When I was planning my last days in Peru, I wondered what I could do with the few days I had left. I was able to see everything I wanted to see in South America and decided to spend my last days on the Pacific Coast and go to Huacachina and Paracas. But what are the top things to do in Paracas, Peru?
Things to do in Paracas, Peru
Paracas is a small town, situated 266 km (165 miles) from Lima. You can take a 4h bus ride and arrive at the bus station. I already shorty outlined my experiences in Paracas with my post on the naked truth about Paracas and my review of the Paracas Hotel Luxury Collection Resort. But the reason to go to Paracas where the 2 things to do in Paracas. The Islas Ballestas and a tour of the Paracas National Reserve.
I admit, 2 things to do in Paracas, doesn’t sound like a major reason to change your whole Peruvian itinerary, but for most people it is on their way. Either from Lima to Cusco or from Lima to Arequipa (or the other way around). If you read on, you’ll discover what those 2 things to see in Paracas are about and you might decide to add Paracas to your Peru itinerary after all!
The Islas Ballestas is the top attraction in Paracas and it is the main thing to do in Paracas. Basically the reason for people to go there. The Islas Ballestas near Paracas are also called the Poor Man’s Galapagos Islands. As I have not been to the Galapagos Islands yet nor the Galapagos Alternative, I’m not the best judge of this title. But I’ve seen enough images and heard enough stories about the Galapagos Islands to tell you the Islas Ballestas are in no way a comparison to a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
The Ballestas Islands near Paracas is a half day tour where you’ll visit some rock formations and see a glimpse of the marine life, the Pacific Ocean has to offer.
Pay your taxes
I booked such a half day tour as it is the only way to explore the islands, unless you charter your private boat. I advise to take the early morning tour of 8 am as the 10 am tour is subject to weather conditions and the sea is known to get rather rough around Paracas. (in 2016) I paid 70 Soles for the tour of the Islas Ballestas and the National Reserve, which included the taxes for both attractions (18 soles). Some tour agencies include the taxes in their ticket price, with others agencies you need to pay the taxes at the harbour.
We set out in a new speedboat and strapped on our life jacket. There is nothing better to start the morning than wake up too early, have a horror breakfast (read about it in my story with the naked truth about Paracas) and strap on a fluorescing orange life jacket all the while covered in a thick layer of smelly fishy harbour smell mixed with the scent of rotten algae. Got the image?
I was happy when we left the harbour and took to the open sea. Soon the captain stopped the boat as a huge group of bottlenose dolphins were circumnavigating our boat. What a delightful sight! I can’t remember if I ever saw wild dolphins and I was ecstatic. I tried not to fall over while jumping up and down in my seat, pointing to the water, while hitting and grabbing my travel companion who had the worst case of morning grumpiness I’ve ever seen. After this point, I didn’t care if we would do the other things to do in Paracas, because the dolphins made my day!
After the dolphins left our boat, we continued to the rock with the Candelabra. These are old markings on a rock in the shape of an odd cactus or chandelier. Nobody knows how the hundreds of years old markings got there, why they were put there, what they mean and who made them. It is a mystery of the Paracas culture, similar to the Nazca desert drawings in Peru. Besides the wildlife, this is one of the top things to see in Paracas!
Birds, birds and more birds!
After this, we set out in a straight line to the actual archipelago of the Islas Ballestas. The islands of the coast of Paracas are inhabited by millions and millions of birds. Peruvian Pelicans, Humboldt Penguins, Peruvian boobies, red-legged and Guanay Cormorants and some Inca Terns; we saw them all! For more info on Peruvian bird life, check the site of go2peru.com
And you might think: millions and millions, that’s probably free writing, but I’m not over exaggerating. It was not possible to see some rock because the rocks were painted black with colonies of bird’s bodies. And where there were no birds, there was white stuff. Thick layers of white stuff… Guano. Bird poo.
The guano is basically the reason why the Ballestas Islands near Paracas are so valuable for the Peruvian coastline. The bird droppings were once called the Peruvian Gold as it turned out to be a very lucrative business to export as fertilizer.
At this moment, nobody worked on the island and all was deserted. Well except for the birds. Sitting, eating, and screaking. All birds were very busy doing bird’s stuff. And we were able to observe them from the boat. As much as I like animals, I’m not much of a bird watcher, so you have to forgive me if I don’t remember all the names.
Sea Lion Family
Things got really interested when our captain manoeuvred towards a cliff with a whole family of sea lions. A male with a bunch of females and some pups was laying on the rocks. We got some amazing sights and it was really exciting to see them in their natural habitat.
After this, the fun was over and we had to return to Paracas. The tour of the Islas Ballestas is really a short tour and by 10.30 am we were back in the harbour, waiting for the next tour.
Other things to do in Paracas, Peru
We had some time in between tours and we tried to have lunch. At 11 am a bus picked us up for our 2nd tour at the tour office. Imagine an old American school bus but minus the yellow colour and the leather seats.
We set out for the Paracas National Reserve where we would visit a museum, try to find more wildlife, go fossil hunting and see some colourful beaches and desert landscapes. In Spanish it is called ” Reserva Nacional de Paracas” (RNP) for more info, check this link from the tourist agency of Paracas (Spanish).
Paracas Natural Reserve
I really enjoyed this tour. Our small group stopped first at the museum. We could walk to the water front where lots of flamingos should be. Unfortunately, it was quite late in the season, so not much pink flamingos remained. I did had a lot of fun with the sign below. It says “no todo es desierto”. I read this as “not all is deserted/lost”, which I found hilarious when I read it standing in the desert. But the sign might have meant: not all is desert, pointing to the ocean. I guess we’ll never know what it means. What do you think?
After this, we visited the museum which was a display of the animals living in the Pacific Ocean in the past and current times. The museum focusses on the environment and the impact we have on the oceans. Although not mind blowing, I still think it was nice.
We continued into more deserted land and went to a viewpoint where we could see the red beach. As the sky was an overall grey the view was not spectacular but still charmed in its own. Nature looked sad and desolate but in the same time it showed its charm and beauty.
We descended towards the red beach where we looked for shelves and fossils. People call this beach “Playa Rojo” because of the intense red colour of the sand. The water soothingly crashed the beach and the sun tried its best to break through the thick layer of clouds.
We finally were able to see some sun when we had lunch at the small little harbour. Some brave souls tested the waters, but I found it too cold.
Different route for the same tour
On the way back, we saw more rock formations, desert and isolated landscapes. We returned to Paracas where our day of sightseeing of the top things to do in Paracas ended. You can also book a combination tour, where you’ll visit the Islas Ballestas in the morning and continue with a tour of the Paracas National reserve and drive straight to Huacachina and even Nazca. This way you don’t have to return to Paracas and this is especially smart because there is no reason to stay in Paracas.
I know my story with the naked truth of Paracas wasn’t really inviting, but I think these tours really give a good insight into nature and wildlife of the Peruvian desert and coastal life at the Pacific Ocean. If you can, you should visit Paracas because these top things to do in Paracas are well worth your visit!
So have you travelled to Paracas for these top things to do in Paracas? Let me know your experiences! Did you enjoy the tours? Which one was your favourite?