Within four hours outside the south of Lima, on the desert plain between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, huge sand dunes meet the edge of the Pacific Ocean, hosting awesome marine biodiversity, quaint beaches, and charming landscapes. This paradise is called Paracas National Reserve, and it is a great place to spend quality time with family, and friends, or for those who seek a magical and unparalleled destination that provides a lot of services. That is why together with our colleagues from Machu Peru Travel we have prepared a short article about the Paracas National Reserve.
Everything you need to know about the Paracas National Reserve
- What is the Paracas National Reserve?
- History of National Reserve
- Paracas culture
- National Reserve location
- Main Paracas activities
- How to get to Paracas
- What to bring
- When to visit
- Where to stay
What is the Paracas National Reserve?
If you want to enjoy marine wildlife and paradise landscapes, you have to go to one of the most frequented Peru places for tourists who want to appreciate these without entering the Amazon, we refer to Paracas (Quechua noun to refer to sand rain. Para means rain and Aco mean sand) The Paracas National Reserve is a protected natural area created on September 25, 1975, by the Peruvian government with the objective of conserving a representative sample of the marine ecosystems of the cold sea of the Peruvian Current, since the Peruvian sea is considered by specialists as the richest and most productive sea on earth. With more than 400 species distributed along the Paracas coastline, it is the perfect example of marine biodiversity in Peru!
History of National Reserve
After its foundation in 1975 and thanks to its importance as a resting and feeding place to migratory birds, the National Reserve was upgraded in 1991 to the regional reserve category of the Hemispheric Network for shorebirds (current Wetlands for the Americas program)
Only one year later, in April 1992, Paracas was recognized as one of the sites of special character for the Convention Relative to Wetlands of International Importance for unique species like sea lions, Humboldt penguins, boobies, Guayas among others.
The Paracas, a civilization before the Incas (700 B.C – 200 A.C), learned to tame one of the driest deserts in the world, located 260 kilometers south of current Lima. This culture can be studied in two periods, Paracas-Caverns (700 B.C – 200 B.C) when these inhabitants buried their mummies in special caverns in the shape of an inverted cone, deep in the earth, wrapped in thin blankets (From this comes the fame of the Paracas cloaks). And Paracas-Necropolis (200 B.C – 200 A.C), when its inhabitants buried the mummies in rectangular caverns of more elaborate, deep in the ground, resembling an underground necropolis. Julio Cesar Tello, the father of Peruvian archeology, discovered it in 1925, in the middle of the current National Reserve.
Most of the cultural relics of the area have been moved to museums throughout Peru, such as the Larco Museum. But the reserve still allows visitors to visit the necropolis, which is more than 5,000 years old.
National Reserve location
As we mentioned before, the national reserve of Paracas is located on the South coast of the Peruvian Capital, Lima, 162 miles of distance (Following the Panamericana Sur highway). With an extension of 217,594 hectares, most parts consist of water from the Pacific Ocean coastline and aquatic biodiversity. On the other hand, the earth part constitutes one of the aridest deserts on the planet.
Regarding the weather in the National Reserve, Paracas has an average temperature of 77ºF during the year, hard rays of sun and sand blizzards, similar to sand rains, will accompany the visitor throughout the year. These blizzards can reach speeds of 25 km per hour up to 60 km per hour.
For this reason, the area was called a Quechua name of Paracas (Para means rain and Aco means sand) Without mentioning that it almost never rains in the area (if not ever) Take note that, between June and August, in winter, you can find more fresh weather.
As water sports like Kitesurf, Paddleboard, windsurfing, or Kayak can be practiced on the Paracas beaches, please take note that usually the temperature water is the cold most part of the year, reaching its coldest point between July and October when the water temperature range from 61ºF to 63ºF. On the other hand, the average summer water temperature (From November to April) is around 70ºF. For this reason, in both cases is important wearing wetsuits when submerging in the water or when practicing water sports.
Main Paracas activities
1. Tour the Ballestas Islands
If you ask us about what is special about the National Reserve of Paracas, well, we can say that the special thing in National Reserve is to visit the special rock formations in the sea, where life and resting unique species like sea lions, seals, Humbolt penguins, many coast birds, pelicans, albatross, seagulls, and even humpback whales, we refer to Ballestas Islands. These are located north of Paracas and although you do not belong to the National Reserve itself, (The Ballestas Islands belong to the National Reserve System of islands, islets, and Guano Points), usually their visit is included in the tours of the zone.
This boat tour that departs from Pisco, or Paracas ports, offers the possibility of circling the islands and having direct contact with nature because many animals previously mentioned are used to human contact and can be seen calmly, resting on some of these rock formations. The tour usually lasts 02 hours and 30 minutes, with 45 minutes of watching. Please, take note that the Ballestas Islands are a part of a National Reserve System, for this reason, the visitor can’t disembark on these.
