Living in Lima Part 2: Day Trip to Peru’s Mini Galapagos & Natural Desert Oasis

If you research the best day trips to take from Lima, the towns of Paracas and Huacachina will be high on the list. Both are located in the province of Ica, and they’re situated close enough to each other that tour buses can stop at both towns and return to Lima on the same day. This past Sunday, I took this tour after pre-booking with Peru Hop, a hop-on, hop-off bus/coach service that my colleagues recommended. The coach itself was clean and comfortable, making it easy to take a nap after my very early 5:40AM pick-up.

En route to Paracas at 6AM

Our first stop was Paracas, located on Peru’s west coast. We arrived at 9:30AM and went straight to the docks, where we settled into the waiting speedboats. The cloudy skies didn’t take away from the beauty of the rock formations and structures that we saw, many of which were thousands of years old (according to our bilingual boat guide). 20 minutes later, we reached the Ballestas Islands, a group of protected islands that are home to dozens of species, including sea lions (see video below), penguins, cormorants, pelicans, mussels, crabs, and star fish. It’s easy to see why these islands are nicknamed the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”!

We returned to shore at noon and had 45 minutes to explore before departing for Huacachina. Our tour guides had pointed out restaurants where we would receive 10% off our meals for being Peru Hop passengers, so I stopped at one to try their famous maple hot cakes. This was my first time trying hot cakes, and I can promise you that it won’t be my last! They were delicious and really hit the spot – I guess the boat ride worked up my appetite.

2-hour boat tour of the Ballestas Islands

Beautiful old structures in the middle of the ocean

A charming tourist area in Paracas

Maple hot cakes for breakfast!

Next up was Huacachina, a stunning desert town 1.5 hours southeast of Paracas. Our central meeting point was at a surprisingly gorgeous hostel, where we were offered free wi-fi and the option to dine at a poolside restaurant. Many of us decided to preorder food for later so that we could eat it on the way home. I chilled out in the shade and bought an extra bottle of water because it had suddenly gotten hot and sunny (approximately 28 degrees Celsius). The Peru Hop website was definitely right to suggest bringing sunscreen and sunglasses!

At 3:30, we met up with the tour guides and were split into groups of 6-8 for dune buggying. If you watched that video and thought, “Wow, dune buggying looks terrifying”, that’s because it is. The driver took us up to a lookout point, but on the way there, he sped up and down extremely steep sand dunes. I’m not a fan of rollercoasters and neither were the four Mexican girls in my group, but the driver didn’t care – he gleefully raced up and down the vertical dunes, to the utter delight of the only male passenger in our vehicle! The rest of us were hoarse from screaming with terror. The guide had explained that he would expect a tip for taking us through the dunes at full speed, so the male passenger covered the tip for everyone as he was the only one who wanted the buggy to go at the fastest speed possible. (FYI, the costs of the day’s activities were already included in the fee for this full-day tour. The only extras were tips, food, and optional desert supplies, such as bandanas).

Getting ready to head out for a nerve-wracking ride!

I have to admit, however, that the stomach-churning rollercoaster ride was worth it for the views of the sunset and the only natural oasis in South America:

The natural oasis in Huacachina

I couldn’t get enough of this view!

There was an option to try sand-boarding (see video below) down the dunes, but I opted out – it looked like an accident waiting to happen. Ironically, we later saw a woman being driven to the nearby hospital with what looked like a neck injury.

We walked back down the dunes and picked up our food at the hostel at 6PM. The bus had unforeseen mechanical issues and was delayed by almost two hours, but I ran into two Canadian colleagues and was in good company while we waited. After the 4.5-hour coach ride, I got back to my apartment around 1AM, exhausted but so happy that I had taken this day trip. Peru Hop itself was a great experience, in spite of the delay – the tour guides were helpful and professional and I felt safe travelling across the country with them. I highly recommend a trip to Paracas and Huacachina for anyone who has a day or two to spare while in Peru!

5 Important Reasons to Start Wearing Sunscreen Every Day

Sunscreen

The statistics may not always be the same, but the message is – you need to take care of your skin. Source: http://becancerpositive.org/wear-sunscreen/.

