Disclaimer: All facts and figures were what we experienced on our trip and were accurate as of publishing in August 2019 but always check prices and figures before your trip as they can be subject to change.
Just outside Lima (well, it’s actually a 6-hour drive but in Peru terms, it’s basically a stone’s throw away…) sits a little coastal town, home to some pretty amazing things to see and do. Now, when I say little, I mean it takes roughly 15 minutes to walk its entire length. However, despite its size, to me, Paracas is an unmissable part of the Peru experience. From snapping sleepy Sea Lions at the “the poor man’s Galapagos” to soaking in the unforgettable sights of Paracas National Park, no traveller will regret their time spent here. So I’m writing this post – A guide to Paracas, the ultimate itinerary so you can make your visit count!
You can travel to Paracas on normal public transport from Lima if you’d rather do this for about $15 for a one-way ticket (though this is subject to change), and no matter how you travel the journey will take around 4-6 hours.
WHERE TO STAY
As previously mentioned, Paracas is incredibly quaint so your choice of accommodation is limited. We stayed in Kokopeli Hostel which was clean, welcoming and in a great location for our early Ballestas Islands tour. However, be aware if you’re planning to stay there on a weekend as there’s a BIG party scene which will not be to everyone’s taste. We admittedly got a bit of a shock when the DJ was still “dropping the base” at 4 am and our not so considerate dorm mates kept storming in and switching all the lights on. This is not so much of a problem if you have the luxury of sleeping in and joining the party, but with a 6 am start the next day it’s not the greatest!
There are a few other hostels to choose from and if you fancy a little more luxury, there’s also a cluster of hotels nearby. Do keep in mind some of these are slightly out of town, so consider this when making plans as you may need transport to get back into the town centre. Booking.com and Hostel World are usually my go-to’s when it comes to finding accommodation, and both have a handy map to view hostel and hotel locations.
THINGS TO DO
OK, so now for the good stuff! What is it that attracts everyone to this otherwise sleepy little coastal town? The answer, quite a lot! But as this is the ultimate guide to Paracas, here are the things you must not miss!
If you fancy a lighter read, check out my travel diary to see how we found experiencing Paracas first hand!
This for me is the major reason people come to Paracas and is not to be missed by any wildlife enthusiast or keen photographer. The Ballestas Islands are home to thousands of birds including the Humbolt Penguin – yep you heard it right people, there are penguins in Peru and you need to see them! They are also home to large colonies of South American Sealions which provide endless entertainment as they play in the waves or sit like rotund little old men scratching their full bellies and snoozing on the rocks. It’s certainly one of the best wildlife experiences you can have in Peru.
The islands can only be accessed by a tour as they are protected as part of the National Reserve. There are two, two-hour boat trips which go to the Ballestas Islands each day which leave at 8 am and 10 am. Tours cost around $15USD which should include the taxes for the port and the national park fees. We booked our tour before we went with Find Local Trips and would highly recommend them. They also have a lot of useful information about the tour on their website, so even if you book your tour when you get there, I’d recommend you check them out beforehand.
Top Tip; take some sea sickness pills before the journey if you’re at all prone to motion sickness as the waves can get pretty choppy!
Paracas National Park
Where rolling blue waves meet the golden sandy desert cliffs, Paracas National Park is truly stunning. After the Ballestas Islands, this was my favourite thing to do in Paracas and should most certainly be on your Itinerary.
To get to the National Park you can rent a bike in town and enjoy the freedom of cycling at your leisure through the national park. Or if cycling isn’t for you, there are tours offering a return trip to the National Park for around 30 Soles, which can be purchased in town or by tour companies before you go like Find Local Trips. The third option is to travel with Peru Hop who actually include it as one of their free tours on route to Huacachina which is what we did.
So, hands up here, I’m a bit cycle-phobic especially in places I don’t know so if you fancy the self-guided cycling option, check out this piece written by Along Dusty Roads who have done a great definitive guide.
