Peru's southern coast is a strange mix of barren desert and teeming sea. It's a parched landscape left arid by the icy air of the humboldt ocean current, a phenomenon which contrastingly endows the water with an opulent supply of marine life, much of which is protected in coastal wildlife reserves.
Boobies, penguins, and flamingos fluff feathers, while sea lions bounce off rocks to swim in the chilly waters. Even the andean condor, lured by the promise of abundant food, makes an appearance.
Remains uncovered in this dry tract reveal a fascinating blend of cultures, dating back at least 5000 years.The Paracas civilization fashioned textiles in 300 BC with an artistry that still resonates today.
The Nazca people created their mysterious giant drawings in the desert some 2000 years ago, and the purpose of these enormous geoglyphs puzzles experts to this day. Aqueducts which they built remain in use, and the ceramics they produced are among the finest of the precolumbian area.
African slaves, brought to local plantations by the spanish conquistadores in the 16th century, sowed the seeds within their close-knit communities for the Afro-Peruvian music now venerated across the country.
Despite the aridity of the land, agriculture thrives here thanks to the centuries-old systems of irrigation that use underground water supplies.The spanish first introduced grape stocks in the 1550s and such was the success that the district around ica is now Peru wine basin and home to the national drink, pisco.
The region also played an instrumental trading role in the 19th century due to its island deposits of guano (bird droppings), then a sought-after fertilizer. Nowadays, the local economy is powered by grapes, cotton, olives, fruits, and nuts.
Even the desert has its own appeal.
Dunes whipped into peaks by strong winds attract sand-boarders and dune buggy riders, and hidden in the sands are the remains of preistoric pelicans and whale-eating sharks.
Sand dunes, wineries, and the enigmatic Nazca lines are the tourist magnets of this region.The city of Ica is the ideal departure point for a marine fossil hunt through the desert in four-wheel drives-two million years ago there was an ocean here-or a leisurely pisco tasting in one of more than 80 vineyards.
Tambo colorado displays the incas building prowess, while the pyramids at cahuachi are a souvenir of the earlier Nazca culture. Chincha is famed as the center of afro-Peruvian music and traditions, with the nearby San Jose ranch providing an insight into plantation life in the 17th century. The Paracas National reserve and the ballestas aslands are sanctuaries for bird and other wildlife; the islands have been dubbed the "Peruvian galapagos"