Going Off The Beaten Path In The Peruvian Desert
Peru is an incredibly diverse country. It has the wet Amazonian jungles, the high snow-capped mountains of the Andes. But on that day, it was one of the most arid deserts on the planet I was stepping on.
Just travel some 1000 km (620 mi) towards the south, and you will find yourself in the middle of the Atacama Desert in Chile, the official driest region on Earth. In the region of Ica, we are then in the suburb of the Atacama, so to speak. If you ignore the little drizzle they sometimes get in Januray and February, it doesn’t rain.
To tell the truth, this road trip to the Lost Canyon has been on the back of my mind for quite some time, after coming across some pictures of it online (it often starts this way).
However, I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find someone to take me there, and I didn’t even know where exactly it was on the map! Nothing too unusual for a Lost Canyon, after all.
After spending a couple days marveling at the majestic sand dunes around the Huachinca Oasis, I was determined to take this desert experience a step further and go more off the beaten track.
The Lost Canyon was a perfect opportunity to do just this. And good news, my hotel was able to organize it!
I can tell you right away that this desert trip didn’t disappoint me, you can probably tell from my happy face in the video below!
GPS (canyon): 14°45’15.75″S, 75°30’50.77″W
How to go: Talk to your hotel/guesthouse in Ica or Huacachina to arrange a tour with car and driver.
Price: I paid 200 soles (60 USD) per person for 2 persons, from my hotel in Huacachina (Hotel Rocha).
Duration of the tour: Whole day.
When to go: Possible all year long
Lost Canyon Travel Video
My experience at the Lost Canyon in 2 minutes!
Making Our Way To The Lost Canyon
At 7:30 in the morning, as my girlfriend and I got out of our hotel with the lunch box we had bought the day before, our car was already waiting for us.
A 3-hour scenic drive in the desert was awaiting us; and although I have always loved the desert, I didn’t know I would be so blown away by this road trip.
The good thing about such private tours is that you can tell your driver to stop wherever and whenever you want, and it took a great deal of self-control not to stop every two minutes because the desert scenery just seemed to get more and more stunning after every turn of the road.
OK, I am not too sure what we were driving on actually suits the definition of a road. “Some tyre tracks on the sand” would be a more appropriate description. We were in the middle of nowhere.
The Lost Canyon – or by its real, local name Cañon de Los Perdidos – was discovered only recently, which is quite surprising at the age of high resolution satellite imagery. But when you think about it, why would people venture there? Why would anyone look in this direction? At first glance, it’s nothing but an empty desert. The canyon itself isn’t even visible until you get to it.
As a matter of fact, Cañon de Los Perdidos doesn’t exactly mean “Lost Canyon”, but rather “Canyon of the Lost [People]”.
In June 2011, the Touristic Commission of Ocucaje (the main town in the area) set up a little expedition to get to the canyon. They invited a few people to join, including a scientist and a local journalist, and the group was split in two cars.
If the first car reached the canyon without trouble, the second car got completely lost in the desert and never made it to the canyon! This inspired the journalist to call this canyon Cañon de Los Perdidos in next day’s issue of the local newspaper. The canyon’s official name was born!
Luckily enough, our driver perfectly knew which way to go, when to turn, in the middle of the desert, without the help of any GPS. He knew the road by heart. We would not be the Perdidos on that day.
Total Immersion In The Desert
It is the most hostile and lifeless desert you can imagine. Rocks, sand, dust… as far as you can see. That’s also what makes it so fascinating.
The only notable exception is the valley of the Rio Ica (the Ica River) making its way through the golden sands. Flowing straight from the Andes, the river is the only place you will find water and a bit of plant life in the area.
That’s where we stopped first, appreciating the contrast between the lush greenery growing along the river and the dead lands around. We were already 40 km (25 mi) away from Ica, but only halfway to the canyon.
As we were getting swallowed by the immensity of the desert, I started getting these same feelings of excitement that I had when visiting southern Bolivia many years before – the feeling that if I was walking on some other planet, it wouldn’t look that much different.
We stopped on a couple more occasions, exploring a strange yellow rock formation, and overlooking mind-blowing landscapes made of colorful arid mountain ranges, dusty gravel plains and endless stretches of sand. That’s more than enough to make you forget you are in a coastal desert and that the Pacific Ocean is less than 20 km (12 mi) away!
Exploring the Lost Canyon
It’s quite striking to notice how the Lost Canyon is almost invisible from a distance. But when you get to it, you directly arrive at its most impressive part.
Here, the Rio Seco (Dry River) patiently and relentlessly dug the rocks, rainy season after rainy season, rewarding us today with this impressive stone cathedral.
There is something picturesque, almost elegant about this canyon. Could it be its harmonious curves? Its golden color? At the second you lay eyes on it, you can’t help feeling it just looks really special.
Since it would be a perilous enterprise to just directly go down to the bottom of the canyon, the exploration starts at the top. You first need to follow the canyon, along the edge for about a kilometer (0.6 mi). I couldn’t stop looking down, trying to uncover what I would be able to see inside the canyon.
Remember the Ica River we left some time ago in the morning? Here it is again, with some trees adding a welcome touch of green in this mineral world.
The Rio Seco is a tributary of the Rio Ica, and the two rivers join precisely at the end of the canyon. After flowing for 16 more kilometers or so (10 mi), the waters of the Rio Ica finally end their overland journey and meet the ocean.
To get from the plateau at the top of the canyon to the river bed, you need to go down a slope that can be a little treacherous for those who are not used to it. Go slow!
We eventually made our way inside the wide open canyon, gradually becoming more and more narrow and its walls more and more vertical. Once again, I was enchanted by these gracefully curved, undulating walls, carved by water, wind, and a lot of time.
Even though you might see a trickle of water flowing on Rio Seco’s bed, when you are walking on the dry mud and looking at the narrow crack waiting to be explored, the last thing you expect to find there is a body of water. Unless you read this article before going, of course. Sorry for the spoiler!
But indeed, one of the most surprising features to be found at the bottom of the canyon is a whole series of ponds. The first one is probably to most stunning, with its round shape, it seems to have been carefully scuplted inside the rocky floor and canyon walls. Yet another proof that Nature can be an artist, too.
From this point, it takes a bit of rock climbing to explore the canyon further, but it’s of course well worth it!
By the time we finished our visit and got back to the car, it was the middle of the afternoon and the clouds had invaded the sky. It was time to drive back to Ica, delighted with our desert experience.
The desert of Ica is starting to reveal its hidden gems! Most people flock to the Huacachina Oasis, attracted by the grand sand dunes scenery. Few seem to realize that these sand dunes, as majestic as they are, are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of places worth seeing in this region.
Here you have an ideal opportunity to go beyond the obvious, and really immerse yourself in the beauty of the coastal desert of Peru.
Virtual Tour Map
Zoom in to explore!