Paracas, Pisco & the Ballestas Islands
Just a couple of hours south of Lima is the Pisco valley and the Paracas Nature Reserve. This area of Peru is all too often overlooked or simply used as a stopping point to see the Ballestas Islands or en-route to Nazca but this means you miss out on some of Peru’s best beach hotels, a huge variety of wildlife and some important aspects of Peruvian history as well.
In fact, the Paracas peninsula, with its rich fishing grounds and fertile valley has played a central role in Peru’s history for centuries, from the sophisticated pre-Inca Paracas culture, right through to having the first vineyards ever planted in the New World. Peru’s national drink (Pisco brandy) is named after the main town here, and obviously it would be rude not to sample it while you are here... When you add to this the great beaches, the fantastic Ballestas Islands (Peru’s “baby Galapagos”) and the wildlife of the Paracas Reserve, it’s more than worth stopping off for a few days holiday in Paracas to appreciate it all.
Where to Stay in Paracas
Paracas was traditionally a place for rich Limeños to spend their weekends, with impressive villas on the coast, and now the beautiful coastline is accessible to everybody, with an excellent range of beachfront hotels, so it’s a perfect place to spend a couple of days relaxing in the sun. There are a number of good restaurants with sea-views and the sea food is mouth-wateringly good here, especially the ceviche.
You can stay in the nearby town of Pisco if you prefer, and this is where you’ll find banks and other similar facilities, but it’s very easy to shuttle backwards and forwards in a taxi, so you might as well stay in Paracas and enjoy the sea views...
What to See and Do in Paracas
There is a surprising amount to see and do in Huacachina and the surrounding area, whether you're looking for adventure sports or something a little more cultural, so read on to find out how you can spend any time that you don't want to spend just relaxing by the pool...
The Ballestas Islands
The Ballestas Islands are often dubbed the baby Galapagos though perhaps more accurately the Guano islands... A half-day tour of the Ballestas can take you out among the scores of tiny islands which are home to sea-lions, dolphins, penguins, thousands of birds and the odd killer whale.
A boat trip will also give you a great view of the Paracas Trident, a huge candelabra carved into the cliff, it’s purpose we can only guess at. Theories include a signpost for extra terrestrials directing them to the Nazca Lines, a coded signal for eighteenth century pirates and a pre-Inca ritual object, any new ideas would be welcome!
Paracas Nature Reserve
The nature reserve covers almost all of the peninsula and is an enormous 350,000 hectares, a chunk of which are part of the ocean. Paracas means raining sand in Quecha and the nature reserve has been shaped over time by the seasonal sandstorms. Although the Ballestas islands are more widely known, a tour of the Paracas Reserve offers a much greater variety of wildlife and the millions of sea-birds such as flamingos, pelicans and boobies all thrive on these rich Pacific waters.
There is also a museum in the reserve where you can see fine examples of the Paracas culture’s (c.700BC) weaving and for fans of all things a bit more gruesome there are mummies and trepanned skulls. If you think you recognise the area from somewhere but can’t quite put your finger on it, the peninsula has been rumoured to be the location for the Planet of the Apes...
Vineyards and Pisco Distilleries
The area around Pisco was the first place vines were planted in the Americas, and between here and Ica is where almost the entirety of Peruvian wine is produced, as well as the national spirit, Pisco brandy. So why not spend a few hours visiting one or two of the local vineyards and distilleries and sampling some of the local tipples...?
It's also easy to include one of these vineyard tours with a slightly longer trip out to the fantastic Huacahina desert oasis - a genuine Lawrence of Arabia-type oasis surrounded by gigantic sand dunes. Not what you expect of Peru, but absolutely amazing!s
These Adobe ruins lie about 50km north of Pisco and it’s claimed they are the most intact of their kind. The ruins were originally a Chincha fort and were quickly adopted by the Incas as they are conveniently positioned on the ancient road running down from the Andes. You can see offices, stores, barracks and dwellings here - all in need of a roof but otherwise not too different to how they would have been at the time.
Getting To and From Paracas
Paracas and Pisco are a couple of hours drive from Lima by private transfer or just over three hours using the high-end tourist coaches which run twice a day. There have been attempts at running small aircraft flights from Lima and Cusco but so far these have been proved to be unreliable so are best avoided until the service stablises. Coaches go south to Ica (1.5hrs) and Nazca (3.5hrs). These again run twice a day and are all high quality coaches.
As well as the high-end tourist coaches there are also far more regular services on local coaches which are perfectly acceptable but you won't get reclining seats and free wi-fi!
Paracas is small enough to wander around by foot and nearby Pisco is easily reached by taxi which should only cost 3/4 soles.
Tailor-made Tours in Paracas
All our holidays in Peru are 100% tailormade, so if you'd like to customise any of the tours you see above, or just plan a trip completely from scratch then get in touch and let us know - we'll be delighted to help you plan your perfect holiday in Paracas!
Did you know?
General San Martin landed here in 1820 to begin the liberation of Peru from Spanish rule and the flamingos he saw here as he came ashore are said to be the reason behind the red in the Peruvian flag.