Lima, with a population of nearly 10 million people when counting the metro suburbs, isn’t exactly the first place you’d pick for a natural wildlife refuge. Here at Pantanos de Villa, however, over 200 different species of birds all flit through the wetlands spanning 650 acres outside the Chorillos suburb. On the winding network of walking trails, visitors with binoculars can encounter dozens of species in the span of a couple of hours. Scan the reeds for Black Skimmers, Herons, and Puna Ibis, and look in the water for Great Grebes of Neotropic Cormorants. Many of the birds here are migratory and sightings change with the seasons, and the months of December and January brim with seagulls lining the coast. 11 species of amphibians and reptiles can also be found in the reeds, although unfortunately as the city continues to grow, the manmade threats to Pantanos de Villa are literally encircling the marsh.
Much like New York and San Francisco, the city of Lima has its own Chinatown (Barrio Chino). Peru’s ethnic Chinese community comprises an estimated 1.5 million people — some five percent of the total population — and the hub of that community lies in the heart of Lima’s historic district. The neighborhood was founded by Chinese immigrants during the mid nineteenth century when Chinese import companies began opening commercial houses in the area.
Visitors pass through the red Chinese archway and into a maze of traditional Chinese architecture. Streets are lined with Buddhist temples, shops selling traditional ingredients and medicinal herbs, and dozens of Chinese restaurants, known locally as chifas. Come at midday, and many restaurants will offer set menus.
The arid plains surrounding the small town of Nazca are detailed with South America’s most enigmatic sight, the extraordinary Nazca Lines.
Etched into more than 80km (50 miles) of rocky desert, and only properly appreciated from the air, the Nazca Lines are made up of more than 800 lines, 300 figures and 70 animal and plant outlines.
Creatures drawn here include monkeys measuring 90m (300 feet), lizards, spiders representing fertility, and an astronaut lookalike. Birds like the hummingbird, condor and flamingo represent summer and winter, and point exactly to where the sun rises and sets. The largest drawings measure 200m (660 feet) across.
There are a number of theories behind the lines and their construction - who made them, why and how? - but no one knows for sure, and they were only rediscovered in 1939.
One theory dates them to between 400 and 600 AD, believing that they were mapped as an astronomical calendar by early mathematicians.
Often called “the Peruvian Galapagos,” the Ballestas Islands are where savvy travelers can experience wildlife on a budget. Here, on these rocky islets about 90 minutes off the coast of Paracas, hundreds of sea lions lounge on rocks that are covered in thousands of birds, and the cost of visiting is a fraction of the cost of visiting the Galapagos in Ecuador. When approaching the eroded islands by sea, there are so many boobies, cormorants, and penguins resting on the rocky cliffs, the entire island seems to vibrate with the collective fidgeting of feathers. Humboldt penguins are another draw for visiting the Ballestas Islands, and these tuxedo-clad birds can only be found off the coast of Chile and Peru. While motoring out to the guano covered islands, keep an eye out for the Candelabra Geoglyph that’s etched into the hillside. At 595 feet in height, the mysterious, ancient, unexplained symbol can be seen 12 miles out to sea.