In the second largest city in the world located in a desert there is an oasis that survives despite everything. The urban growth of Lima, the Peruvian capital, has been annihilating the few natural spaces it had, however, a large wetland is still preserved in its southern area, in the district of Chorrillos. It is a protected area called Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge (RVSPV).
The Pantanos de Villa are a reservoir of underground waters that come from rains and melting of the Rímac river basin. That is why its ecosystem is flooded vegetation or, also called, wetlands. This attribute allows the swamps to house up to 210 species of birds (including migratory, resident and occasional records), according to information from the National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State (SERNANP).
Swamps and swampy areas are areas of flooded vegetation or also called wetlands; where common plants cannot live. The dominant vegetation is made up of grasses, reeds, reeds and reeds. The water that makes up the swamps can be fresh or salty, depending on its origin.
Freshwater marshes provide nesting and wintering habitat for seabirds, shorebirds, mice, frogs, insects, and many other species. The saltwater marshes are a wintering ground for geese, ducks, and also nesting grounds for slender herons.
Taken together, the swamps make up much larger areas called wetlands. In relation to the "Swamps of Villa", its formation or origin is due to the outcrop of groundwater from rains and thaws in the Rímac river basin, which
they form lagoons, puddles and muddy terrain. But also, as it is an area close to the sea, there is salt water that also filters. That is to say, the water of the swamps is partly fresh and salty, which is why the richness of its flora and fauna is due.
According to investigations by a commission of biologists who work in the swamp, it has been possible to determine that the area comprised by the swamps is home to about 84 different species of birds (between residents and migratory).
The abundance of organic matter allows the existence of various living spaces or habitats. This is how, in the bodies of water (area that occupies the widest extension made up of lagoons and channels of different depths), it is possible to commonly observe various species of birds, such as ducks (pato alabanco), chickens (moorhen ), grebes (thick-billed grebes), coots (Andean coot) and herons (white and blue), as well as aquatic plants such as reeds and cattails, fish such as tilapia and mullet, etc.
The totorales are other areas of life existing in the "Swamps of Villa" and owe their name to the characteristic plant of the place, the totora. This habitat constitutes a nesting and resting area for birds such as the “Siete Colores” and the “Common Triguero”. In addition, insects such as ladybugs and spiders take refuge here. But, without a doubt, the dragonflies are the ones that give the touch of color in Villa. They are characterized by their thin wings and peculiar figure, from which humans were inspired to design helicopters. These insects prowl the cattails in search of food.
The gramadal is made up of saline and sandy soils, as well as small vegetation, such as salt grass. This is the life zone of the black-winged stilt and the greater yellow leg, which comes from North America.
In the zone of lagoons and sea coast there is the highest production of algae and invertebrates that constitute the base of the food chain. In this area you can see the majority of migratory birds, such as the “Semipalmado Plover”, the “Osprey Eagle”, the “Peregrine Falcon”, the "Franklin's Gull" and various species of sandpipers that come from the arctic.
There are about 24 species of migratory birds from North America that arrive in Villa at the end of October, a time of change of season or spring, and stay for approximately four months. The number of birds that nest, live or come from other countries to the Pantanos de Villa generally remain the same. A group of biologists is in charge of taking the bird census every certain period and during the morning hours. In 2004, a new species of migratory bird was detected that arrived from the United States, whose common name is "Aguja de Mar".
The flooded forest condition of the swamps makes it an ideal space for different migratory birds that come from the northern hemisphere (United States, Canada, even the Arctic). The presence of hundreds of birds in a single large wetland is an indescribable experience for visitors. Even more so when they all fly in unison and play in the sky until they hide the natural light a little.
"The swamps serve as a biological corridor for hundreds of birds that come from the north and come to rest and feed in this part of the continent, some still continue further south," says Carlos Bramón, responsible for maintaining the Wildlife Refuge of the Villa swamps.
Carlos has been conserving this protected area for more than 20 years. Its activity began in 1995, when the great wetland was legally a zone park. They were different times. “I live in Chorrillos. I started (in Pantanos de Villa) when it was a zone park. There was no maintenance. There was garbage clearing, solid waste was thrown into the canals of the swamps”, he recalls.
Due to differences between responsible authorities, there was no one to confront the environmental abandonment of the swamps, but finally an agreement was reached, recalls Carlos Bramón. The administration of the protected area is shared. 80% of the total area is administered by PROHVILLA, a municipal authority. The other 20% is the responsibility of SERNANP (National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State).
Thanks to the better administration of the protected area, eco-sustainable activities are now promoted, such as scheduled visits by scientific researchers, tourists, bird watchers or the curious public in general.
