Paracas Peru and the Islas Ballestas are a must-see on your Peruvian itinerary. I share 10 important things that no one tells you about travel to Paracas. I break them down in the good, the bad and the good to know. Continue reading to find out about nightlife in Paracas and how long and where you should stay in Paracas Peru for different budgets.
Is Paracas worth visiting?
When you plan you travel around Peru, you might wonder if you should visit Paracas and if Paracas is worth visiting. Although I didn’t like everything about Paracas, I’m still happy I visited this tiny place along the Peruvian coastline. I had a great time, made some friends, saw amazing things I’ve not seen before in Peru and it was a great stop on my way to Lima Peru. For me, these 4 things were worth it to visit Paracas Peru.
Ballestas Islands half-day boat trip
Many people tell you about the Islas Ballestas islands and for good reasons. I found the Ballestas Islands worth it and a great reason to visit Paracas. Mainly because I’ve never seen so many birds and sea lions together in my life. What people might not tell you, is how easy it is to arrange a trip to the Islas Ballestas.
The islands are also called: the poor men’s Galapagos Islands. And maybe they are right. A trip to the Islas Ballestas doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Depending on the tour you take, expect to pay between 15 and 18 Euro ($16.50 to $20). And the Ballestas Islands are worth it.
Although arranging a tour in the harbor is really easy, you can also book ahead and make sure you’ll have a spot. Find the best Islas Ballestas tour here. You’ll go out in medium-sized boats to explore the waters around Paracas for 2 hours.
Insider tip #1: Some tours include the harbor tax for Paracas already, others don’t. Make sure to check before you book.
Insider tips #2: I recommend to take the earliest tour available. Tours leave at 8 am and at 10 am. But the waters around Paracas are known to become rockier and weather unpredictable later in the day. The 8 am tour will have calmer seas (resulting in more chances of seeing dolphins!).
Paracas National Reserve
Something I didn’t know before I went to Paracas in Peru, was that there is more to see and do than just the Ballestas Islands. The Paracas National Reserve is actually an amazing park that you can explore on a tour.
You’ll visit the reserve’s museum, displaying all the animals in the Pacific Ocean and the impact that we have on the waters around Paracas. It was very insightful and I liked it a lot!
After this, our tour continued to Playa Roja, a red beach with crashing waves on the shore. Amazing views of the deserted land and the wide-open ocean before us. A really nice sight, although the weather wasn’t great when I visited. There is a restaurant nearby with great seafood if you’re up for it.
Insider tip #3: When you visit Paracas, you can book the tours of Ballestas Islands and the Paracas National Reserve separate or together on 1 day. You can even book a tour that continues towards Huacachina. These sand dunes are an adrenaline junkie’s playground and a really cool place to hang back and relax. Booking your onward travel saves you time and money!
Explore the surrounding area
Paracas is only a small town and besides some relaxing and visiting the Islas Ballestas, there is not much more to do. 1 night is enough time to stay in Paracas. However, the area surrounding Paracas is actually really interesting with plenty of things to do.
You can whirlwind by on your way from Lima to Arequipa and Puno in Peru, but you can also stop for a few days in Paracas and explore the town of Ica. Nearby Ica is known for its Pisco sours, Peru’s national drink, and their fine wines.
Briefly, mentioned above, Huacachina is another great place to explore near Paracas. Only a 10-minute cab ride from Ica, this desert oasis offers gigantic sand dunes and relaxing hotels and hostels with pool and hammocks. After traveling for 30 days in South America, it was a pleasant relaxing stop.
Nazca and the Nazca Lines
Not far from Paracas and Ica, you’ll find the famous Nazca Lines. You can book a seat on a small airplane and fly over the area to see the amazing figures in the ground below. There is also a viewpoint from where you can get a view of the ground and the cemetery is really intriguing. An example of what it looks like is the great Candelabra. A giant cactus or chandelier drawing in the rocks near Paracas.
Insider Tip #4: You probably didn’t know there is so much other stuff to see and do between Lima and Arequipa. All places are easy going and relaxed small towns compared to the crazy traffic in Lima.
What no one tells you about Paracas Peru
Everyone writes about how great Paracas is and how amazing the Islas Ballestas are. Although I really agree with this and had a great time in Paracas, there are some things that no one talks about. Things that surprised me and I didn’t expect.
The following is not to scare you or make you skip Paracas, because I do think Paracas is worth visiting. However, I’m all about managing expectations and the following things can help you manage your expectations.
Is there a Paracas Nightlife? If there is, it wasn’t when I was around. While I didn’t get any sleep because of the crazy parties in Huacachina or the pico sour in Lima and Ica, Paracas is more a calm beach town. Resorts line the beach where you can have a fine dining experience but not so much crazy party of nightlife going on there.
Many people visit Paracas only on a day trip, leaving the town deserted at night. I found many food stalls and restaurants closed when I visited.
Insider tip #5: The Kokopelli Backpacker Hostel in Paracas is not only great for inexpensive lodging, but it also has many other facilities. I visited the Kokopelli Paracas and my friend was staying there, and they offer many activities. You can hang by the pool, use their pool and fuss ball table, book tours and sign up for their events like bar games, food events, and DJ’s parties.
Money in Paracas Peru
Paracas is a fairly small town but has plenty of tourist facilities to offer travelers taking a tour or staying for one night. However, I did have some trouble to find a working ATM machine in town. It took me 3 tries before I was successful and managed to get some soles.
I also found the food a bit pricey in Paracas. Especially for what you get. And compared to the rest of Peru. This is probably due to the fact that many people only visit on a half-day tour and go in and out of town quickly.
