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Paracas Travel Guide

Visit Paracas for sunny weather, desert dunes overlooking the sea, pisco and wine tours, and a rollicking community of marine fauna on the Ballestas Islands. If you’ve got a packed itinerary, Paracas is the perfect place to unwind down by the bay.

Overview

Paracas provides access to the Paracas National Reserve, a pristine desert kingdom where enormous colonies of sea lions, sea birds, and innumerable ocean denizens gather to feast on the nutrient-rich waters off the Peruvian coast. Enjoy the mesmerizing desert dunes or greet the wildlife on the Ballestas Islands. After a nature-packed day, luxuriate at a resort pool overlooking the beautiful Paracas bay.

If you’ve got extra time, consider a Nazca Lines flight. Planes depart from the nearby Pisco airport and you'll be back in Paracas with time to watch the sunset. Other options for thrill seekers include kayaking, bike tours or quad tours in the Paracas reserve, and dune buggy and sandboarding tours.

 

Climate & Weather

Paracas enjoys a warm and pleasantly dry desert climate throughout the year. There is virtually no rainfall, and lots of sunshine so that you can enjoy the array of outdoor activities year round. The weather does shift slightly from a warmer summer season to a cooler winter season.

Summer

From December to March
Daily Average: 80°F (27°C)

Winter

From June to September
Daily Average: 60°F (18°C)

“Paracas” derives from Quechua words meaning “rain of sand” and refers to the strong winds that regularly whip across the sandy coastline and peninsula. Wind speeds average between 25 to 60 km/h (15 to 37 mi/h).

The coastal mainland is desert dry with an arid climate and little vegetation. But it’s a different story in the ocean. Flowing up the coast of South America from Antarctica, the cold-water, nutrient-rich Humboldt Current sustains an incredible diversity of marine wildlife including the famous sea lions and guano birds of the Ballestas Islands.

Best Time to Visit

The best months are in the summertime from December to March, when the days are hot and the sky is clear. The Paracas seaside is especially busy during this time and attracts Peruvians on their summer holiday.

Best time for wildlife viewing depends on what wildlife you wish to see. Depending on the season, you might see different species of birds or aquatic animals. For example, penguins are best seen from April to November. Sea lions are here all year round in the hundreds, so don’t worry about missing them.

Geography & Map

  • On the coast of Peru about 3 hours south of Lima, the hammerhead-shaped Paracas Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The northern edge of the peninsula curves out and up to form the Paracas Bay.
  • Elevation 0 to 7 ft (0 to 2 m) City Population: 7,009

History

The Paracas Peninsula dates back to 900 BC and is named after the Paracas culture. The people were fishermen and farmers who cultivated beans, maize and red peppers. From excavations at the Paracas Necropolis, we know that the Paracas were exceptionally skilled craftsmen. Obsidian knives, fine pottery, shell and bone necklaces, gold ornaments, and finely woven textiles have been found in subterranean tombs. The dry climate and the lack of light in the underground burial chambers ensured the preservation of these artifacts.

On September 8, 1820 AD, the “Freedom Expedition” headed by the Argentine general Jose de San Martin landed on Paracas Bay with more than 4,000 soldiers. He is said to have drawn up ideas for the Peruvian flag during this stay and that the pink flamingo, a resident of the Paracas peninsula, inspired the flag’s red-and-white colors. The liberation force later marched to Lima in the effort to free the South American colonies from Spanish imperial rule.

In 1925, a team of archaeologists led by Julio C. Tello began excavating the Paracas Cavernas, a communal burial site dating to 300-200 BC. Tello began to excavate the Wari Kayan site. The team found mummy bundles wrapped in cloths, feathered costumes, fine jewelry, and food offerings. Textiles from Nazca culture were also found in Paracas site. The two sites together are known as Paracas Necropolis. In 1975, the Peruvian government created the Paracas National Reserve.


Things to Do

Wander Around Paracas Bay

El Chaco is the tiny town that receives most visitors to Paracas including foreign travelers and Lima residents seeking a beach getaway. The town’s pier is the point of departure for tours to the Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve.

Restaurants are set up along the boardwalk, where souvenir vendors also congregate to sell their trinkets. Fishermen’s boats crowd the water in front of the beach, bringing fresh catches of fish for sale to nearby businesses. Some Paracas hotel resorts are located further south and face open water suited for utter relaxation and/or your choice of water sports.