Relax on the Beach
Peru is quite a jam-packed active holiday (or at least ours was!) and sometimes it can be nice to just sit back, relax and enjoy the sun. It’s not a beach that would win any prizes for it’s beauty but it’s definitely a great place to wind down, soak in the atmosphere and take a few minutes to appreciate and reflect on your journey so far.
Take photos in and Around the Town
The quaint little town though small is not lacking in character. There are bustling bars and restaurants, street performers and market stalls and many unusual and captivating works of art dotted along the main street. I found Paracas to have a great vibe and as a keen photographer, I loved wandering around taking photos of the art on display.
A short walk to the edge of town will bring you to the colourful town entrance sign you can see in the first photo on this post. It makes a great picture for your scrapbook or photo album and allows you to meander through the rest of the town to get your bearings.
The major Paracas attractions can be done in 48 hours if you want to take your time and adopt a leisurely pace. If you have more of a time limit as we did, we managed to trim this down a little to maximise what we saw and did in just over 24 hours.
My advice would be to arrive in Paracas in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day having a lazy wind down on the beach, explore the town and take in its almost Caribbean atmosphere. Get a good night’s sleep then head out on the early tour of the Ballestas Islands as animals are usually more active at dawn and dusk. Then if travelling with Peru Hop you can handily tie in going to the Paracas National Park on the way to your next destination as they make it a stop on the way.
However, if making your own way around Peru, still spend your afternoon exploring the Paracas National Park before either heading out to continue your adventures or stay one more night to rest and recuperate (or party the night away if you’re staying at Kokopelli on the weekend) before continuing your Peru journey the next day.
The Paracas Packing List
Here are a few things I would definitely recommend bringing with you to Paracas.
- A camera – you do not want to miss the opportunity to take pictures of the beautiful national park and the amazing wildlife at the Ballestas Islands.
- A warm waterproof – out on the boat trip to Ballestas Islands the wind can give you quite the chill and there’s quite a splash from the boat at times. Not to mention, Peru’s weather is incredibly unpredictable so be prepared for all weather’s would be my advice!
- Point number two brings me on to point number 3, suncream, sunglasses and a sun hat. As much as the weather in Peru can be quite cool and windy, when the sun comes out so close to the equator and at such a high altitude, it is HOT. So take necessary protective measures to ensure you don’t look like a lobster on the rest of your trip.
- As previously mentioned travel sickness pills are a must! I don’t even get travel sick but I brought them anyway to Peru because you can never be too careful and feeling ill on holiday sucks! It’s a great idea to carry travel sickness aids not only for the boat journey to the Ballestas but also the roads in Peru are often quite bumpy and winding. You’ll thank me for this one, trust me!
- A swimsuit – when the sun is out the beach is gorgeous and many of the accommodations have a pool, so, if you fancy a dip this is the place!
- If you’ve pre-booked accommodation and tours make sure you have paper copies or at the very least have them saved to your phone as the WIFI can be sketchy so it’s best to be prepared.
- For the keen photographers a zoom lens. I took my Canon 750D with a really variable zoom (from 16 to 300mm for those of you who speak camera) which I found to be perfect for all occasions on our trip. It was great for getting those up close and personal wildlife shots when you were, in reality, a good few meters away.
- A dry bag to protect valuables – as previously mentioned its likely to get a little wet on the Ballestas island tour.
- If you have long hair, take some hair ties – there’s nothing worse than your vision being obscured by your own hair when the wind picks up and you’re trying to appreciate the amazing scenery and animals in Paracas.
Where To next?
So you’ve ticked everything off in my guide to Paracas, so now what? In my opinion, the next destination on your list HAS to be Huacachina, Peru’s very own desert oasis and home to the national drink Pisco. If sunbathing, dune climbing and sandboarding sound like your cup of tea, check out my post on the ultimate guide to this Peruvian Oasis here!
I hope you found this guide useful and I am so excited that you are planning your Peruvian adventure, it truly is an amazing country to visit! I hope with the help of this guide you have the chance to enjoy Paracas as much as I did. Remember you can always pin it for later if you need to refer back to it at any point on your trip of while you’re planning, just click the picture below…
If you loved this post and would like more Peruvian inspiration check out my other posts on this amazing country here!