Paracas is a fishing village located about 3 hours south of Lima. Even though this little coastal town sounds like something boring to visit, you would be surprised. You can find here incredible landmarks or even national park full of wildlife. In Paracas, you can choose to go on tour to Ballestas islands and that is quite a unique experience. These islands, not so far from the coast, are bursting with wild birds and seals. At the place where used to be silver mines, the government decided to stop industrial production to protect local wildlife.
Things to do in Paracas
Paracas is a very small village full of hotels and fishermen. So how long should you spend here? Let’s face it, the village is pretty small. If you want to see here the regular things like Ballestas Islands and Paracas national reserve, it is more than enough to spend here just a day. But of course, there are some other activities that you can practice here in case you want to spend time a little bit outside of big cities.
Walk on the beach
I started my tour by walking on a beach. Depends on when are you visiting Paracas, you can choose to bathe too. I was visiting in June, which is wintertime in Peru. The temperature was around 17 degrees, so I wouldn’t recommend bathing. At the same time, the water looked kinda dirty. So the question is: Can you bathe on the beach at all? And the answer would be yes. But not in the center of the village. The center of the village is also a hub for fishermen and it gets very dirty sometimes. So if you should bathe here, you should probably do it a little bit outside of the village.
What I consider quite fun here, was all those signs about a tsunami. The warning signs about tsunami were everywhere and even in the streets, you have got another one that would show you which way to go in case of this catastrophe would happen. I googled when was it in Paracas, it turns out, it happened in 2007, so they have a pretty good reason for these signs.
Anyway, for me was Paracas good place for resting after coming to Peru. I did a lot of walks on a beach. And buy some clothes, as I found out, how cold Peru could be.
Golfing and kitting
If you like golf, there is a great opportunity to play it very close to the beach. Even though it is quite windy, so it must be pretty challenging to play it here. But either way, a lot of hotels offer golf courses here so if you choose the right accommodation, you can very well just stay in the hotel and golf from here.
I have already mentioned that you can probably bathe in Paracas if you come in the right season. But bathing is not the only thing that you can do here. It is entirely possible to come and learn kite surfing. There is a lot of kite schools that would be happy to teach you everything. If you already know how to do it, you can also just rent the gear here and get on with it. But for this activity, in particular, I would rather contact the school beforehand and ask which months are good for kiting.
Tour to Ballestas Islands
Finally the main attraction. Ballestas Islands are a couple of rocky islands, that look quite hostile for people. However, there is rich wildlife around. You can see here penguins, cormorants, pelicans, and even sea lions. Now, when tourism in Peru is booming, you can find quite a lot of tours. Problem is to choose the right one.
How to choose a tour to Ballestas Islands
Ever since I stepped out of the bus that got me to Paracas, I was offered tours by different street vendors. Most of them offered a tour to Ballestas islands for about 30 soles. Which is an alright price, to be honest. But I guess you can say that I was stupid enough to trust them, that I took it.
The issue here was that I found out, that their “tour organization” consists only of leading you to the place, where you can buy actual tickets for tour – which cost about 15 soles. I did have an argument with them about this, but they didn’t want to give me money back. But that is a price for not asking too much.
I guess my advice here is to ask on a bus station (the companies there are more solid) about the tour and what does it consist, if you need to pay something extra after or not. A good idea is also to ask whether the guide on a tour will be speaking English or Spanish.
Otherwise, you can just go to marines where is the main office and order the tour by yourself.
The tour itself
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Got tickets and everything, now it is time to go! My tour to the Ballestas islands took about 2 hours. It was also because the boat we were on was kind of broken, so the captain had to call for help twice and we spend about half an hour in the middle of the sea. Not the nicest feeling, but I survived, so I’m quite happy about it.
You will get to noticed Ballestas islands quite from far. But the first thing I noticed was how much birds were flying over our heads. It was magical. There are millions of birds living in these islands because the water here is very rich in fishes so they have a big hunting ground.
The main thing here was, of course, to spot the penguins as they are the most known ones from here. We managed to see a little colony of penguins after about 10 minutes. It is quite hard to recognize them from this far with all the other birds around. But the guide said that she is going here almost every day, so she is used to it.
Another major animal we spotted was a sea lion calmly resting on one of the rocks. They are very common on this coast, so it is not so unique to see them. At least not for the guide. I was quite happy to see such a big animal in its wild nature. Sea lions are very used to humans here, so the boat can get pretty close without interrupting their activities. At the same time, most of the tours would hold proper distance so they wouldn’t endanger the animal.