Visit the Ballestas Islands

Not far from Paracas town, this group of uninhabited islands is home to an astounding array of marine wildlife. Bird species include the guanay cormorant, Peruvian booby, and Peruvian pelican. They join lounging colonies of sea lions to blanket the rocky isles. Their barks compete with the sound of crashing waves and the squawks of birds. Sometimes, they launch into the water and swim along with boats.


Explore Paracas National Reserve

The Paracas National Reserve is unique among Peru’s natural areas. Established in 1975, the reserve protects a rare marine ecosystem as well as a huge chunk of subtropical coast desert and the remnants of the Paracas culture which flourished from 900 BC to 200 AD. The Paracas Peninsula forms the northern corner of the 335,000 hectare reserve. Attractions include the Museo de Paracas Julio C Tello, the adjacent Paracas Necropolis on Cerro Colorado (Red Mountain), and a handful of beautiful beaches, some with sand, others with rocky areas where marine wildlife congregates.


Tambo Colorado

If you want to see ruins while you are in the Paracas area, Tambo Colorado is a fascinating site to visit. This well-preserved Inca complex is made of adobe, and in Quechua is known as Pukawasi (red house). It was built in the 15th century during the reign of Pachacutec and is believed to have been used as an administrative control site. During a visit you can see the small onsite museum and explore the central plaza as well as the northern and southern sectors. The site is located an hour from Paracas and can be explored via a half-day guided tour.


Laguna Moron

Though smaller than the Huacachina oasis, this laguna in the middle of the desert is unparalleled in its pristine tranquility. The off-the-beaten-trail destination is located outside the city of Pisco just outside the tiny village of Bernales. Here you can enjoy dune buggy rides, sandboarding, swimming and kayaking. Or, you can sit back and enjoy the otherworldly beauty of the desert. You can visit this site via a half day from Paracas. The whole tour typically takes around 4 hours.


El Candelabro

The Paracas Candelabra, known as “El Candelabro” in Spanish, is a giant geoglyph etched into the hard sand and deeper rock surface of a hill on the desert coast of the Paracas Peninsula. It measures 180 meters (595 feet) tall and can be seen from 19 km (12 miles) out to sea. Scientists have not been able to determine the exact age nor the purpose or meaning of the glyph. Pottery found nearby has been carbon dated to 200 BC, which is around the time the Paracas culture was active. But no conclusive evidence has been found to determine the builders.


Paracas Julio C Tello Museum

Located near the northern entrance of the national reserve, this museum displays the archaeological findings of Julio C. Tello, the first archaeologist to study the Paracas culture. Artifacts include textiles, ceramics, mummies, and skulls with deformations. Additional exhibits delve into the details of Paracas cultural practices, including fishing techniques, textile-making, and mummification. From the museum, a path goes to a lookout point on the coast where pink flamingos flock from July to November.


Pisco City & Airport

Whether you’re traveling onward to Paracas, to Ica/Huacachina, or to Nazca, Pisco is a requisite point of transit going south from Lima. Pisco also has a small airport convenient for travelers who want to take a Nazca Lines flight tour without traveling overland all the way to Nazca city. In terms of accommodation, Paracas has the better options for seaside relaxation.


Activities

Ballestas Islands Tour

Paracas Bay is the point of departure for boat tours to the Ballestas Islands. Tours typically depart in the morning, either at 8 or 10 o’clock. The outward journey passes by the El Candelabro geoglyph etched on the Paracas Peninsula. You’ll cruise past caves and arches and the rocky isles where giant colonies of seabirds and sea lions make their home. If you’re lucky, you might also spot dolphins, orcas, turtles, and other rare creatures. Keep in mind that boats are not covered. Expect cold and windy conditions and the occasional bird dropping from above. Dress accordingly — wind jacket, poncho, and/or hat recommended.

Rent a Bike

Grab a rental bicycle and venture out to the coastal desert expanses of the Paracas Peninsula. Riding on two wheels (as opposed to a car) gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace. The challenge, though, is that winds kick up in the afternoon and you might be in for some extra work if you find a strong headwind.

Rent an ATV

Quads (ATVs) are an excellent option for those who want a bit of a thrill as they traverse the peaceful Peruvian desert. These guided tours are especially good at taking you to hidden spots on the peninsula that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Ride the Dunes

If the sight of sand dunes tempts you to hurl yourself down a slippery slope with a board strapped to your feet, take a dune tour from Paracas or Pisco. Dune buggy drivers take passengers out into the Ica Desert. Stops include low dunes where beginners can learn basic skills and safety techniques, and then higher dunes where the brave of heart can gain more speed on steep descents.