Show of hands: how many of you know that your skin is the largest organ in your body? Now, did you also know that the sun’s powerful rays can cause irreparable damage to your skin, sometimes resulting in skin cancer? Yikes. I’m all for soaking up some vitamin D, but for the sake of your own skin, make sure you do it wisely! A general rule of thumb is that you should apply sunscreen if you’ll be out in the sun for more than 20 minutes, and that it should have an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 15. Here are five super-important reasons to reach for the sun cream on a daily basis:

1. It’s one of the best ways to prevent skin aging. According to skincancer.org, “Sunscreen is one of the keys to radiant, youthful-looking skin…an estimated 90% of skin aging is caused by the sun.” 90%?! That fact alone should be enough to make us want to apply sunscreen every day! If you have sensitive skin or wear makeup on a daily basis, try to find a daily moisturizer or foundation with built-in SPF. That way, you’ll get sun protection without the shine or residue that can come from heavy sun creams. Bonus points if your sunscreen is all-natural (find some here)!

Continue reading

My Ultimate Travel Bucket List!

In my opinion, there are few things more exciting than exploring a new place. Everything is totally new, from the people you meet and the sights you see to the foods you eat. Of course, not all travel experiences are worth repeating, but hopefully we can learn from any unpleasant situations we may encounter in other countries. Your experiences while travelling are totally your own and you’ll never forget what you saw, heard or did that made a certain place so special. Here’s the bottom line: if you get an opportunity to travel, take it! Thanks to my parents, I’ve been able to travel to 23 countries in my 23 years. Whether it’s a cruise around the Galápagos Islands, a sunrise hike up to Machu Picchu or dinner on a Dhow in Zanzibar, those two are always up for an adventure and I’m so lucky to have accompanied them on some of their jaunts around the world. We’re hoping to visit Dubai and India this summer, which should be a real treat – as you can see below, those are two of the places on my current travel bucket list.

Here are another 23 places I’d absolutely love to visit, in no particular order. Feel free to comment on which ones you’ve been to and which ones you think I should include! Continue reading

Hello, September!

Autumn is one of the prettiest times of the year. Source: www.lovethispic.com.

Autumn is one of the prettiest times of the year. Source: http://www.lovethispic.com.

There’s no denying that autumn in Canada is one of the best times of the year. Crisp red and orange leaves crunching under your feet, Halloween decorations making their yearly debut, the faint scent of apples and bonfires in the air…how could anyone not love it? For me, the colourful leaves signal new beginnings and the end of lazy summer days; it’s time to break out those knit sweaters, take on a new semester and indulge in various pumpkin-flavoured treats. It also means that my birthday is coming up (yay!), although this year 23 is looking more scary than exciting. (Pretty sure my grandparents were married, working and having kids at that age.) Still, nothing can stop me from loving this month! It’s such a magical time of year, second only to our beautiful snowy winters.

What did all of you get up to this summer? Mine was pretty laid-back – we hosted relatives from out of town and spent a couple of days in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and I caught up on several TV shows, both old and new (everything from Gilmore Girls to Lost to Chicago P.D.). I took some time to discover new music, work on my photography skills and discover interesting places around the city, all of which I’ll continue to document on my Instagram page (@theurbangazelle). Oh, and I was recently accepted to the in-school mentoring program with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which is really exciting! The organization is currently working on finding a young girl for me to mentor, which should be a fun and rewarding experience for both of us. Tips from seasoned mentors on what to expect would be greatly appreciated!

So, back to the topic at hand: the end of summer 2015. The time seemed to pass quite slowly for me, though I’m sure for many of you it just flew by. So before you run out for your first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season, take a few moments to reflect on what you learned over the past few months. Even if you didn’t experience any life-altering moments, hopefully you feel like you grew in some way. Did you get to check a destination off your travel list? Make some great friends? Kick butt at a job or internship? Whatever it is, be proud of it and make sure to keep crossing goals off your list this fall. Until next time, friends!