PARACAS, Peru -- Acclimatization.
That's the process of getting used to the chaos of traffic in Lima, population 10 million, and the altitude of Cusco, 11,000 feet, before you head up to Machu Picchu and all the other activities offered in this country of contrasts.
I found the perfect way to acclimatize upon arriving in Lima: I immediately took a four-hour drive south to the quiet town of Paracas and the calm desert oasis of the brand new Aranwa Paracas Resort & Spa.
The Aranwa Paracas, newest of the Aranwa group of resorts, opened last November on the beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in a contemporary set of buildings designed by Peruvian architect Manuel Davila to give a hint of the Inca history in this country while bringing in amenities suitable for the 21st Century. Free Wi-Fi, flat-screen televisions, a spa, fitness club, sauna, a tennis court, free kids' club, nightclub and two pools are part of the complex, but my favorite part of the design was the patio in front of my ground-floor room, which had a gate on its wood fence that allowed me to step directly into one of the resort's enormous swimming pools. Forget scrambling to get into your robe and walking to an elevator to find an entrance to the pool; I could literally jump out of bed, walk four steps, and without leaving my hotel room, be instantly swimming under the Peruvian sun.
If you must do more than swim and sun on your patio, you can take a quick boat trip to Ballestas Islands, described as Peru's "mini-Galapagos," home to thousands of colonies of seabirds, hundreds of sea lions, condors, schools of dolphins, and Humboldt penguins.
The Paracas National Reserve is 10 minutes from the hotel, and this marine sanctuary houses Inca terns, flamingoes, eagles, pelicans and cormorants. You can take a two-hour tour of the reserve and arrange a pick-up at the hotel, which you can do as well for the Ballestas Islands boat tour.
The unique position of the resort, with the ocean in front of it and the desert in the rear, allows people to swim and sandboard in the dunes of the desert all on the same day.
The hotel has three different restaurants, all offering some of the iconic dishes of Peru, including tamal of pork, cooked in a banana leaf, and seafood ceviche made using the incredibly delicious Peruvian lemons. It will eventually have a fourth restaurant, inside the old wood boat found on the property before construction began. Aranwa has kept the boat and set it up with tables and chairs, to use as a "restobar" for special occasions. Jarana Bar and the poolside Brisas Bar both offer the national drink, pisco sour, among others, and since Paracas is close to the town of Pisco, where the famed grape brandy was first made, you can taste pisco here at its source and at the nearby Ica Vineyards.
One of the hotel company's missions is to celebrate and preserve the local future. To that end, history afficionados can have a tour guide from "Mystery Peru" pick you up at the hotel to take you to the Pisco airport for an overflight look at the famous Nazca lines, ancient and mysterious figures and lines carved into the surface of the Nazca Desert and foothills of the Andes. You can also visit the soon-to-be completed Paracas Museum, which houses skulls, textiles that were made by South American people before the rise of the Inca or Aztecs, knives made from obsidian and jewelry made from gold. You can discover more of Peru's history at the mysterious pre-Incan Candelabra of Paracas, a well known prehistoric geoglyph found on the northern face of the Paracas Peninsula.