Paracas – Peru’s “Little Galopagos”

Paracas is located on the shores in the Ica provence south of Lima.  The bay waters are peaceful and the Humbolt Current runs just a little ways offshore all the way up to the Galapagos Islands in Equador.  The current stirs up nutrients attracting wild sea life in great variety.  A short boat trip away, Peru’s famous Ballestas Islands, popularly referred to as “The Little Galapagos”, rest along this current.  The islands are home to sea lions, penguins, pelicans, sharks, dolphins, whales, turtles and a hundred other bird species.  Not to mention, this place is a fisherman’s dream come true.

Upon immediate arrival of the Paracas shores it is impossible not to give attention to the beautiful Peruvian pelicans who rule over the bay.  I really enjoyed watching them take flight and dive from the air full force into the water as they hunted for fish.

However, do not be fooled by the reference to the Galapagos, this is not the same climate or nearly as large.  It can get quite chilly here in winter months.

27-paracas

What to do in Paracas:
  • The main reason to visit Paracas is to see the Ballestas Islands.  It is advised to go on your Ballestas tour in morning for best opportunities to spot wildlife.  Tours can be booked the day before in town.  You may even be able to book a same-day tour if you are willing to go later in the afternoon.  You will undoubtedly see tons of wild sea animals.
  • Walk along the beach and explore the shoreside shops.
  • Tour the Paracas Reserve to see other interesting beaches, and the Museo Sitio de Julio C. Tello, to learn about the archeological and topographical history and wildlife chronology of the region.
Options for How to Visit:

Many people come to Paracas only for an afternoon to visit the Ballestas Islands.  If you prefer, you can use the city of Ica as your mainstay and take day trips to Paracas, Nazca (click for more about visiting Nazca), and Huacachina (click for more about visiting Huacachina).  The upside to this option is not having to move from place to place, changing hotels or hostels multiple times.

Personally, I prefer to spend more time in each place than most deem necessary.  For this reason, I stayed in each of these towns separately and chose to forego a stay in Ica.  This was the right choice for me.  The better option for you depends on your travel style, desire and needs.

Transportation:

Paracas is around 45 minutes by bus from Ica, and 4 from Lima (más o menos).

Accommodation:

I stayed two blocks from the beach in the Icthus Paracas hostel.  It is a family run operation with a full kitchen for guests.  The Icthus family helped us arrange our activities, book our bus to Lima, and were very accommodating.  The staff was lovely.

Las Islas Ballestas

Of course the principal reason to be in Paracas is a boat ride to the islands for wild life watching.  I am a major animal enthusiast, so for me, this was absolutely delightful.  I actually considered doing it a second time because I loved it so much.  And that is, sadly, my one complaint about this tour. I wish it had been longer!  You only get around an hour on the boat.  It is sufficient timing to see plenty of wildlife.  But when you’re in awe by the millions of birds, hoards of sea-lions, playful penguins, and dramatic dolphins, like I am, you could spend all day!

Paracas National Reserve

This tour was quite disappointing.  I don’t think the lovely woman in the hostel really knew what our tour was going to be like.  She showed us pictures of 3-4 beautiful beaches that we would be exploring for half an afternoon in the peninsula that couldn’t be reached by car.  She explained we would drive to one beach and walk to another.  She even showed us on a map.

This was not our tour at all.  We started in a museum at the entrance to the reserve.  I would have actually enjoyed the museum that aimed to teach about the interesting geographical history of the region and the wildlife in the area, if we hadn’t been rushed through it too quickly to look at anything.  We were hurried through to view the flamingos out back, in their natural habitat.  There were only a couple of flamingos and they were too far away to see without binoculars.

Next we went to visit the red beach.  It is rich in iron giving it a deep wine-red appearance.  There were too many tourists and it was cold.  Then we went for lunch and did not visit any other beaches.

The reserve is lovely, but I think a better way to visit is by renting a quad-bike in town and exploring the area on your own.  Live and learn.

I spent a lot of time relaxing along the harbor in Paracas.  The sunsets were lovely, and I had such a kick out of watching the pelicans (and another smaller bird that I know not the name of) diving for food.  This is a peaceful and tranquil place to rest if you’re not in a hurry.

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