2. Get a tan on Paracas beaches
There are many beautiful Peru beaches, especially in Paracas, but some of them are located in the reserve itself and cannot be used by tourists other than to bet on their sands and sunbathe or realize minor activities. Following, we can find the most interesting Paracas beaches:
- Las Mina’s beach: The best beach among all in the National Reserve. It is located between steep cliffs, with soft sand and calm waves, and it is perfect for swimming peacefully and spending quality time with children and family.
- The Raspon beach: Popular beach for swimming and sunbathing.
- La Roja beach: Little but quaint beach of red sand allows the view of the giant Paracas cliffs. This is perfect for sunbathing.
- Yumaque beach: This was perfect to camp, however for protection reasons, camping is currently prohibited.
- The Supay beach: It was named in honor of an ancient demon of Peruvian mythology called Supay. This is a long beach located on the slopes of Paracas cliffs, where the visitor can take large walks and practice craft fishing.
3. Biking in Paracas
One of the best ways to get to know the vast Paracas desert is on a fun bike ride. There are several tour companies in the city that rent bicycles, and even certain lodgings offer this opportunity. It is advisable to leave early in the morning to avoid strong heat, but any time is ideal for cycling. The prices are quite accessible and with so many options available, you can decide calmly. If you are on Honeymoon in Peru, be sure to walk with your partner through the incredible Paracas desert.
4. Paracas scroll by yourself
If you don’t know, you can also hike by yourself. There are paths that follow the parallel of Paracas coastline and get to beaches and hidden places of the Nature Reserve. However, these are poor-signed, and getting lost is very easy. For this reason, we recommend you get a detailed Paracas map before doing this activity or hire a local tour guide. On the other hand, the ATVs in Paracas are another of the best form to take a walk and enjoy its landscapes. Of course, you will be accompanied by an instructor guide during the trip, but the experience will be worth it. The travel agencies located in the same Paracas town or us will be glad to assist you with this experience.
5. Sandboard and dune buggy
Peru’s desert coastline gives way to pockets of expansive dunes that offer fun opportunities for sandboarding in Paracas (gliding by means of a table by the sand dunes), and buggy riding (modified cars that climb the dunes at breakneck speed) among other wonderful adventure activities. These experiences are ideal to complement wildlife excursions in the reserve, and it is the answer to what Paracas is known for, desert, dunes, paradise beaches, and unforgettable experiences to live there.
6. Water sports
Paracas is, without a doubt, synonymous with adventure and adrenaline. But sandboarding is not the only thing you can enjoy inside the Paracas National Reserve. Thanks to its powerful winds that blow from the desert throughout the year and its flat sea, you can have one of the best places for kitesurfing in Peru, especially between November to April, and remember that the wind is usually stronger in the afternoon. So the perfect time to practice kitesurf in Paracas is from noon to sunset. The same weather conditions can be taken advantage of practices of Paddleboard, Windsurf, or Kayak.
7. Paraglading in Paracas
Another great adventure option is to try paragliding in Paracas, to see this beautiful reserve from another perspective. Usually, the flights begin at 09 am and have a duration of 25 to 30 minutes overflying the beautiful reefs that the reserve has. As the day passes, the wind speed increases from 15 kph to winds that exceed 50 kph. For this reason, make paragliding in the first hour of the morning is highly recommendable, the afternoon is for the experts. Usually, the paragliding flights have a starting depart from a zone where The Cathedral was located (a rock formation in the form of a tunnel that flows into the sea. This was destroyed by the 7.9 magnitude earthquake on August 15, 2007, with an epicenter in the sea) However, the Parapente flights still departing from the same point.
8. Surfing in front of a desert
As you read, you can surf in front of a desert, San Gallán Island is the perfect zone where an enthusiastic surfer will find big swells that bring epic barrel potential. Besides being one of the few places where practicing surf in Paracas, the island is an authentic paradise. It is accessed by small boats that depart from El Chaco town, the most tourist place into National Reserve, just behind Paracas city.
9. Enjoy Huacachina oasis
Similar to Ballestas Islands, the Huacachina oasis doesn’t belong to Paracas National Reserve because it is located 74 kilometers east of it. Even the visit to Huacachina forms part of the most interesting things to do in Nazca zone or surroundings. However, its visit is inevitable for those who want to live the complete experience in Paracas. As its name indicate, Huacachina is a beautiful oasis in which surroundings many hotels, restaurants, and travel agencies are located. Sandboarding and dune buggy can be practiced in the dunes located around the zone. Another great point to visit near the National Reserve.
10. Chandelier geoglyph
El Candelabro o Chandelier is a geoglyph made over the slope of a giant dune located on the north coast of the Paracas peninsula. It has 170 meters long and engravings 1.20 meters deep, its purpose and the form and how it was made is a total mystery, the only thing that is known is that it was made 2500 years ago. Some theories affirm that the geoglyph was made by pirates as a way of signaling and locating some treasure. Another theory says that it may have been a form of daylight for ancient Peruvian navigators.
