Paracas is one of the often-overlooked destinations in Peru. Home to the Paracas National Reserve and a jump-off point to Ballestas Islands National Reserve, the town boasts a huge coastal desert, scenic harbor, wildlife-rich reserves, vibrant culture and history. If you already have a classic Peruvian itinerary and if you’re looking to add some lesser-known destinations, then Paracas should definitely be included in your holiday.
Things to know before traveling to Paracas, Peru:
Language – Being a Spanish colony for three centuries, Spanish have become the nation’s language which is widely spoken by majority of the people in the country. However, it is important to note that Peruvians still use their own like Quechua (the language of the Inca Empire) and Aymara. Unlike its neighbor Brazil, most people in Peru do not speak English. Before you travel, learn to speak at least some Spanish phrases or words (or local dialects).
Currency exchange – The currency in Peru is Peruvian nuevo sol (PEN). Exchanging money in Cusco is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in South America. There are a few of money exchange houses (cambios) in the city, so exchanging major currencies like dollars, pounds or euros should not be a cause for concern. ATMs and credits cards are widely accepted, but check with your bank beforehand if there are any limitations. As a general rule, do not rely on credit or debit cards when traveling in Peru. It is still best to bring enough US dollar bills.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Peru. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Do not carry debit or credit cards with you, or hide it in your bra or shoes. There were incidences of robbery when offenders will escort you to an ATM and make you take out as much as you can. Leave your passport in the hotel’s safety deposit box and just carry a photocopy. Avoid unnecessary travel to border area of Colombia and Ecuador.
Getting around – Taking the taxi is the best and cheapest way to get around Paracas. Another cheaper option is taking a bus, known to locals as colectivos, micros or combis. Buses are reliable and navigable as as they operate on a scheduled timetable and set routes. If you are on a luxury vacation, consider hiring a driver to take you to Paracas from Lima. This option is expensive but will give you complete control of the trip.
Where to stay – There’s a great variety of accommodation in Paracas; from small guesthouses to five-star luxury hotels. Staying at one of the attractive colonial houses turned hotels in the city is one of those quintessential Peruvian experience which can’t be skipped. Backpackers hostel and budget guesthouses are also aplenty which you can use as your base for your Paracas Nature Reserves excursions and activities. There are plenty of accommodations offered online, so make sure to read reviews first before you make your reservation.
Where to stay in Paracas:
Day by day itinerary: Discover Paracas, Peru in 2 days
Your Paracas adventure starts today! Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Paracas or take in some of the tourists’ attractions. The town is full of things to see and experience – all within easy walking distance or a short boat ride away. There’s no better way to get acquainted with the town than visiting Paracas National Reserve, one Peru’s most beautiful nature reserves. If you can travel to Paracas from Lima very early in the morning, make your way to La Playa Roja for sunrise viewing. The desert temperature skyrockets once the sun is up, so make to get to the top of the ridge before that happens. Known as the most famous beach in all of Paracas, La Playa Roja (Red Beach) is famed for its dramatic cliffs, earth red tone, and the remarkable view of the Pacific Ocean.
Dedicate the afternoon for some activities in and around Huacachina, a tiny village/oasis sandwiched by two massive sand dunes of the Ica. Join a Quad Bike Tour of the desert organized by a tour operator in the village which can be arranged on the day of your arrival. You will be picked up by your guide in your hotel for an afternoon excursion through Huacachina’s spectacular sand dunes. For adventure and adrenaline seekers, do not miss to try sand boarding, tandem skydiving and paragliding.
A trip to Paracas would not be complete without a visit to Ballestas Islands (Islas Ballestas), which is probably the most popular day-trip destination from the town. Join a 2-hour island excursion by speed boat to see the island known as the “Poor Man’s Gallapagos” famed for its stunning rock formations and the dramatic cliffs. Aside from the awe-inspiring landscape you will see, you will surely come across a colony of Humboldt Penguins, South American Sea Lions, Cormorants, sea birds like gulls and pelicans. If your travel dates are between June to November, then you are lucky to witness the annual migration of the humpback whales along the Pacific Coast.
On the way back to Lima, you may consider visiting Pachacámac, known as the “Poor man’s version of Machu Picchu.” According to Inca Mythology, Pachacámac was the creator god worshiped by the pre-Inca people of Peru. The resting place of the god along the Peruvian coast, now an archaeological complex, features enormous palaces, temples, burial sites and plazas.
Have you been to Paracas or anywhere else in Peru? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: The Paracas National Reserve is located in Ica, Peru and consists of the Paracas Peninsula, coastal areas and tropical desert extending to the south slightly past Punta Caimán (salvatore ferri / Shutterstock)