The port of Matarani is just half an hour from the beach town of Mollendo and 3 hours from Peru’s second most important city, Arequipa. Since it was such a long bus trip inland with just an hour to explore the city before returning to the port, and we saw many postings on cruisecritic.com saying that it wasn’t worth the trip, we decided to check out the beach instead.
The trip there by shuttle was quite spectacular, if not exactly picturesque. Giant cliffs of grey rock, mottled with sodium nitrate surround the port and the bus travelled past what looked like an open pit mine (behind tall walls) and up and down deep gorges to finally arrive at Mollendo.
Once there we decided to do some earnest people watching and strolled down to the very busy beach area. It was obviously a popular area for families (including many dogs) to enjoy their summer holiday by the sea. Evidently many residents of Arequipa come here for R&R.
Part of me was disappointed that we didn’t see the city of Arequipa but it was actually quite enjoyable watching Chileans at play..
There is a stark contrast between central Peru and this south Peruvian port. The shoreline is brown, mottled with white (sodium nitrite) and barren. The most famous attraction in the area is the Nazca Lines, a series of amazing geoglyphs that stretch along a plateau approximately 80 miles between the towns of Nazca and Palpa. Believed to have been created by removed the red pebbly topsoil to uncover the white/grey soil beneath, these huge geometric and animal shapes were created between 500BC and 500AD. Some, I understand, are difficult to see now given the growth and development across the plateau but some people who paid over 500USD per person to fly over them did see a bit. It was recommended to us that we look at the video on YouTube which guarantees a window seat and a clear day!
The pier we docked at is not actually in Pisco, a town 30 km away. We learned that this town’s only claim to fame is as the place where the Pisco sour, the Peruvian national drink was created. Pisco is a local brandy made from wine and IMHO, when it’s mixed with lime or lemon juice, a bit of sugar syrup, and a few drops of bitters, it’s delicious (and dangerous)! Chile also claims Pisco as their drink but many prefer Piscola – a combination of Pisco and Coke (sounds like a waste of good Pisco to me)!
Instead of flying over Nazca or checking out Pisco, we took the shuttle into the town of El Chaco, about 20km from the pier. It is a small fishing village and tourist stop with a long line of market stalls facing the ocean…not exactly a place to write home about. The highlight for me were the pelicans, hanging around the promenade and sitting on the boats. We also enjoyed a couple of musicians busking in front of the restaurants.
On our way out of this port there were an amazing number of birds that seemed to be putting on an air show for us….dipping and diving in formation.