The first post about my Peru trip will be about a tiny seaside region which is easily overlooked by the throngs of people making their way from Lima to Nazca or even straight to Arequipa. I’m talking about Paracas and let me tell you today, that you shouldn’t skip this tiny town. I will also tell you why.
There are at least two very good reasons why this place should be on every itinerary. In order not to confuse you for too long, the town & base for either of these destinations is El Chaco (often wrongly called Paracas). Most of the action in this town centres on the Malecón, where you can also find restaurants and bars. This is where I had my first Pisco Sour & Ceviche. For those of you who don’t know the dish; it’s made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime.
What makes Paracas a great place for anyone’s itinerary? The boat tour to the Islas Ballestas and the one-day or half day tour around the deserted Paracas peninsula.
The first (and in my eyes) most important reason to visit Paracas is a visit to the Islas Ballestas. “Proudly” nicknamed the poor man’s Galapagos of Peru (Ecuador also has its own poor man’s Galapagos). These islands can only be visited by guided tour. These can be easily booked with tour agencies, touts and hotels. The boat tours leave at 8am, 10am and noon from the Marina.
Before I even started the tour, I saw dolphins at the marina. According to our guide, dolphins are incredibly rare so this was already a bit of a victory and a great way to start the day.
You won’t be disembarking the boat for at least two hours, so if you get sea sick I would advise you to take a pill. It gets pretty wild near the rocks. The plus side is that you will be able to get incredibly close to see the animals better.
Aside from the pill, it’s also advisable to wear a hat to avoid getting hit by guano in your face. When I visited Bass Rock in Scotland I received a full outfit, here you don’t get anything so cover yourself up. I didn’t get hit with any lucky droppings but people on my boat certainly did.
The first stop of most tours is near the Candelabra Geoglyph, a giant candle-like figure etched into sandy hills. This figure is more than 150m high & 50m wide. As with the Nazca lines, no one knows who made the glyph and what it signifies, which makes it an even more impressive sight.
The next part of the tour will take you around around the islands and the arches to watch sea lions, guanay cormorants, Peruvian boobies and pelicans. We were lucky to see Humboldt penguins as well (penguins are my favourite animals!!).
In my opinion, this little boat trip would be reason enough to visit Paracas.
Paracas National Reserve
However, there’s more to see here. There’s also a bit of a bizarre landscape, namely the Paracas National Reserve which is a vast desert. It occupies most of the peninsula of Paracas. If there would have been no borders it could also be considered to be part of the Atacama desert in Chile. You can join a group tour when you’re in El Chaco, or you could walk or rent a bike to explore the desert by yourself.
I enjoyed the guided tour, because I learned a lot about the desert and the fossils that can be found here.
There are some nice viewpoints in the area, unfortunately the one that most people visited – the cathedral – is nothing more than a sea stack after it was destroyed in the earthquake of 2007. The lookouts are perfect bird watching spots as well.
It’s a desert so it hardly ever rains here. Of course on the day I visited, it started to drizzle. Just my luck! I don’t know if I would have liked exploring this area by myself, I think the fact that we had a guide had a lot of benefits. To each their own though, so if you prefer exploring the desert solo you could.
Where to Stay?
What’s the best place to stay if you’d like to visit Paracas for a day? You could stay in El Chaco, but you could also travel to Pisco by plane or bus & stay there. I’m sad to report that Pisco was the most uninspiring place I have stayed in during my two weeks in Peru. The city was hit by a strong earthquake in 2007 which destroyed a big portion of the town. It’s still struggling to recover. I find that that’s actually all the more reason to visit the city.
Spend some money in the village, and who knows maybe it helps the recovery. I stayed in the Residencial San Jorge, a nice hotel close to the central square of Pisco. I was lucky enough the experience the inauguration of a new Tuna (a group of singers) in the lobby of the hotel.
For dinner I could really recommend Restaurante As de Oro’s, a delicious restaurant a short tuk-tuk ride away from the main square. You could also walk, but where is the fun in that?
I heard a lot of people say they skipped this part of Peru, which I think it’s a pity. It’s easy to reach this place by plane or by bus and there’s plenty to see. My next post will be about Huacachina, a village built around a small oasis in the desert, which is also in the vicinity of Paracas. All the more reason to visit, even if it’s only for a day or two.