Splurge & Relax Poolside

If you’ve got a packed itinerary, your Paracas hotel is a great place to relax and renew your energy before tackling your next adventure. Paracas boasts a wide choice of reasonably priced beach resorts with gorgeous swimming pools overlooking Paracas Bay. Enjoy the beauty of the landscape, sip on a pisco cocktail, and bask in the warmth of the sun arching its course overhead.

Water Sports

Paracas Bay’s flat water and strong winds make it ideal grounds for the practice of a variety of water sports. If you’re game, check with your Paracas resort to borrow the equipment you need to kayak, windsurf, and kitesurf. Paragliding tours are also available.

Nazca Lines Tour

The Pisco Airport is located at the southern end of Pisco town, about 6 mi (10 km) from Paracas. It is not usually open for commercial flights, however charter aircraft do provide Nazca Lines flyover tours. Check out our Nazca guide for more information about seeing these enigmatic lines.

Huacachina Oasis

While nature lovers flock to Paracas, thrill seekers are drawn like bees to honey to Huacachina and its blue-green lagoon. Located about 1 hour and 15 minutes by car from Paracas, and just outside of Ica, the oasis town is surrounded by 100-foot sand dunes.


Hotels

Tourism is on the rise in Paracas, and in its wake, a range of hotels that run the gamut from luxury resorts to budget-friendly guesthouses and backpacker hostels. Newer resorts spread north of the pier or south closer to the National Reserve, while most other hotels and restaurants are concentrated around Malecon El Chaco. The following are our preferred Paracas hotels, selected by our staff for their outstanding service and excellent amenities.

Hotel Paracas, a Luxury Collection Resort

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Avenida Paracas (no number), Paracas

Swimming Pool
Free WiFi
Restaurant
Gym
Bar
Laundry
Room Service


Hacienda Bahia Paracas

★ ★ ★ ★

Urbanizacion Santo Domingo Lote 25, Paracas

Swimming Pool
Free WiFi
Spa
Air Conditioning
Restaurant
Gym
Bar
Laundry
Room Service




Gran Palma

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Av. Principal de Paracas Mz.D lote 03, Paracas

Free WiFi
Laundry
Room Service


See all Paracas Hotels


Restaurants

Fish and seafood play a starring role on most restaurant menus in Paracas. Many seafront restaurants near the pier serve a menu del dia (set menu with starter, main, dessert) or a la carte. Grill stands by the pier are also a source of cheap eats.

Photography by Il Covo Restaurant

Il Covo

Dine on your choice of panini, pizza, pasta dishes, all with great views over the town.
Av. San Martin s/n (in front of Hostal Brisas de la Bahia), Paracas | website

Chalana Restaurant

Part of the Hotel Paracas, a Luxury Collection Resort, located on the pier, specializing in fresh seafood fished straight from the bay.
Av. Paracas s/n, El Chaco | website

Restaurant Paracas

Seafood and pasta with great views from the 4th floor.
Av. Paracas (entrance to Chaco pier) | website

Vegano Peruano

Exceptional vegan cuisine and an uplifting atmosphere with space for live musical performances. Incredible views of the bay from the 5th floor. Try the vegan lomo saltado, fried ceviche or tequenos.
Paracas C10, Paracas | website

Misk’i Restobar

Enjoy live music, great food, and a friendly vibe at this restaurant-bar serving pizzas, burgers, and tacos.
Av. Alan Garcia s/n (one block from Chaco pier) | website

Fruzion

Breakfast, fresh fruit smoothies, milkshakes, burgers, and a friendly staff serving happy hours drinks in the evening
Av. Alan Garcia Mz C (across from Artisan Market), El Chaco | website

Restaurante El Che

Paradise for seafood lovers. Fish, prawns, octopus. Fresh from the sea.
Lagunillas Beach, Paracas National Reserve | website


Tour Packages

#5 Capture Historical Peru

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lima, Arequipa & Colca, Paracas
11 Days / from $2699

#6 Discover Peru

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Titicaca, Amazon, Lima, Paracas, Arequipa & Colca
16 Days / from $4039

See All Tour Packages


Travel Tips

Getting Around Paracas

Everything in El Chaco, the small touristic and fisherman town on the Paracas bay, is within walking distance. Mototaxis are available to get you around quicker, while regular taxis cover longer distances to nearby towns.

