There are two reasons why the coastal town of Paracas is on Peru’s well-trodden gringo trail. First there’s Reserva Nacional de Paracas, which is all about geology and landscapes and an historic insight into the human history of the area, should you visit the museum.
The other main attraction is Islas Ballestas, or the poor man’s Galapagos, where a boat tour gets you up close to penguins, pelicans, cormorants and seals. There’s also the Candelabro geoglyph.
We skipped the Islas as we’d be seeing the Galapagos further on in our travels, and instead focussed on the National Reserve, which you’ll see towards the end of this post.
Paracas itself is a bit on the unremarkable side. Large resort hotels sit on its peripheries, numerous tour agencies and tourist tat stores fill the town centre, there’s a small but decent selection of eateries and a gravelly, litter-filled beach infront of it all.
We were in town in February, when tourist numbers were nowhere near as high as the blistering temperatures outside. In all our South American travels, Paracas took the role as being the hottest place by far; made even worse with no breeze whatsoever.
Non-Peruvian breakfasts in Paracas aren’t too much of a task to find, so if that mundane spread of flatbread, margarine, ordinary jam and filter coffee is becoming torturous, you can always head to somewhere like Fuzion to break the monotony.
Even something as simple as pancakes with condensed milk (16) was good enough for me.
Aside from brekkie, these guys do burgers, chicken wings, sandwiches and coffee, and the juice bar whizzes up some mean, and enormous, glasses of frozen fruit. The best remedy for those hot Paracas days. They even have free wifi.
Fruzion, Alameda Alan García Perez 1080
Spending time walking around town during the day in February is a task you’d probably want to avoid. You’re either enjoying a day trip, sitting in the pool (if you have one) or in front of your hostel or hotel fan or cranking up the air-con.
Come the late afternoon, however, people emerge to enjoy the cooler temps, find a bar or restaurant along the malecón and sip on something cool. You may even be lucky enough to find a few guys shucking fresh scallops for ceviche. Can’t get fresher scallop ceviche than that!
Happy hour signs can be seen all along the malecón, and many touts try to lure you in with offers of great drinks and fab food. Within a few minutes you’ve said no gracias a dozen times before making a decision on where to park your glutes.
Pisco & Olé is one of the more stylish spots along the strip, and if they turned the blaring music down a few notches up on the roof terrace, it’d be a pleasant place to stay longer than one round of drinks. Unless, of course, you like to yell to have a conversation.
Skip the watery mojito and try the other cocktails or cerveza, or tuck into one of the delectables from the food menu.
Pisco & Olé, Malecon El Chaco
You can always duck next door to El Ancla for happy hour cocktails and take a seat on the pavement and people watch to your hearts content. The mojito is very drinkable, the beer is almost cold enough and the sunset across the way is pretty special.
Restaurant & Cevichería El Ancla, Malecon El Chaco
One of our favourites is Karamba, not only for their cheaper cocktails, but also for the nightly outdoor bbq they put on. It’s a simple set up with indoor and outdoor seating, and if bbq doesn’t get you excited, then a few local dishes may.
Sit back and enjoy sunset happy hour and take your pick of octopus (30), whole fish (30), skewers of chicken or shrimp or even a hunk of steak. Then let the grill master do his thing. Salad and grilled potatoes come with your proteins.
Karamba Resto Bar, Malecón El Chaco
The west side of the malecón gives way to a string of kiosks that are open during the day through to dinnertime. They’ve all been cast from the same mould, so it’s a matter of choosing which one draws you or which picture menu looks the most enticing.
Each seafood-centric menu is heavy with fish and generous servings of ceviche. Our choice was Restaurant Angel owned by a very sweet older couple. Delicious ceviche mixto (25), milanesa de pescado (crumbed fish, 25) and an excellent pescado al ajo (fish in garlic butter, 30).
Restaurant Angel, El Chaco
Playa La Mina
As I mentioned earlier, we did a tour to the National Reserve a short distance out of Paracaus. Many tour operators around town combine the reserve with Islas Ballestas, and seeing we weren’t interested in the boat trip, nor cramming in with a huge group of people, we opted for a private tour.
This was organised through the Bamboo Lodge where we stayed. We had an air conditioned car, a driver/guide and we could take as little or as long as we liked. The price for the service was 140 soles and the only additional cost was the 10 sole per person entry into the reserve, plus lunch.
First stop was Playa La Mina, a beautiful beach so named for the few cavities you can see in the hills, which are former coal mines. The water is beautifully cool, perhaps a little chilly, but it’s clean and you have about an hour to take a dip before moving on.
Lagunillas is the next stop, which happens to be lunch at one of a handful of restaurants on the waterfront. It’s a touristy set-up, and we’re sure the driver gets a commission for taking his clients to a specific restaurant.
We skipped the tourist restaurant with its inflated prices and went to the tiny kiosk we spotted in the carpark. Not quite the same choices as the restaurants, but it’s half the price and the food is probably just the same.
Ceviche, fried fish, sandwiches and soup. They even do a set lunch special. Our pescado frito (15) was perfection, and sitting on plastic chairs with pelicans watching our every move only made it better.
Following lunch we took in the view from a hill above the restaurants, then were taken to Playa Roja, or Red Beach, to snap pics of this beautiful geographic marvel. The beach gets its colour from the smoothed magmatic pebbles that originate from nearby Santa Matia Headland, which you can drive up to to get magnificent views of the coast and arid peninsula.
The tour ends at Museo Paracas where you can brush up on local history and geology through informative and interactive displays. Next door is Muséo de Sitio Julio C. Tello, named for the archeologist who discovered many mysteries of the ancient Paracas culture.
Here you can see over 100 pieces including ceramics, utensils and textiles that represent the evolution of the Paracus culture, plus exhibits of skull deformation and cranial trepanation, practiced by this fascinating ancient culture.
How we got to Paracas from Arequipa.
The logical way for us to get from Arequipa to Paracas was to follow the coastline, so rather than schlepp it all the way through, two overnight stops were added to break up the long journey.
The first overnight stay was in Nazca. Most people go to Nazca to see the lines, but due to budget constraints, we only ventured to Cementerio de Chauchilla to check out the pre-hispanic mummies located 30km out of town.
We got the overnight Cruz Del Sur bus from Arequipa International Terraport to Nazca, departing at 9.30pm and arriving at 7am. Cost per person was 115 soles.
From Nazca we took an 8.30am Cruz Del Sur bus to Ica, which was 45 soles per person and takes about 3 hours. From Ica we took a local taxi to the nearby oasis town of Huacachina, where we stayed the night, then returned to Ica the following morning to get the 10.45am Cruz del Sur bus to Paracas. Cost was 38 soles per person and it arrived at 12pm.