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Latest update: 8 November 2022

Paracas is a dusty tourist town. Walking down the boulevard, someone comes up to me every other minute to sell me a tour or meal. On weekends Paracas welcomes lots of Peruvians from Lima. However, it is up to Western tourists to explore Paracas during the week.

Paracas is not a town

First, a little fact. Strangely enough, Paracas is not a town but a peninsula. Paracas is actually the entire area around the town. The town itself is called El Chaco. I’ve never heard anyone call it that. So let’s stick to Paracas!

How much time do you need in Paracas?

Paracas offers enough entertainment for a day or two. But it depends a bit on how much time you have. In theory, you can tick off the Islas Ballestas in the morning and explore the Paracas National Reserve in the afternoon, and then you’re done. Or you can add some beach/pool time and divide your activities over two days. It’s up to you!

What can you do in Paracas?

Islas Ballestas boat trip

The Islas Ballestas tour is the number one activity in Paracas. It’s a short two-hour tour that takes you to the Islas Ballestas to encounter hundreds, if not thousands, of birds, some penguins, and definitely sea lions. For many people, visiting Islas Ballestas is THE reason they come to Paracas.

Learn all about the Islas Ballestas tour.

Visit the Paracas National Reserve

Pay a visit to the Paracas National Reserve. This nature reserve is easy to visit independently with a bicycle, or you can join a tour. There are many different options. You can discover Paracas National Reserve with an ATV or buggy, you can go paragliding or take a walk.

I join the Sombras Doradas trekking. It takes three hours (including the drive), and you visit the area between Playón and Mendieta. It’s a surreal landscape: very dry, with different shades of red. We view the salt production of Salinas de Otuma and walk up and down the cliffs. Everyone got a walking stick initially, and we felt we wouldn’t need it. But no, it’s very useful. It is not an arduous trek, but the stick is very nice for stability on some stretches.

Only during the tour do I learn what the name Sombras Doradas means: golden shadows. The guide is an incredibly enthusiastic photographer who ensures we get the most creative pictures during the sunset. I booked this trek in 2019 for 80 sol excluding entrance to the park (11 sol, or 17 sol if you want to enter a second time) at the desk in the Kokopelli hostel. I definitely recommend this tour!

Strolling through El Chaco

El Chaco is the center of Paracas. It is the beach promenade, and there are some streets around it. It is full of restaurants and souvenir shops. The town has little charm. Much is or seems under construction, and everything is aimed at the tourist. Because the center is so small, you will soon have seen everything and plop down on the beach. Don’t expect a fantastic white sand beach. I even dare to call the beach ugly. But still, on the weekend, it is packed, so I prefer the swimming pool of my hostel.

Restaurant tips in Paracas

The street perpendicular to the beach, near Kokopelli, is full of small cevicherias. Almost identical. After a few tries, I finally find a place on the boulevard that makes good cappuccinos: El Arizal. And at Disfrutalo I eat a delicious fruit salad. Another recommendation is the cozy restaurant Misk’i in the evening. It’s lovely for drinks and pizzas. Finally, at Vegano Peruano, you can have some vegan food. It’s on the fifth floor, so the pretty view is for free.

Staying in Paracas

I choose the lively hostel Kokopelli. That means there is plenty of partying at the weekend, but during the week, it is quieter. Of course, that also depends a bit on the guests, whether they feel like a party. There is a lovely swimming pool where everyone gratefully takes a refreshing dip. Unfortunately, my dorm has a bad smell, so I’m glad I lay next to the window to breathe in some fresh air. My mattress is terrible, you know, those with a hole in the middle? Although the number of showers is limited, they are always clean. The cleaning staff is constantly on the go. And I find the space around the bar super relaxed. You can easily have a chat, and you can also have a bite to eat. Not the best hostel ever, but great for a short break!

You can book Kokopelli Paracas on Booking.com.

How to get to Paracas?

There are regular buses to Paracas from Lima, Arequipa, Nazca, and Ica. The dusty town has a Cruz del Sur Terminal, and other buses usually stop at an office somewhere on the street. Check the Busbud.com website or app to find your best bus option.

More Peru travel inspiration?

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First published: May 2020. The article has been updated since.

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