According to the biologist specializing in biodiversity from PROHVILLA, Alejandro Cotillón Mendoza, the great season for the presence of migratory birds begins in September, and in October it begins to rise. Only in April does the presence of migratory birds decrease because they leave the place, but the resident or local species remain.
There are dozens of bird species that are found, many of them suffer from some degree of threat such as the Peruvian pelican (Pelecanus thagus), the guanay (Phalacrocorax bouganvilli) and the Peruvian booby (Sula variegata). There are even the famous Peruvian flamingos or, as they are known locally, the parihuanas (Phoenicoparrus andinus). We also find Franklin's gulls (Leucophaeus pipixcan), which come from the north and continue their journey to the south of Argentina. Per season, up to 40,000 individuals of Franklin's Gulls can arrive in the protected area, not counting the other birds and the more than 60 species of plants that surround them. An experience full of life in the middle of a desert.
The Pantanos de Villa are not far away, as they are part of the district of Chorrillos, at kilometer 14 of the Panamericana Sur. If you do not hire a private mobility or you do not go in your own car, you can take the buses that go to the highway. The arrival time may vary depending on the starting point and the cost of the ticket, which ranges between 2 and 4 soles.
You can also take a bus directly in Chorrillos, on Avenida Defensores del Morro or ex. Huaylas Avenue. Another option is through the Metropolitan of the Municipality of Lima. For that, you just have to take the service from the Central Station in Matellini or at the bus stops on Av. Prolongación Huaylas. The cost is 2 soles and 50 cents. When you get off you must take the Alimentador del Metropolitano for 50 cents, which will leave you half a block from your destination.
In 1997, the refuge was recognized by the RAMSAR Convention as a Wetland of International Importance for Waterfowl. It is the only protected area in the urban area of Lima.
There are five water mirrors, or also called Villa lagoons, that make up a sector of the hydrological system of the Chorrillos-Ate-Surco branch. On the other hand, in the vicinity of the reservoir there are several bases for scientific research, with various professionals who have the objective of caring for the diversity of ecosystems and maintaining the beauty of the landscape at its best.
That is why the Pantanos de Villa refuge encourages tourism, activities and educational outings. It is much more beneficial for people to know that all these species exist and become aware of their care, in addition to the beauty they represent for the entire country.
The birds that live there are unique and many of them are even in danger of extinction. For example, there are the Peruvian booby, the Peruvian pelican, the Peruvian potoyunco, the guanay, the giant coot, and the white grebe. There are others that are less threatened, but are just as rare, such as the green-headed duck, the spotted sandpiper, the western sandpiper, the arctic plover, the tricolored heron and the peregrine falcon.
In addition, the vegetation is very extensive and some 67 species of plants are distinguished. In much of the swamp you can find the gramadal (in sandy soils), the totoral (in flooded areas and water mirrors) and the bushes (in saturated soils). All plants feed on salts and organic materials from the subsoil, which have accumulated over the centuries.
You will not spend much in the Villa Swamps. The cost of admission per adult is 8 soles, while for school and university students the price is 4 soles. To navigate the lagoons, the cost of renting a boat is 12 soles. This will allow you to go deeper into the place and appreciate the flora and fauna more closely. Remember to bring your water bottle and a light snack. Outside there are some street vendors selling snacks, but prices can be high.
Inside there will be security points and guides, where you can receive information brochures. There is also the option of hiring a professional guide. He or she will help you identify each species and tell you more about the biological cycles of the animals, for a cost of 20 soles.
Remember to throw your food waste in the bins that you will find along the way. In addition, at the end of the tour you can go to the restaurants that surround the Matellini Metropolitano station. In them you will find menus with cheap prices, from 7 soles.
The place is humid, with flooded vegetation and mud. Therefore, do not forget to wear comfortable clothes and shoes with resistance and grip, to avoid falls.
The tours are divided into three zones and each of them can last an hour or an hour and a half. It is not a difficult trekking route, it is a calm, straight path and with a pleasant climate almost all year round. However, in summer, when the heat is more stifling, there are more birds to see. In that case, it is best to bring a hat and sunscreen.
In order not to frighten the birds and interrupt their activities, it is recommended to maintain silence throughout the tour. If you visit the place accompanied by the little ones, don't worry, they won't find the road or the silence heavy. If they receive the correct information they will be surprised with all the nature they will see.
The route in total is more than 2 kilometers long. In addition, there are viewpoints strategically located in different places, which allow incredible views of the lagoons and birds. The entrance hours for the shelter are from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Monday to Sunday and holidays. The three zones in which the tour is divided are the following:
Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views.