The latest theory, the most widely accepted, indicates that It was men astronomers from the Nazca Culture who built this geoglyph. The geoglyph is associated with the Constellation of the Southern Cross, also known as the Cross of the Navigators, for indicating to the sailors of the Southern Hemisphere the location of the Austral Pole through its main axis that will serve as a guide and orientation in their trips.
11. Explore the Julio C. Tello site museum
Inside the Julio C. Tello Site Museum, you can admire more than 121 pieces including ceramics, fabrics, and utensils from the Paracas culture that spans from the initial periods to the year 200 AD, found in the close local cemetery by the Peruvian archaeologist of the same name. Also, the museum was remodeled from 2012 to 2016 due to the great earthquake of 2007 that destroyed the building. Even, in 2018 it received the recognition of “Best New Museum in Latin America” awarded by the Leading Culture Destinations Awards. Without a doubt, this is the perfect place to introduce visitors to the Paracas world.
How to get to Paracas
Whether you are looking for trips for couples options or a destination to relax, our list of the best things to do in Paracas will be perfect for you! But first, how to get there? The best and cheapest option is to take a bus from Pisco or Ica to El Chaco town (which is located in the same Paracas city) Because El Chaco is the starting point for excursions to Paracas and Ballestas Islands and will provide many options for luxury accommodation and dining. In this sense, there are many recognized and safe bus companies that offer the service of transportation from the most popular Peruvian points to El Chaco (Paracas town):
- Cusco to El Chaco: Around 21 hours.
- Arequipa to El Chaco: Around 13 hours.
- Nazca to El Chaco: Around 5 hours.
- Ica to El Chaco: Around 2 hours.
- Lima to El Chaco: Around 4 hours.
Once arrive in El Chaco, you will have all the Paracas National Reserve extended in front of you, but remember that it is more than 217,000 hectares of reserve and visiting it by yourself not is recommendable. Happily, in the same El Chaco, there are many tour operators specialist in Paracas experience, or, if you want, you can hire the service of a travel agency, even before your arrival to Peru, and our team will be glad to assist you in your perfect Paracas experience.
What to bring
Once you know the amazing activities and experiences offered in the National Reserve, is time to take note of what to bring to your Paracas tour. In general, in the summer in Peru (November to April), the Paracas temperature tends to be hotter and drier, so it is recommended to wear light clothing, shorts, polo shirts, a cap, sunglasses, and a windbreaker for gusts of wind and sand. In another sense, for winter, the temperature usually drops a bit, so it is recommended to wear light trekking pants, a polo shirt, and a thicker jacket.
- High spectrum sunscreen
- trekking shoes
- A good camera
- canteen with water
When to visit
Paracas is one of these Peruvian destinations that can be visited in any part of the year, its average hot temperature with little humidity makes it a perfect place, even for a last-minute vacation. In other words, there is not an adequate season to visit it, however, we have to mention that the Peruvians usually visit it in Summer (Between November to April) and during national holidays (July 28th and 29th) because the days in these periods are perfect blue, with fewer clouds, hard rays of the sun and fresh breezes.
Where to stay
El Chaco is the tourist center of Paracas and where most travelers stay. Despite being a small town, El Chaco offers an impressive selection of accommodations and the best hotels in Paracas, too. Even those travelers on a budget will find a variety of backpacker hostels. But if you intend to stay within the Paracas National Reserve, there are not too many options available.
- Paracas Luxury Collection: Hotel 5-stars located in the same El Chaco and operated by the North American company Marriott Hotels. Paracas w/n.
- Double Tree Resort by Hilton Paracas: Another 4-stars hotel located in Lot 30-34 Ur, Ica, Paracas.
- La Hacienda Bahia Paracas: Hotel 4-Stars located in Urb. Santo Domingo Lot 25 Paracas, Pisco, Peru.
However, if you want to stay in the same National Reserve of Paracas, there is an option, Inti Mar is the only one Bed & Breakfast rustic lodge located inside National Reserve. It is located just in front of El Chaco, to the other side of the bay, and it is usually full. So, take precautions.
“THE DESERT IS A NATURAL EXTENSION OF THE INNER SILENCE OF THE BODY”
As you can see, the visit to Paracas National Reserve will be completely worth it and will depend a lot on what you want to enjoy and experience. The options are many, from cycling to enjoying various adventure activities. With so much to discover in this corner of Peru, you won’t want to miss out on this beautiful reserve. Together with the experts from Machu Travel Peru, we hope we have been helpful. If you want to know more about our tours of the reserve, you can consult with our advisors. They will be more than happy to help you fulfill the trip of your dreams.