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Flashback Friday: Paracas, Peru and Ballestas Island

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Paracas is a beautiful small town located about 4 hours south of Lima. It was the first stop on my Peru Hop journey to Cusco and I had arranged to stay for a couple of days before moving along. Paracas is sunny all year round and has a good variety of activities to choose from. But what had me excited was that it is home to the Reserva Nacional de Paracas (Paracas National Reserve). Within the Reserve is one of the largest protected deserts in the Americas, as well as the Ballestas Islands, also known as "The Poor Man's Galapagos".

a man with flourescent worker's vest, sitting on a beach chair  under an umbrella looking out at the water. His foot is propped against the  umbrella pole. small boats can be seen on the water.

When first considering Peru, I was focused on Aztec history but I learned that the Aztec history is only a small portion of what this incredible country offers. The rich indigenous ancient civilizations and rich diversity of landscapes and wildlife fascinated and delighted me. Paracas combines both.

History of Paracas

Settlement on the Paracas Peninsula began around 900 BC by the Paracas people who were fishermen and farmers. Excavations at the Paracas Necropolis shows that the Paracas people were skilled craftspeople who made fine pottery, shell & bone necklaces, obsidian knives, gold ornaments and vibrant woven textiles. Many of these artifacts are well-preserved due to the dry climate and darkness of the underground burial chambers.

an elongated skull museum display. Single skull  with catalogue info printed on the top of the skull. "Tumba no 60, 6  exca CHONGOS"

In 1925, a team of archaeologists began to excavate the Paracas Cavernas, revealing a Wari communal burial site from 300 BC. At the site, the team found mummified remains and bundles of costumes, jewellery, and food. Nazca artifacts were also nearby. The National Reserve was created by the Peruvian government in 1975.

Museum display of a Wari tomb underground. The body is seated with knees drawn up and surrounded by pots and urns. These are wrapped in layers of clay-soaked fabric, dried plants,

Getting Around Paracas

Everything in El Chaco is within walking distance but for those with mobility issues, moto taxis are available. Regular taxis are also available to cover longer distances to nearby towns.

A red and white 3-wheeled  jitney cab on a dusty street.

Where to Stay in Paracas

There are a surprising number of options for lodging in Paracas from fancy hotels to small guesthouses and hostels.


The least expensive option is the Kokopelli Hostel Paracas, one of the options available for booking through PeruHop. The younger, hipper party crowd enjoyed their stays here. This is a party place. It is right on the beach and near all the nightclubs located within this tiny town.

hammocks swinging under bamboo shelters

A mid-level economy B&B hotel in Paracas is the new Hotel Riviera Inka Paracas. It is also close to the beach and the boardwalk. I spoke to a family that stayed who reported a comfortable but slightly noisy stay.


A more upscale option would be the Double Tree Hotel Hilton Paracas. This is a modern hotel with a swimming pool located next to the National Reserve. Some of the rooms have balconies to enjoy sea views. It includes a restaurant, a spa, and a buffet breakfast.


I chose to stay at the Palmeras House Guesthouse. It is located about a block from the beach, away from the boardwalk right in El Chaco, as the town is known by locals. This is a lovely family-owned guesthouse where I was greeted with a big smile and a welcome hug by the owner's young son, Jorge.

Head and shoulders shot of a  young boy with a bright smile

I had a very comfortable room on the second floor that was spacious and very clean. I had access to a shared kitchen and the WiFi was strong. I had a good-sized seating area in my room but there were also shared lounging areas where I was able to meet and chat with other travellers. It is behind the main street in a residential area and was quiet.

Looking down on a patio with a table and chairs under a sun umbrella to the left and a row of rattan chairs on the right.

Where to Eat

As a seaside town, fish and seafood are featured on most restaurant menus in Paracas. Many seafront restaurants near the pier offer a menu del dia (set 3-course meal) or a la carte options. The grill stands located by the pier are a great place to pick up some tasty treats at a budget price. In the evenings, choose a place that looks over the water to enjoy stunning sunsets.

soft red skies of sunset with the silhouettes of boats floating on the water

While I was there I enjoyed meals from several different establishments. My lunchtime snacks from the grill stands were outstanding.

18 opened scallops cooking on a round barbeque grill

On my first night, I had a leisurely meal at Restaurant Paracas where I enjoyed a half-order of scallops prepared 3 ways with a complimentary Pisco Chicano and some toasted spicy corn kernels while enjoying a gorgeous sunset view from the 4th floor.

dinner plate of 6 cooked scallops presented 3 different ways with a small square dish of corn kernels on the table above.