Insider tip #6: Make sure to have some money on you when you arrive in Paracas. Or ask locals when the ATM’s will work again. They know when they are being restocked or which machines still have cash soles in them. Be aware that Paracas restaurants are a bit pricier than other places in Peru. If possible, pay your hotel by card.
Peruvian dogs are naked!
The thing that surprised me the most about Paracas Peru, was their naked dogs. The Peruvian dog is a dog without fur. Not the cute “lets-put-a-cute-pink-sweater-on-it” kind of small adorable Chihuahua style naked dog. No, the Peruvian naked dog is a bulky, strong naked dog. Most come with a mow-hawk and they lie around Paracas on many occasions.
I love dogs and most of the times I want to pet them. I say most of the times because I found an exception to this. When I visited Paracas, I was not particularly drawn to these naked dogs. Especially not when having breakfast and the dogs come up to you. Ask the owner to shoe them away as they know how to handle the dogs.
Insider Tip #7: Peruvian dogs are rare and Peruvians are proud of them. Go to Paracas Peru to cross this of your bucket list. I’m sure you’ll find them in Peru. If you’re afraid of dogs, then you’re warned now of their different looks. As with all dogs, they will not harm you if you leave them alone.
Local communities in Paracas are struggling
Another thing I don’t hear anyone, who visited Paracas, talk about, is the fact the local communities are struggling. After the 2007 earthquake (8.0 on the magnitude scale), Paracas was in ruins. The town was hit hard by previous quakes and this one was the last drop.
Since then, the town has rebuilt itself from the ground up and flourishes because of tourists visiting the Islas Ballestas. However, most of these tours are organized in Lima, dropping tourists of in Paracas and whisking them away just as quickly.
This leaves local taxi drivers, local supermarkets and local restaurants and shop owners with people flooding their town, but no income to show for it. I stayed for 2 nights in Paracas and found local people try to make a quick buck off tourists visiting for half a day or a day.
Insider tip # 8: All the profit of the tours, go to big tour companies in Lima, leaving the local people left behind. If you wish to be a more sustainable traveler, then book your tours locally. Visit Paracas independently and book your tours in Paracas, eat out in Paracas and take a taxi around town. It is really easy and supports the people who need it. Read below how easy it is to visit Paracas independently.
How long and where to stay in Paracas Peru?
Although prices for food in Paracas were a bit on the pricier side, I found plenty of affordable places to stay in Paracas. I stayed 2 nights in Paracas. 2 nights turned out a bit much, but 1 night is great to have a relaxed visit. You can do all the tours around Paracas and not feel rushed. Or have the feeling you’re only sitting on a bus all day.
Luxury Resorts in Paracas
I stayed for 2 nights at the Paracas Luxury Collection Resort. It was a bit of a splurge for me at the end of my backpacking trip through South America and I loved the luxury. Cottage style rooms with an amazing bathtub, the biggest bed I’ve seen in South America and several pools to relax at.
Where to stay in Paracas on a backpacker budget
If you’d like things a bit more budget, I can highly recommend the Kokopelli Backpackers Hostel in Paracas. I had good experiences with the Kokopelli Hostel in Cusco and had a look around the Kokopelli Backpackers Hostel in Paracas too as my friend stayed there.
Insider Tip #9: I guess the Kokopelli Paracas hostel is my insider tip. They have a pool, bar, book and DVD exchange and great rooms with a lot of privacy.
Even if you’re not the hostel kind of person, the Kokopelli Paracas also offers private rooms for you to enjoy! If I’d go back to Paracas, I’d definitely stay at the Kokopelli.
How to travel to Paracas Peru and get around?
As mentioned above, you can book a tour from Lima and visit Paracas on a (long!) day trip from Lima or en-route to Arequipa or Puno. I found travel to Paracas independently, just as easy! I booked a Cruz del Sur bus at the bus station in Ica and within an hour I found myself in Paracas.
When I left, I went back to the bus station and took a Cruz del Sur bus to Lima. The bus takes less than 4 hours and I watched a great movie on the bus and didn’t notice the time passing by. Book ahead of time as buses can get full as this is the main route from Arequipa to Lima.
Getting around in Paracas
Paracas is only a 20-minute drive from the famous Pan Americana Highway. Once you arrive at the bus station, you can take a taxi or walk into town. Paracas consists of 2 round-a-bouts at each end of town. In between is the village which consists of hotels, resorts, the harbor, and small eateries.
My hotel was a bit outside the center of Paracas but even then, it was only a 4-minute walk. Taxis are 10 Soles to drive you around town. Most tours pick you up from your hotel or you can agree to meet at a certain point.
Insider tip #10: Taxi drivers will ask you how long you’ll stay in Paracas. This is not to pry but for them to lock in some solid business. It is not weird to get their phone number. When you need a taxi, just call them and they drive you around town. If you’re in Paracas for a longer period of time and use the same taxi driver again, you can bring the price down to 8 soles per ride. Only haggle when you’re on a really tight budget, 2 soles means more to them than to you.
Your visit to Paracas Peru and the Ballestas Islands
As you can read from above, I did have a great time in Paracas Peru and I think it’s worth visiting Paracas and the Ballestas Islands and Paracas National Reserve.
The Islas Ballestas are fun and exciting and they make a great morning boat tour of the shore and the islands. And it is amazing to see so many birds and marine life altogether. The Paracas National Reserve is an excellent tour as well. You see parts of the desert you’ll not see anywhere else in Peru and these attractions are 2 good reasons why you should visit Paracas. Then stay overnight before you continue your travel in Peru.
With my insider tips, you can manage your expectations and have a great trip!
Have you been to Paracas? What did you think of it? What else did you do besides the Islas Ballestas tour? Leave a comment in the comment section below. I’d love to hear your thoughts about Paracas Peru.
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