Safety Tips

As with many places in South America, tourists are advised to take some precautions, including:

  • Keep your valuables secure and on your person.
  • Travel in groups. The national reserve is large and stretches far out into the desert peninsula so it’s best to go with some travel buddies.
  • Stick to marked trails in the reserve. Deserts can be disorienting and easy to get lost in.
  • Carry food and water to make it through the hot desert in good health.
  • In El Chaco, avoid going to ATMs at night.
  • Though quite tranquil, it is best to keep to the main, well-lit areas in El Chaco at night.

Packing List

For Paracas, you’ll want to make sure you have:

  • Sun protection.
    • The sun in Paracas is strong so be sure to have your sunblock and sunglasses.
  • Clothing.
    • Bathing suit, sun dresses, shorts, loose-fitting pants and t-shirts. Since it’s a desert climate, temperatures can drop at night so a sweater is a good idea regardless of the season
  • Ear protection.
    • If you are prone to ear aches, you’ll want to bring something to cover your ears, like a light headscarf, as it can get quite windy.
  • Footwear
    • Sandals and light, comfortable walking shoes.
  • Electronics.
    • Of course, be sure you have your mobile phone, Peru adapter and portable charger. A waterproof camera is a good idea as well, especially for the Ballestas Islands tour or water sports.

FAQ

Where is Paracas, Peru?

Paracas Peru is located on the Pacific coast of Peru, just 3 hours south of the capital city of Lima.

How long does it take to get from Lima to Paracas?

It takes about 3-4 hours, depending on traffic, to get from Lima to Paracas. Most travelers go by bus – most popularly Cruz del Sur.

How do I get to Paracas from Ica?

To get to Paracas from Ica, you can take a one-hour bus ride from Hotel Las Dunas in Ica to Paracas, which costs $6-15 USD. Another option is to take a private transfer or secure taxi, which typically costs around $40-50 USD. Your travel agency can set up this transfer for you ahead of time.

How long does it take to get from Paracas to Ballestas Islands?

Round trip to Ballestas Islands and back is about 2 hours by boat. You do not get out of the boat once at the islands, as the islands themselves are quite small, rocky and wet (and covered with marine life). So for your’s and the animals' safety, it’s best to enjoy the natural spectacle from the comfort of the boat.

What’s the best time of year to see penguins in Paracas?

Penguins are best seen from April to November.

Is Paracas worth visiting?

If you want to learn more about the desert and marine life of Peru, Paracas is an excellent stop. Also a great stop for any thrill seekers who want to try dune buggying or ATVing through the desert. It is an especially relevant stop if you plan to visit the Nazca Lines, as this bayside resort town is conveniently en-route.

How long to spend in Paracas?

You really don’t need more than a night in Paracas. This gives you an opportunity to see the Ballestas Islands and National Reserve, eat a yummy meal at a waterfront restaurant, catch a gorgeous sunset and even take a kayak paddle on the bay in the morning.

Can you swim in Paracas?

You probably wouldn’t go for a swim in the waters of the touristic area called El Chaco where all the restaurants and hotels are, as this is more a marina-type setting for boats. You can certainly rent a kayak or stand up paddleboard or hop aboard a boat tour in this area, though. You can also take advantage of the pool at your resort if there is one.

Your best bet for swimming in the ocean and bay would be to visit the pristine beaches of Paracas National Preserve. The most popular beaches are La Mina with its sparkling blue waters or Playa Roja with its characteristic red sand.

How far is Paracas from ___?

  • Pisco: 14 mi (22 km) south
  • Ica: 46 mi (75 km) northwest
  • Lima: 160 mi (260 km) south

Is it possible to visit Ballestas Islands and Paracas Peninsula in one day and be back in Lima by the evening?

Yes. Ballestas boat tours are usually in the morning and last 2-3 hours. The peninsula is just next door, so with a private driver, you can visit the key sites in a few hours and still have time to return to El Chaco or Pisco for the return trip to Lima.

If there’s too much wind/bad weather in Paracas what else is there to do?

Head to the pisco distilleries in Ica or Pisco or try sandboarding or a sunset sand dune tour in Huacachina Oasis.


 
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