Paracas is a small fishing village turned beach resort town that is actually known as Peru’s best wild-life watching destination. Often referred to as “The Poor Man’s Galapagos,” this coastal desert region is home to the Ballestas Islands and the Paracas National Reserve, both of which are teeming with wildlife, from sea lions, seabirds, and flamingos, and even contain fossils that are 36 million years old!
The small town now runs on tourism, but still has its charm, boasting a waterfront boardwalk and a bay sprinkled with brightly colored fishing boats. I spent three days in Paracas admiring the natural beauty of the landscape, as well as enjoying some much needed R&R, and found this to be the perfect amount of time. I’ve put together the ultimate guide to Paracas so you get as much out of your trip as I did!
What Are the Top Things to Do?
Take a boat ride out to the Ballestas Islands:
For an up close and personal look at some of Peru’s most active marine life, don’t miss a trip out to the Ballestas Islands. These islands are off limits to humans, leaving them pretty untouched and abound with wildlife.
They are most famous for the 50 meter candelabra geoglyph carved into the side of the Paracas Peninsula, which can only be properly viewed from a boat on the way to the islands. The significance of the famed candelabra is very much unknown, but there are plenty of theories, which your guide will happily fill you in on.
Your English speaking guide will also give you plenty of information about the many unique animal species you will come across, and will even give you a heads up for any epic photo opportunities to prepare for (i.e arches, a rare blue-footed booby sighting…).
These guys do a great job of getting right up next to the rocks for a super up close look at penguins diving into the sea for some fresh catch, and sea lions perched up on the many rock formations basking in the sun. This tour was absolutely jam packed with wildlife and I was honestly in awe with how close they bring you to the action.
How can I book a tour? In the town center just around the corner from the marina, there are several tour agencies selling the same trip out to the islands.
How much does it cost? I ended up booking a package deal including both a tour out to the Ballestas Islands (25 Soles) and The Paracas National Reserve (15 Soles) for a total of 40 Soles (plus the 15 Soles tax which can be paid at the harbor the morning of your tour). In total, I spent 55 Soles ($17USD) for both the Ballestas though I overheard some people say they spent 70 Soles – make sure to haggle! Don’t forget that everything is negotiable.
How long is the tour? The excursion out to the Ballestas is at 8am and the tour companies ask that you arrive at their office 15 minutes prior to check in and walk to the marina as a group. The island tour is about 2 hours in total, taking 30 minutes to get to the actual islands, 1 hour exploring around the islands and then 30 minutes back to the marina.
Admire the unique landscape of the Paracas National Reserve:
The other main attraction of Paracas is the nationally protected wildlife reservation just a 10 minute drive from the main town, where you can view flamingos in their natural habitat, fossils millions of years old, beautiful desert dunes colored in deep yellows and reds, and gorgeous views of the ocean from the untouched coastline. The reserve is dedicated to protecting and conserving one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world.
The basic tour will take you to many natural wonders including La Catedral arch, Playa Roja, and will finish with a stop at Bahia Lagunillas. La Catedral arch is a massive rock formation off the coast which was unfortunately destroyed in the devastating 2007 earthquake, but it’s still a beautiful sight to see.
Playa Roja is a red sand beach, which is a product of the erosion of porphyry rocks found in the hills of the Paracas Peninsula.
Bahia Lagunillas is a little fishing harbour where visitors can grab a super fresh seafood lunch and relax on the beach and watch the many Peruvian pelicans also enjoy their lunch. FUN FACT: There is a nearby viewpoint from Bahia Lagunillas where you can see fishermen collecting mineral rich algae which they then sell off to luxury skincare brands!
How long is the tour? The national reserve tour starts around 11:00am, so if you go on the island tour first, you’ll have about 45 minutes in between to grab lunch and something to drink before heading off on the second part. The tour throughout the Paracas National Reserves is roughly 4 hours from start to finish. It only takes 10 minutes to get to the first stop, which is the Welcome Center.
Spoil yourself with a day spent at Hotel Paracas:
I rarely splurge on luxury experiences, but when Hotel Paracas invited me to enjoy their pool and amenities for the day, I jumped at the opportunity. Although I wasn’t a guest at Hotel Paracas, I was able to spend the day at this luxurious property on a “Day Pass” which grants access to hotel amenities to non-guests for the day for $55USD.
