• Photo: Peter Guttman/

Plan Your Southern Coast Vacation

From vineyards to rolling sand dunes, surf beaches to rocky islands teeming with wildlife, the area south of Lima is wild and fascinating. This region was home to the Nazca, a pre-Columbian civilization that created the enigmatic Nazca Lines. Hundreds of giant diagrams depicting animals, humans, and perfectly drawn geometric shapes are etched into the desert floor over areas so vast that they can be seen properly only from the air.

The mystery of how, why, and for whom the Nazca Lines were created is unexplained, although theories range from irrigation systems to launch pads for alien spacecraft.

This is also where the Paracas culture arrived as early as 1300 BC and over the next thousand years established a line of fishing villages that exist today. The Paracas are long gone, and the Inca Empire conquered the region in the 16th century, yet the Paracas left behind some of Peru's most advanced weavings, ceramics, stone carvings, metal jewelry, and thousands of eerie cemeteries in the desert.

Yet it's not all ancient civilizations, pottery, and mysterious drawings. With a sunny climate, great wines, and charming fishing villages, this region has been a favorite vacation destination for generations of Limeños eager to escape the big city. It's also been a commercial hub. For years during the mid-19th century the region was the center of Peru's riches, which took the rather odorous form of guano—bird droppings (found in vast quantities on the islands off the coast of Paracas) that are a rich source of natural fertilizer. Shipped to North America and Europe from the deepwater port of Pisco, the trade proved so lucrative that there was even a war over it—the Guano War of 1865–66, in which Spain battled Peru for possession of the nearby Chincha Islands.

Today the region capitalizes on its natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and enigmatic archaeological sites to draw tourists from all parts of the world. With wines and piscos to taste in Ica, dunes to board down in Huacachina, mysterious lines to puzzle over in Nazca, idyllic coastal resorts in Paracas, and tranquil fishing villages along the coast, this part of Peru can seduce and charm you.

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