Going Off The Beaten Path In The Nazca Desert in Peru
Peru is an incredibly diverse country. It has the wet Amazonian jungles and the high snow-capped mountains of the Andes. But on that day, it was one of the aridest deserts on the planet I was stepping on: Peru’s coastal desert, more precisely the Nazca Desert. (Yes, the famous Nazca Lines you are thinking of are not very far.)
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 January and February, it doesn’t rain.
To tell the truth, this road trip to the Lost Canyon has been in 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 of days marveling at the majestic sand dunes around the Huacachina Oasis, I was determined to take this desert experience a step further and go more off the beaten track far into the Nazca Desert.
The Lost Canyon was a perfect opportunity to do just this. And good news, my hotel was able to organize it!
Just to disclose everything and make it clear to you, I stayed at two different hotels in Huacachina. The one I asked to plan this canyon trip is the second one, called Hospedaje Rocha. However, my favorite hotel in Huacachina was the first one, Wild Olive Guesthouse, which I recommend in the ‘Quick Info’ table. I believe they are able to organize this tour too.
Anyway, 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 a car and driver.
Price: I paid 200 soles (60 USD) per person for 2 persons.
Duration of the tour: Whole day.
When to go: Possible all year long
Hotel recommendation: Wild Olive Guesthouse (Huacachina)
Lost Canyon – Contents
Lost Canyon & Nazca Desert 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 tire tracks on the sand” would be a more appropriate description. We were in the middle of nowhere.
VIRTUAL TOUR – Lost Canyon
Cross the amazing Nazca Desert and explore deep inside the Lost Canyon (17 panoramas).
Copy the following code and paste it on your website:
You can modify the display size of the virtual tour by changing the “width” and “height” values in red (in pixels or percentage).
Embedding the virtual tour is completely free, you are just required to keep the attribution as provided in the code.
Here is the Virtual Tour URL:
The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.
The Lost Canyon – or by its real, local name Cañon de Los Perdidos – was discovered only recently, which is quite surprising in 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 into 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 the 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, and 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
Peru’s Nazca Desert is the most hostile and lifeless environment 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 that the Sechura Desert is 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 the 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? 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 to 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 sculpted 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 in order 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.
TRAVEL MAP – Lost Canyon
Visualize on the map the precise locations of panoramas in the virtual tour and places of interest to help you prepare for your trip across the Nazca Desert to the Lost Canyon.
The map opens in a lightbox. Zoom in to explore!
The Nazca Desert is starting to reveal its hidden gems! Most people flock to the Huacachina Oasis in Ica, 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.
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Tu m’as fait passer un bon moment, et merci pour le partage. J’aime bien la petite histoire du Lost Canyon… Continue de nous faire voyager Julien !
I knew nothing about this desert before reading this post, your information is great and the photos are spectacular. What a great natural place to visit. Thanks for sharing
Thank you for your kind words!
You did an absolutely fantastic job on Peru. The Atacama desert, aka the driest desert in the world. It was very brave of you to go through there. Anyway, I’ll be saving this post for the future as I plan on visiting Peru soon.
Glad you enjoyed it Kareemah!
This place looks absolutely stunning. Loved your video too. Would love to get lost in there
Thanks a lot Baia glad you liked it 🙂
Loved reading this article and learning about the Lost Canyon! Your photos were beautiful, too.
Thank you very much Marta!
Wow! Looks like you’re the only one there. It looks amazing and enjoyed your video. I like the picture of your girlfriend that looked like inside the cave. I have never thought about going there nor heard about the place though. Now I know. Thank you.
Yes this place is still unheard of for many travelers in the region, but I hope this article will contribute to make it more famous!
Your video of the Lost Canyon is so beautiful! It looks like you’re on another planet. I did a similar hike in southern Patagonia and felt like I was on Mars.
It’s true that South America is full of otherworldly landscapes!
Thanks for sharing this post! I really love the photos I such an incredible place! Indeed a stunning landscape in Peru, the canyons are so beautiful. Even watched the video and indeed a breathtaking view from this lost canyon. Thanks for this informative post, I hope this lost canyon of Ica, Peru gets famous someday.
Glad you enjoyed it Ghia! I am sure it will get more and more famous in the years to come.
Wow I’d never heard of this Lost Canyon before. Loved the film clip. It looks like you were the only person there! Really want to visit Peru so thanks I’ll definitely put this on itinerary.
There is so much to Peru I didn’t even realize. We visited Peru over 4 years ago and have been dying to get back. Def putting this on our Peru bucket list.
Thanks for the comment Hannah, Peru is definitely packed with amazing places and it would take several trips to fully appreciate it.
What a great post about Ica and the lost canyon. I’ve been to San Pedro de Atacama and that is a unique experience on it’s own. Your experience in Ica takes it to another level. I too enjoy the desert. Must add this experience for my next trip to Peru. Safe travels!
Thanks Rosemary! How lucky to have been to San Pedro! I haven’t crossed the border when I was in Bolivia. The desert is amazing, you should visit this canyon while it’s still not too famous!
Looks like you had a great time! I would definitely love to visit myself! Peru has slowly been creeping its way up towards the top of my bucket list, so I’ll definitely make sure I save this for when I finally make it there. After seeing Waimea Canyon in Hawaii, USA, I’ve been itching to check out more majestic canyons.
Thanks for the comment Kiyoko! I’m envious that you saw Hawaii! Peru is an incredible country that I have visited 3 times so far, and I am never tired of going. You won’t be disappointed!
Sandy N Vyjay
The varied landscapes of Peru are mesmerizing. This is a fresh and not often visited perspective of Peru. The journey to the lost canyon itself seems so fascinating as you traverse the wilderness of the deserts. The Lost Canyon looks straight out of a Sc-Fi movie, a land from another world.The experience must have been really awesome and something which will remain etched in your memory for a long, long time.
For sure Sandy! It’s an experience I will remember for a long time and this desert is truly spectacular. Thanks for the comment!
I love this virtual tour! This is pretty fantastic! I have to go back to Peru– yeah did Huacachina – but this does not even compare, your photos are incredible, thanks for the wanderlust!
Thank you very much Dorene! Huacachina is already beautiful but this feels like true exploration and you can feel the majesty of the desert.
What a fabulous fabulous place! The landscapes are breathtaking. I understand what you mean by the immensity of the place . Truly it feels like you guys discovered it and with that pool of water and those canyons, it feels straight out of a movie! 🙂
Thanks for unearthing this gem for us. Would so love to visit this someday. The video left me awestruck! 🙂
Thank you so much Divyakshi! I’m glad you enjoyed the article and the video. It did feel like we were the first ones to ever cross these landscapes and walk in this canyon. I am really glad to have seen it before it gets too famous and crowded.
Your photos are beautiful and I felt like I was at The Lost Canyon while watching your video. I am not much of a fan of desert landscape (mostly because I am surrounded by it, living in the UAE) but if I was to visit Peru, I’d definitely want to check this place out. Thanks for the recommendations!
Hey Medha, thanks for your comment! I can understand you got tired of the desert, but this canyon is certainly special enough for you to enjoy 🙂