Paracas, lying on the road from San Andrés past the Pisco air force base, is arguably a more scenic place to base yourself than Pisco. The resort (also known as El Baneario or El Chaco) was once a spot for wealthy Limeños, whose expensive resort hotels and large bungalows line the beach close to the entrance to the reserve, but now reasonably prices hotels andrestaurants dominate the scene. It’s also possible to camp on the sand, though the nearby Paracas Reserve (see below) is a much nicer place to pitch a tent. The wharf here, surrounded by pelicans, is the place to board speedboats (lanchas), for a quick zip across the sea, circling oneor two of the islands and passing close to the famous Paracas Trident.
Choose your Paracas Tour
This pre-lnca culture developed from 1000 BC to 1 AD in the coastal valleys of the present-day provinces of Chincha and Pisco, on both sides of the ica River. It can be divided into two stages: Paracas Caverns and Paracas Necropolis. This classification is based on the ways in which this culture buried its dead. The first and oldest stage is closely associated with the Chavín culture, which existed almost in parallel with it in Huari, near present-day Huaraz. The second stage, which produced the beautiful Paracas textiles, is related to the Nasca culture, which succeeded the Paracas culture.
Until Julio C. Tello discovered the caverns and necropolises at Cerro Colorado in 1925 the archaeological importance of the area had remained unknown, as there were no buildings or cities in the desert which might have indicated the existence of the cemeteries.
The most remarkable aspect of the Paracas Caverns period is the production of painted textiles featuring designs of mythical beings with anthropomorphic and feline features very similar to those recorded at Chavín. The tombs of this period were accessed via a subterranean cylindrical construction with a diameter of one meter and a series of steps set into the side, which led to a four meter wide pit shaped like an inverted goblet. As many as a dozen funerary bundles have been found in these tombs, containing mummies in a kneeling position and wrapped in beautiful cloaks produced using different techniques. Almost all of them display evidence of skull deformation and trepanation.
Skull trepanation was very common in this culture. It was performed to treat wounds produced by blows to the head probably inflicted in warfare. A plate made from gold or pumpkin shell was used to replace the damaged section of the skull.
Evidence found in their cemeteries indicates that the people of Paracas practiced the custom of deforming their skulls from birth by bandaging them with boards in order to create the desired shape. The deformation of skulls probably had some kind of religious significance or lent prestige to certain members of the culture.
Whatever the reason for this custom, the people of Paracas managed to master the technique of altering the axis of the brain to make it develop in an elongated form.
The Paracas Necrópolis phase carne quite late after the Caverns period and was a more developed stage. The dead were buried in a fetal position, wrapped in layers of beautiful textiles and accompanied by necklaces, pottery, gold, spinning and weaving tools, weapons, corn, yucca and beans in what is known as a funerary bundle.
The finest aspect of the cultural development of this period has come to us in the form of textiles with very fine, decorative and colorful designs depicting humans, birds, fish and other animals, as well as beautiful geometric figures. It has been established that skull trepanation was not common during this period, while skull deformation reached its peak, with elongated and rounded skulls the two most common forms produced.
On the coast of Peru more than 200 km south of Lima, the hammerhead-shaped Paracas Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The northern edge of the peninsula curves out and up to form the Paracas Bay. The coastal mainland is desert dry with an arid climate and little vegetation.
But it’s a different story in the ocean. Flowing up the coast of South America from Antarctica, the cold-water, nutrient-rich Humboldt Current sustains an incredible diversity of marine wildlife including the famous sea lions and guano birds of the Ballestas Islands.
The principal town of Paracas, called El Chaco, is surrounded by dry hills and the Ica Desert. Outside of the Paracas National Reserve, desert sand dunes provide a playground for adventure-seeking travelers.
16.4 feet (5 meters) above sea level in front of the Pacific Ocean.
Paracas has a desert climate with very little rainfall. The average temperature is about 24°C (75°F).
“Paracas” derives from Quechua words meaning “rain of sand” and refers to the strong winds that regularly whip across the sandy coastline and peninsula. Wind speeds average between 25 to 60 km/h (15 to 37 mi/h).