Explore Paracas national reserve
There is a couple of things that you can do to explore the Paracas national reserve. The most important thing you need to know is the fact, that you cannot get there with the dry foot. Meaning that you will need to get a boat to see the national reserve. You can usually find a fisherman two would get you there and back just for 10 soles. The other option would be to go for a tour with a guide. That would cost around 15 soles and you can buy it in marines.
I went on a tour where I could see both the Paracas national reserve and the Ballestas Islands. Our first stop was at Paracas Bay, where you can see a Paracas flower. Which is something that looks like Nazca lines. But this time we know and for whom this was made. And it is just work of an artist who wanted to make something similar to Nazca lines. So he decided to make a memoir of some flower that is typical for Paracas and its region.
Unfortunately, my tour didn’t bring us on the dry land in the national reserve. So I have to observe everything from the boat. Not bad. But still, it would be nice to explore it a little bit more, when it is possible. So if you are planning to hop on a tour, make sure, you know what exactly is on and if you can visit the national reserve as well.
When to go?
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So, the weather in Peru can be somewhat tricky. Paracas is a coastal area and so in the main season, which would be from June to September, it is rather cold weather. During these months it can get under 20°C. And that is usually in the afternoon when the sun pops out of clouds. In the morning it can get even colder. Either way, during that time you can still visit Ballestas islands and national reserve. But it is not going to be too warm.
On the other hand, from October to March it is a very nice and sunny village, probably ideal for all kinds of fun, including kitesurfing.
How to get here?
The bus will be your answer. There are no trains to Paracas. But there is a lot of bus companies going around. You can get here directly from Lima. It will take about 3 hours. The buses come here several times a day, they are usually not too full. But you can reserve some of them online.
I came here with Cruz del Sur and I was quite happy about it. The busses are big and comfortable, and the ticket from Lima to Paracas costs only 17 dollars. Which is not too bad in my taste.
Where to stay?
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There are several very luxurious hotels in Paracas, where you can go to the swimming pool, or try the golf classes or try some spa. Those are usually very close to the beach so you would have a good view of the ocean and the national reserve.
If you reserve so hotel, that is a little bit further away from the beach, you will get much cheaper accommodation and very often you would even have the same price. Either way, I’m a backpacker by heart and so I reserved Ictus Paracas, which is a hotel for backpackers, but a very nice one. It is not too far from the beach and the city center, so everything is just on the reach. They also do very nice breakfasts and generally have a very good resting area.
What to eat?
The coastal location offers Paracas quite a rich variety of food. They might not have here guinea pig or alpacas on the menu, as they do in the mountains, but they have a lot of fishes. If you want to try the national dish – Ceviche – a salad with pickled onions and raw fish, this would be the place. You can find a lot of local restaurants around the beach with a lot of fishes and delicious seafood. So if you want to try something like this, this would be a good place to do it. Further away from the coast it might be an issue due to heating and hygiene.
Don’t forget to pack!
Yey, here we go for the packing list. I love those. So, first of all, bring some warmer clothes and perhaps even a rain jacket. For the Ballestas islands themselves, you will also need to have some windproof jacket. It is a little bit more into the sea and it is relatively windy. And trust me, it is very easy to get very cold there.
If you come in the months when it is good weather, you should bring sunscreen and bug spray. The mosquitos here can be pretty horrible.
You should also bring binoculars. At least a little one. If you go on tour to Ballestas islands, it will make it much easier for you to spot penguins or any other animal with them.
Where to head after Paracas?
There are a couple of options. It very much depends on what do you want to see. But just an hour from here is another charming place called Huacachina. It is an oasis in the middle of the Peruvian desert. You can ride there in buggies or try sand surfing.
Another thing to visit would be Nazca. It is a famous place with Nazca lines, that nobody knows how people did it or why. There is a direct bus from Paracas to Nazca, but it takes a couple of hours to get there. Either way, it is worth it.
For me, it is enough to be in Paracas just for one day. But I’m also not passionate about golfing or kite surfing. If you are, you might want to be here longer than that. The main activity here is to visit the Ballestas Islands.
Next time I would be pickier about how to choose the right tour to Ballestas Islands, as I got quite annoyed by the fact that I have to pay more than they told me in the beginning. And I wasn’t the only person irritated by this. But other than that, it is a nice place to visit, the small size of the city kinda guarantee safety even during the night.
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