The massive infinity pool in the center was the main draw for me, with cabanas surrounding the area for a nice relaxing, shaded space to enjoy the day. Then of course, there is the lounge area with perfect views of the ocean right out front.
Everything is open air which creates such a beautiful and relaxing atmosphere. I was blown away by the staff and the exceptional service here, as I was constantly being checked on to make sure I had everything I needed (and not in an obnoxious way, in a they knew exactly when I would need something way)!
I befriended many of the staff members during my day here and wish I could have stayed longer. Special shoutout to Fernando, Andy, Renzo, Cesar, Wiliam, Flor De Maria, Hilda (all the staff really) that made me feel so welcomed, and showed me such a wonderful day.
The bartenders are also masters of their craft, specializing in Pisco sours. I had a Pisco sour tasting and tried classic, lemongrass, and chicha morada infused pisco sours…YUM! The bartender even went out of his way to tell me about the Pisco making process and the different grades etc.
For anyone looking to experience a day of luxury, but is on a more conservative budget, the “Day Pass” to Hotel Paracas is a perfect option and they treat you just like a luxury customer!
Eat world class Peruvian-style seafood at La Chalana:
If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I rarely leave out dining experiences when visiting a new place. Well, this post is no different, as I have an incredible dining recommendation for you: La Chalana. This seafood restaurant is part of Hotel Paracas, and is located out on their private dock.
The location is simply unbeatable, as you are quite literally situated IN the ocean. On a clear day (like most days in the Paracas) you have perfect views of the ocean and the coastline alike, all the while snacking on what may be the freshest seafood in the Paracas. I can attest to the fact that they only use the freshest seafood, as I witnessed a boat pull up to the dock and make a delivery. Talk about sea to table…
They only offer a few items on their menu, including:
– Ceviche (fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices)
– Causas (a mashed potato and seafood appetizer)
– Tiraditos (Peruvian dish of raw fish, cut in the shape of sashimi)
– Chalacas (scallops with a bright onion, tomato, and lime juice topping)
It was a dining experience that sent my tastebuds into a state of bliss and I dream of the day I can go back!
Where Should I Stay?
Hostel Kokopelli Paracas:
I sometimes am overwhelmed by backpacker culture (which usually involves excessive partying), although I still like to be social, and found that Hostel Kokopelli Paracas was the perfect place for me.
The atmosphere is a no-worries-chill-zone, complete with an awesome pool that gets plenty of sunlight, great music, ping pong and a pool table. As I said, I’m not typically much of a party person, but found myself enjoying a ping pong tournament and drinking games with other backpackers, and I had an absolute blast.
This is a beachfront property, so it’s in a perfect location to watch the sunset or have your morning coffee with your toes in the sand. It’s also conveniently located really close to the center of town, which is where you’ll need to go to catch a boat to the Ballestas or a tour to the Paracas National Reserve.
The breakfast was simple, but it was free, and I love free. If you wanted to beef it up a little, they offered eggs and avocado for a small fee. The dorm rooms are pod style, so although you’re sharing a room, you feel like you have your own space. There’s a secret locker behind your bed and even a place to hang your clothes, plugs and a light. It’s the little details like that in dorm rooms that make it such a more enjoyable experience!
How Do I Get to Paracas From Lima?
By bus (of course):
Paracas is a 4 hour bus journey south from Lima and is a fairly easy ride, only making a few stops along the way. I bought a ticket online at Peru Bus and found the entire process to be very straightforward. I paid the 45 Soles ($14USD) ticket cost online, and just showed my email confirmation when boarding. Be aware that you will need your passport in order to board, so make sure to have that handy.
Where Should I Go Next?
I recommend heading to Ica next to check out the wineries, famed sand dunes and mysterious Huacachina lagoon! You can easily book a bus ticket online with Peru Bus for about $4. The ride should only take about an hour through the desert. Check out next —> Huacachina: The Adrenaline-Packed Desert Oasis of Peru.
Disclaimer: I received some complimentary stays & tours during my time in Paracas in exchange for my opinions, but all opinions are my own. I only recommend places I would stay myself and tours that I love!