Paracas National Reserve, located in the Department of Ica, constitutes an extensive coastal area of bays, sandy beaches, rocky coasts, shallow marine waters and islands. The Paracas National Reserve was established in 1975. The site covers an area of 335,000 hectares of coastal desert, a few islands, and surrounding marine habitats. Inhabiting this protected region are representative samples of Peru’s coastal-marine ecosystems and the highest concentration of seabirds anywhere in the world.
The site is rich in biodiversity: it is home to more than 1,500 species of animals and plants. Among these are 20 species of cetaceans such as the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), 168 fish, 10 reptiles, 36 mammals and 216 bird species. The site is the habitat of more than 200,000 individuals of migratory birds, mostly Franklin’s gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan) and skimmer (Rynchops niger).
The reserve has breathtaking views of the point at which the desert meets the ocean. The Ballestas Islands can be found within the oceans of this reserve. Nicknamed “Peru’s Galapagos”, the rocky islands have gained popularity due to their diverse wildlife and stunning views. Founded in 1975, it is the oldest marine reserve in Peru.
Paracas has a desert climate with very little rainfall. The average temperature is about 75°F (24°C). The name “Paracas” is a Quechua word meaning rain of sand, in reference to the winds that whip through the desert. Afternoon gusts are notably strong in August. Wind speeds average between 15 to 37 mi/h (25 to 60 km/h). If there’s too much wind or bad weather in Paracas, head to the pisco distilleries in Ica or Pisco or try a dune buggy and sandboard tour in Huacachina Oasis.
If visiting the islands is your sole reason for venturing down the dusty road to Paracas, then we strongly recommend keeping an eye on local weather reports, especially if you’re visiting in winter when the weather tends to be worse.
Conversely, if you’re planning on exploring the Paracas National Reserve by bike, be aware that it can get very hot in the desert (especially in the summer) with next to no shade available for respite.
The beaches of Paracas National Reserve are stunning, though the craggy coastline and jellyfish mean they are generally not ideal for swimming. That being said, a small promontory has formed La Mina, a gorgeous beach for swimming, with clear emerald waters and horseshoe-shaped hills sheltering the area from the winds.
Nearby is a viewpoint from which one can spot sea lions sunbathing on tiny islets. Other beaches worth visiting are the aviary haven of Mendieta beach located in front of Zarate Island and in the heart of the desert and Red Beach, or Playa Roja, where the picture-perfect shore is painted a deep scarlet color.
The undulating coastline of Paracas stretches as far as the eyes can see and gives way to more remote beaches. Playa Mendieta and Playa Barlovento are among the picturesque beaches that are usually reached by visitors with their cars or private transport.
One of the main attractions of the Paracas National Reserve are the Ballestas Islands, an archipelago rich in wildlife. The islands are riddled with arches, tunnels and other wind and sea sculptures where sea lions, seals, Humboldt penguins and turtles converge with dozens of birds, among them albatross, pelicans and various seagulls.
On a boat trip you will circle the islands to visit the diverse marine life (disembarking is prohibited to protect the wildlife), and also head to Punta Pejerrey, it is the northern most point of the isthmus and the best spot for seeing the Candelabro, a prehistoric candelabra-shaped geoglyph etched onto a sloping hill above the cliffside.
A tour to the islands takes approximately two and a half hours, with about 45 minutes spent watching wildlife. Generally a boat trip to Ballestas Islands is a group tour, but as part of a longer tailormade trip to Peru, Andean Great Treks can arrange a private trip to the islands on a luxury yacht or speed boat for maximum comfort and flexibility.
Paracas is, without a doubt, synonymous with adventure and adrenaline. But sandboarding is not the only thing you can enjoy inside the Paracas National Reserve. Thanks to its powerful winds that blow from the desert throughout the year and its flat sea, they make this place one of the best for kitesurfing in Peru.
If you are a fan of extreme sports, this destination will be to your liking. Although there is indeed wind throughout the year, the best season to practice kitesurf in Paracas is from November to April. If you decide to be part of this exciting activity, remember that the wind is usually stronger in the afternoon. So the perfect time to practice kitesurfing is from noon to sunset. Another great adventure option is to try paragliding in Paracas. One of the best things to do in Paracas is to see this beautiful reserve from another perspective.
If you’ve just arrived into Peru from Europe or the US, then Paracas will feel like quite a cheap place to hang out for a few days. However, if you’ve travelled throughout the country you’ll note that it’s a bit more expensive or limited than elsewhere for certain items like groceries, drinks, and eating out.
Restaurant stalls at the western side of the beach, the local restaurants provide near-identical traditional Peruvian menus morning, noon and night for wide-ranging prices.
Given the set-up, you might expect them to be particularly budget friendly, but in order to secure the best prices, you need to request the menus. They specialise in fish and ceviche dishes. If you venture towards the other end of the promenade (after the dirty bit of beach and artisan stalls), you will actually find a handful or restaurants offering similar lunch deals for the same or a little less.
For many of us, food and trying the local delicacies is an integral part of the experience – unfortunately for veggies (and vegans), many of these dishes contain meat or dairy.
Cerro Colorado (Red Mountain) was the burial grounds of the Paracas culture for hundreds of years starting as early as 400 BCE. In excavations of the site, archaeologist Julio C. Tello determined two separate burial systems. Paracas Caverns consist of underground tombs accessible through long shafts. Each tomb held thirty to forty mummified bodies. By 200 CE, burial practices evolved. The Paracas Necropolis was a series of shallow graves for individual bodies. Neighboring groups also used the peninsula to entomb their dead.
Collectively, the gravesites of the Paracas Peninsula have provided archaeologists with an invaluable cache of textile art, ceramics, and human remains – including skulls with evidence of cranial surgery and deformation – that lend insight into Peru’s earliest civilizations.
The giant Paracas Candelabra glyph is on the northern tip of the Paracas Peninsula. Experts have not been able to determine if this drawing is related to the Nazca Lines.
Enjoy a day at the exceptionally scenic beaches on the western shores of the Paracas Peninsula. In El Chaco, fishing boats crowd the waters and seaweed accumulate onshore.
Upscale Paracas hotels such as Paracas Hotel, a Luxury Collection Resort and Hacienda Bahia Paracas overlook the bay and host all the comforts for divine relaxation. Reserve an appointment for a massage at the hotel spa and sip a pisco sour by the pool.
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