The small seaside town of Paracas is just four hours south of Lima and is definitely worth the detour. This small fishing village, now turned tourist destination, is one of Peru’s best wildlife-watching destinations.
The Paracas Peninsula is home to the Ballestas Islands and the Paracas National Reserve, both swarming with wildlife such as sea lions, penguins and incredible birdlife. It’s also home to fossils that are over 36 million years old and some incredible coastal scenery that will blow you away.
Paracas is easy to get to and you won’t regret spending a few days there.
How to get to Paracas?
By public bus
You can easily get to Paracas by public bus. A few companies are operating between Lima and Paracas. We’ve heard good things about Cruz del Sur; they are comfortable and you can easily book online instead of turning up at the bus station. It takes approximately four hours to reach Paracas from Lima. Once you exit Lima, you’ll be treated to miles of desert until you arrive in Paracas.
By Peru Hop
Alternatively, you can take Peru Hop, a hop-on/hop-off service that travels to the major tourist destinations in Peru. Two daily buses are operating to Paracas.
The first bus runs express straight to Paracas, arriving in four hours. The second bus takes longer but includes a couple of stops along the way. There’s a stop for a traditional Peruvian breakfast and a stop at the San Jose Hacienda. At the San Jose Hacienda, you are given a free guided tour of the secret slave tunnels under the main building. These tunnels are not for the claustrophobic!
Peru Hop costs a fair bit more than the public bus but you do get some extras, such as discounts on accommodation and restaurants. You also get picked up and dropped off at your hotel or hostel.
Find out more about Peru Hop here. We used them to travel around Peru and found them easy to travel with.
Read more about Lima here.
What to do in or around Paracas?
Take a half-day trip to the Ballestas Islands
Are you a wildlife lover but can’t afford a trip to the pricey Galapagos Islands? Well, the Islas Ballestas is your answer. Known as the poor man’s Galapagos, a two-hour trip to these islands from Paracas will set you back just $15.
These rocky islands are found just off the coast of Paracas and are off-limits to humans. They remain pretty much untouched and are packed with wildlife. Many species of birds, sea lions and penguins call them home. We were amazed by the Peruvian Bobby colony found on one of the islands.
The only way to visit the islands is to take a speedboat tour to them, which you can book online ahead of time (to make sure you get a spot), or upon arrival in Paracas. For such a low cost, it’s worth doing, even if you’ve seen the Galapagos.
On your way to the islands, you will stop to admire the famed candelabra carving, a well-known prehistoric geoglyph found on the northern face of the Paracas Peninsula. This 181-meter tall geoglyph is believed to date to 200 BCE, the time of the Paracas Culture. It is so big that it can be seen as far away as 19 kilometres.
Book your trips online here at findlocaltrips.com
Visit the Paracas National Reserve
The Paracas National Reserve really surprised us; it was out of this world. We were not at all expecting this kind of scenery in Peru and it reminded us a bit of our time in Namibia.
The Paracas National Reserve is just a few minutes drive outside of town but it’s best explored with a tour because a lot of the reserve is covered by desert, with unpaved roads and the occasional sandstorm.
Spanning over 3,350 km², the park is a protected natural area. It’s home to over 400 species of flora and fauna but the best part, it’s picture-perfect. The stunning desert dunes are coloured in deep yellows and reds. The breathtaking views where the desert meets the ocean will blow you away. It’s a must-do in Peru and another reason why you should not bypass Paracas.
Note: A tour of the Paracas National Reserve is included in your Peru Hop pass if you are travelling with them.
Watch the sunset on the Pacific Coast
What’s the best way to end the day in Paracas? Sit at one of the bars or restaurants in the Malecon and sip a Pisco Sour while enjoying the sunset.
Hang out with the Pelicans
The Pelicans don’t just hang out on the islands. If you take a walk along the seafront, you’ll find many of them waiting for fish close to the beach. The Peruvian pelicans are a little different and smaller than our pelicans at home in Australia. They are, however, just as cheeky. I enjoyed watching what they got up to. They are pretty hilarious!
Eat fresh ceviche
You’re in a seaside town in Peru, so you have to eat some ceviche while in Paracas. The fish is freshly caught by the local fishermen and it’s so good! All restaurants in town will have it on the menu but for the best ceviche, head to Restaurant Chalana or Restaurant Paracas. They both happen to have amazing sea and sunset views as well.
Explore the town
Paracas is not going to win any awards for its looks but it’s still worth spending some time walking around it, especially along the waterfront boardwalk where you can enjoy the bay views and the brightly coloured fishing boats.
Visit a Pisco Vineyard
Who doesn’t like a Pisco Sour, made from Peru’s national drink the Pisco? Well, I certainly do, especially the Peruvian ones (don’t tell the Chilenos). Paracas is located in the Ica region which is the centre of the Peruvian Pisco industry. So, while there, you need to visit a Pisco vineyard.
We visited El Catador which was included with our Peru Hop pass. Once there we were given a tour of the vineyard and learnt about its history and the process of making Pisco.
The second part was the tasting. We tasted their wines first and then moved on to the Pisco. Their Pisco was good but I can’t say that the wine was to my taste at all. Peruvian wines are way too sweet for me!
Take a day trip to Huacachina
The desert Oasis of Huacachina is only an hour away from Paracas and is South America’s only natural desert Oasis. You can catch a bus to Ica and then take a 10-minute taxi ride to Huacachina.
There isn’t much to Huacachina itself, it’s tiny. But its golden dunes are what you go there for. It’s all about sandboarding and sand buggy tours in the surrounding desert. It’s a whole lot of fun. Prepare yourself for some sore bums after the sand buggy ride but it’s a must-do in Huacachina!
You can also take a hike up the nearby dunes by yourself. It’s hard work but worth it for the views. One of the local street dogs may even join you for the walk! Bring lots of water.
Take a day trip to or fly over the Nazca Lines
The twelve, world-famous Nazca Lines are not too far from Paracas. The best way to see them all is by air, so if you are keen, book a flight in a little Cessna Caravan aeroplane and fly over the area to see these amazing icons from above. Flights depart a few times a day from Paracas/Ica airport. It saves you a long drive to the viewpoint and back and it’s the only way you can see all of the lines.
If you are not that interested or don’t have the budget to pay for the flight, there is a tower with a viewpoint. There are day tours going to the Nazca lines viewpoint, combined with other stops like Huacachina or the Pisco distillery. Many of the travel agencies in town offer these packages. Just walk around and make enquiries.
If you travel with Peru Hop onwards to Arequipa, the stop at the viewpoint is included in your ticket.
Read more about Arequipa here.
Where to stay?
We stayed at the Hotel Residencial Los Frayles which was the drop-off and pick up point from Peru Hop. It was located in the middle of everything and was basic but good enough for a short stay. There is an outdoor pool if you visit on a hot day. Breakfast was included for Peru Hop passengers.
Best on booking.com:
If none of those take your fancy, try using HotelsCombined to search across all the largest accommodation websites. We use them all the time.