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South Coast/Peru

Introducing South Coast

Peru’s southern coastal desert is refreshed by palm oases and spanned by a ribbon of pavement, the Carretera Panamericana (Pan-American Hwy), which slices all the way through the country from Ecuador to Chile. It’s the best overland route to Arequipa, Lake Titicaca and of course, Cuzco. Yes, you guessed it: this is the start of Peru’s well-beaten Gringo Trail.

But the south coast holds far more depth and diversity than the kilometer upon kilometer of arid desert and coastline viewed from a bus window. These lowlands gave birth to some extraordinary pre-Columbian civilizations, especially the Nazca – remembered for their cryptic lines etched across 500 sq km of desolate land – and the Paracas Necropolis culture, whose burial sites still lie in the sands. Spanish haciendas became the birthplace of Afro-Peruvian music and dance, whose untamed protest strains live on, especially around Chincha.

That said, it’s also the wildness of the territory that brings travelers here today. Pacific beaches issue a siren’s call to surfers, while river runners get their feet wet in Lunahuaná. Pisco is famous not only for the national drink, pisco (Peruvian brandy), but also for its marine wildlife and rugged coastline. Ica is surrounded by vineyards and the monstrous sand dunes of Huacachina. Closer to Chile, bird-watchers flock to the coastal lagoons of Mejía.

Peru’s south coast is an ideal place to let your wanderlust run wild. Just jump off your bus along the Panamericana wherever some dusty track catches your eye; you’ll always find something quirky or interesting at the end of these desert roads.