All Desert Surrounded by Water ~ General San Martin, Peru

Desert in Paracas National Preserve

The city of General San Martin is south of Callao (Lima) and close to Chile.  Both seaport cities have coastal desert-like characteristics and are cool and arid receiving less than 2 inches of rain a year. The weather patterns are influenced by the strong Humboldt Current that sweeps northward in this area from the south bringing plankton, which supplies rich and plentiful food for the marine life in the area. Anchovies and tuna are abundant in these waters adjacent to Peru.

We chose to visit the Paracas National Reserve, which is reputed to be a masterful reserve of ecology in the coastal desert. The new, modern interpretative center featured pictures, information and models of the different species that are protected in the area. On the way to the Reserve our guide told us about the 400+ mummified bodies that had been found dating from thousands of years ago. The fully clothed bodies were in fetal positions and wrapped in cotton.

It is believed that the people were buried in this position so that they could be reborn in the afterlife.

Many of them died from tuberculosis and the skulls of some of the individuals, especially babies and young children, were misshapen by tightly wrapping boards at the sides and front of the skull to force it to elongate upward from the eyes as the child grows.

Some of these prehistoric people were also headhunters and removed the eyes, and brains of their victims and then suspending the skulls from around their waists.

Next we visited the Red Reach, a unique beach because of its red sand, which derives it color from iron in the soil.

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Marine sediments formed all of the soil in this reserve and we saw several prehistoric fossils.  Our guide explained that the land on which we were standing had at one time been the bottom of the sea and showed us fossils that dated back 30,000 years.  A shift in the Tectonic plates and many earthquakes in the area have radically changed the topography in this part of the world over thousands of years.

Turritelas Snail Fossils

Turritelas Snail FOSSILS


  Unusual rock formations that were shaped by wind erosion were interesting and were named “Moon Surface” and “The Cathedral.”  An earthquake destroyed the top of the Cathedral in 2007.

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 Paracas Bay is reputed to have the highest concentration of marine birds in the world, but we did not see that many during our visit.  We had expected to see Pelicans, Humboldt Penguins and Pink Flamingos, but all seemed to be elsewhere.  We did see gulls and terns in numbers.

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Wind and water erosion continues to shape and reshape this part of the landscape with frequent sandstorms, sometimes dropping great quantities of sand and burying roads and landmarks.

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Paracas Reserve

We left the Paracas Reserve area and traveled a short distance on the Pan American Highway, which is said to extend from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. We saw several agricultural fields along the way that are utilizing drip irrigation to grow avocadoes, seedless oranges, and asparagus in this arid, desert region of Peru.

Our last stop was at Sumaqkay, which is a Quechua word that means “quality and beauty.”

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Sumaqkay is surrounded by citrus groves, grape vineyards, and asparagus fields, but they are also engaged in weaving textiles that are incorporated into a number of products: wall hangings, garments, throws, handbags, and rugs.

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The men and women employed there work part time raising and picking produce for market and part time learning and perfecting their artistic skills in the production of fabrics and handicrafts for resale.  It is hoped that by providing these people with support and training it will help preserve the ancient textile industry and reinforce their identity.

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