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260km (162 miles) S of Lima; 75km (47 miles) NW of Ica; 205km (127 miles) NW of Nasca

The first town of any size to the south of Lima, Pisco is also the first settlement beyond the beaches outside the capital that draws the attention of travelers. Yet that interest has little to do with the (rather lacking) attributes of the town and almost everything to do with the natural attractions in abundance at the nearby Ballestas Islands and Paracas National Reserve, just 22km (14 miles) from the center of Pisco. A few kilometers west of the Pan-American Highway, Pisco is a small port and fishing village of very modest interest (beyond the Moorish-inspired Municipal Palace) that sometimes serves as a base for those wanting to visit Paracas Peninsula and Bay without paying the higher prices commanded by the resort.

Pisco was perhaps the hardest hit town by the 2007 earthquake that devastated the area. As much as 85% of central Pisco -- where most homes were constructed of adobe -- was destroyed, including nearly 20,000 homes and the city's San Clemente Church, where more than 130 people died while attending Mass. More modern buildings mostly survived, though the five-story Hotel Embassy in Pisco collapsed, killing 15 guests and employees.

El Libertador -- General José de San Martín -- immersed in the continent-wide campaign for independence from Spain and already having liberated Chile and Argentina -- made landfall with an army of 4,500 men at Paracas in 1819 and established his headquarters in Pisco. Here began his legendary battle for Peru's independence, which he declared in Huacho in 1821. San Martín was subsequently named the "Protector of Peru" and went about constructing its new republican government.

Earthquake Aftershocks -- The massive 7.9 earthquake that rocked Pisco and Ica in late 2007 destroyed the famous Cathedral rock formation in the Paracas National Reserve, leveled major churches -- Ica's Señor de Luren and Pisco's San Clemente -- and severely damaged invaluable pre-Hispanic artifacts, including mummies and ceramics, in museums in Ica and Pisco. More than 37,000 homes were destroyed, half of them in Pisco. Officials estimated that 85% of central Pisco, where most homes in the region were constructed of adobe and incapable of withstanding the tremors, was destroyed.

While aid flooded in from around the world, and Peru sent in its military to keep the peace and try to get the most drastically affected communities back on their feet, it will take years for them to recover, and many who lost their homes may never be able to rebuild.