the Incas. Carved into the sandy reddish-brown soil, this figure is over 173 yards long and 54 yards wide. The Candelabra was not erased or eroded with time; the region does not receive any rainfall and the hill pushes the wind up and over the lines.
Whitecaps on the blue-green water break against the craggy surfaces of the islands. But your first impression is likely to be the foul smell of bird excrement known as “guano”. The white guano coats the rocky surfaces like icing on a cake. You soon get used to the odor however. High upon on the rocks you find crowded pelican, gull and Humboldt penguin rookeries. The cacophonous cries of these birds defending their nests from intruders produce a natural symphony when combined with the sound of the waves and wolf- like barking of sea lions.
Below the rookeries, dark-colored sea lions lazily bask in the bright sunshine after having fished all night. They return at high tide and then use the waves to help them jump out onto the lowest rocky ledges on the islands. Occasionally these sea wolves will jump back into the water and entertain visitors.
A number of crabs and octopus tightly cling to any vertical surface at the water line to escape local fishermen who are not allowed to land on the islands. Some of these sea creatures might even take refuge inside the numerous caves and tunnels carved into the rock like bite marks into a slice of cheese.
One island houses a fortress-like structure dating back to the War of the Pacific fought in 1879 between Peru and Chile. At one point during the war, the Chileans captured the Ballestas Islands to harvest the guano – sold commercially as a phosphate-rich fertilizer. Guano was a major source of revenue for Peru at the time.
Returning to Paracas, take the opportunity to wander around this attractive fishing town. The harbor area has a number of tourist shops for souvenirs and family-run seafood restaurants serving up the catch-of-the-day.
If You GoFor all sites above, bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water to drink.
You can visit Barranco and Pachacamac as part of a single organized tour including transportation. If you visit Barranco independently, a taxi is your best mode of transportation. If you visit Pachacamac independently, take a combi displaying a sign reading Pachacamac/Lurin. You can hop aboard at the corner of Ayacucho and Montevideo in Central Lima. The Pachacamac site is quite spread out and will require some walking.
Ballestas Islands You can travel from Lima to Paracas by bus using Cruz del Sur Bus Lines. The trip is 3.5 hours one-way. Arriving at Paracas, you can either take a taxi into town or walk approximately half a mile. The best view is from the left side of the boat.
Another alternative is to combine your trip to the Ballestas Islands with a visit to the Nazca Lines as an overnight tour. Diane and I took the two-day tour, which included a day in Nazca.
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Troy Herrick, a freelance travel writer, has traveled extensively in North America, the Caribbean, Europe and parts of South America. His articles have appeared in Live Life Travel, International Living, Offbeat Travel and Travels Thru History Magazines. Diane Gagnon, a freelance photographer, has traveled extensively in North America, the Caribbean, Europe and parts of South America. Her photographs have accompanied Troy Herrick’s articles in Live Life Travel, Offbeat Travel and Travels Thru History Magazines.