On the second night, I chose Misk'i Restobar where I joined some fellow travellers to enjoy live music and a fun and friendly atmosphere. The menu is basic American-style pizza, burgers, and tacos. It is about a block from the Chaco pier.


What to Do in Paracas

The town has a good variety of activities to choose from adrenaline-soaked activities like dune buggy riding and sand surfing to observing wildlife or visiting Inca ruins. I stuck to the less adventurous activities, saving my dune-surfing for my stay in Huacachina, a little further south.

Meander Around Paracas Bay

El Chaco is the name of the tiny town on Paracas Bay. Visitors can access tours of Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve from the town pier. The boardwalk is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops & kiosks. Working fishing boats buzz around delivering fresh fish to the shops and restaurants. Many, many pelicans hang out looking for surfaces to rest and unattended fish to steal.

view along a brick walkway with benches made from barrels and shops to the right.

4 flat fishing skiffs floating on the water with many birds perched on top.

Paracas Julio C Tello Museum

Near the northern entrance of the national reserve, the Paracas Julio C Tello Museum displays the archaeological findings of archaeologist Julio C. Tello, who was the first archaeologist to study Paracas culture. Displays include textiles, ceramics, mummies, and deformed skulls. The exhibits include details of Paraca's cultural practices, including fishing techniques, textile-making, and mummification. The signage is mainly in Spanish with some amusing English translations.

a very straight lined rectangular brick building in a desert with large block printing "Museo de Sitio Julio C. Tello"

After enjoying the museum, take the path to the lookout where you'll be able to see flocks of flamingos flock from July to November.

2 flamingos wading in the mud both with heads down. In the water behind, the reflection of 4 flamingo can be seen.

Explore Paracas National Reserve

The Paracas National Reserve is a desert area with archaeological and natural treasures abound. Huge colonies of sea birds, sea lions, and other marine life feed here in the rich waters off the Peruvian coast.

Tall sand dunes above a rocky cliff

The unique Reserve is the oldest marine reserve in the country with almost 335,000 hectares of dedicated to preserving the marine ecosystem. There are many different species of birds here with outstanding photo opportunities.


I decided to take a morning boat tour around the Paracas peninsula and out to the Ballestas Islands. It was a chilly and foggy morning but we were assured that the fog would lift by the time we arrived at the Islands... and it did.

As seen from the back: 7 rows of benches filled with people wearing lifejackets. Nothing can be seen in front of the boat due to fog.

On the way we went past the Paracas peninsula where we had a tremendous view of the Candelabra Geoglyph, known as El Candelabro. This giant geoglyph is etched into the hard sand and rock of a hill, measuring 180m (595 feet) high. Experts have not been able to accurately date when this geoglyph was created, nor are they sure about the meaning. Pottery located nearby has been dated from 200 BC, so it is assumed that this geoglyph was important to the Paracas people who lived in the area at the time.

A candalabra design etched into the side of a brown, unvegetated cliff front.

Visit the Ballestas Islands

The Ballestas Islands are a group of uninhabited islands that are home to an astounding array of marine wildlife. There are also large colonies of sea lions lounging on the rocks or feeding in the waters next to the rocks. This was the highlight of my time in Paracas.

view of the top of hill with thousands of birds flying above and many more roosting on the hill below

These islands have been dubbed the Poor Man's Galapagos Islands but visitors are not allowed to walk on the islands. Luckily, much of the wildlife hangs out near the shore. The only people allowed to be on the island are the two guardians who work 3-week long shifts, overlapping one week with their colleague.

The guardian post: A concrete wall on top of a stone wall with a large government sign. "Reserva Nacional sistema de islas, ISLAS  BALLESTAS

A few select fishermen are allowed to collect seafood close to the islands. They must dive and use low-impact gear rather than using nets or even fishing lines.

2 fisherman on a small blue open fish boat. OOne man is sorting octopus, the other is holding a hose.

Bird species include Humboldt penguins, cormorants, Peruvian boobies, and many, many pelicans. I was especially thrilled with the penguins and booby chicks. (Quit giggling).

10 penguins at the top of a rocky hill

A gull sized black bird with bright red beak and feet, a yellow beak patch and a white markings around the cheek

Mother bird and chicks. Mother in front with white head, black & white body, and blue feet. Chicks are fluffy white. One has head raised with closed beak.

A visit to this small town reveals a fascinating look at both nature and ancient South American cultures, in a beautiful setting. This mainly undiscovered budget-friendly gem is well worth at least a couple of days on any trip along the Peruvian coast.

 

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