The Ballestas Islands (often called the Guano Islands, as every centimetre is covered in bird droppings), are similar to the Galápagos but on a smaller scale and lie off the coast due west from Pisco. They seem to be alive and moving with a mass of flapping, noisy pelicans, penguins, tenis, boobies and Guanay cormorants. The name Ballesta is Spanish for crossbow, and may derive from times when marine mammals and larger fish were hunted with mechanical crossbow-style harpoons. There are scores of islands, many of them relatively small and none larger than a couple of football pitches together, The waters are generally rough but modern boats can get close to the rocks and beaches where abundant wildlife sleep, feed and mate. The waters around the islands are equally full of life, sometimes sparkling black with the shiny dark bodies of sea lions and the occasional killer whale. It's best to take a tour to visit these islands; guides on the boats vary in ability, but most are knowledgeable and informative about marine and bird life.
Paracas National Reserve
Of greater wildlife interest than the Ballestas Islands (see above), the Paracas National Reserve, a few kilometres south of Paracas, was established in 1975, mainly to protect the marine wildlife. Its bleak 117,000 hectares of pampa are frequently lashed by strong winds and sandstorms (paracas means "raining sand" in Quechua). Home to some of the world's richest seas (a couple of hundred hectares of ocean is included within the reserve's borders), an abundance of marine plankton gives nourishment to a vast array of fish and various marine species including octopus, squid, whale, shark, dolphin, bass, plaice and marlin. This unique desert is also a staging point for a host of migratory birds and acts as a sanctuary for many endangered species. Schools of dolphin play in the waves offshore; condors scour the peninsula for food; small desert foxes come down to the beaches looking for birds and dead sea lions; and lizards scrabble across the hot sands. People have also been active here - predecessors of the pre-Inca Paracas culture arrived here some 9000 years ago, reaching their peak between 2000 and 500 BC. On the way from Pisco to the reserve, me road passes some unpleasant-smelling fish-meal-processing factories, which are causing environmental concern due to spillages of fish oil that pollute the bay, endangering bird and sea-mammal life. Just before the entrance to the reserve, you´ll pass a bleak but unmistakable concrete obelisk vaguely shaped like a nineteenth-century sailing boat, built in 1970 to commemorate the landing of San Martín here on September 8, 1820, on his mission to liberate Peru from the Spanish stranglehold.
Cycling is encouraged in the reserve, though there are no rental facilities and, if you do enter on a bike, keep on the main tracks because the tyre marks will damage the surface of the desert.
Museo de Sitio Julio Tello
Located 2km beyond the reserve entrance and park office at Km 27, right berween the two major Paracas archeological sites - Cerro Colorado and Cabeza Largas – this museum depicts human life here over the last 9000 years, with interpretative exhibits relating to the national park and a wide range of Paracas artifacts - mummies, ceramics, funerary cloths and a reconstructed dwelling.
Necrópolis of Cabeza Largas
The oldest discovered archeological site in the region, the 5000-year-old Necropolis of Cabeza Largas, once containing up to sixty mummies in one grave, is located just outside the Museo de Siteo at Km 27. Most mummies were wrapped in vicuña skins or rush matting, and buried along with personal objects like shell beads, bone necklaces, lances, net bags and cactus-spine needles. A little further on, near the beach where dozens of pink flamingoes gather between July and November (they return to the high Andean lakes for breeding from December to May), are the remains of a Chavín-related settlement, known as Disco Verde, though all there is left to see now are a few adobe walls.
The Paracas Trident (El Candelabro)
The Paracas Trident, a massive 128-metre-high by 74-metre-wide candelabra carved into the tall sea clifts and facing out towards the Pacific Ocean, is one of Paracass main features. No one knows its function or its creator, though Erich von Dániken, author of Chariots of the Gods, speculated that it was a sign for extraterrestrial spacecraft, pointing the way (inaccurately as happens) towards the mysterious Nasca Lines that are inland to the southeast; others suggest it was constructed as a navigational aid for eighteenth-century pirates. It seems more likely, however, that it was a kind of pre-Inca ritual object, representing a cactus or tree of life, and those high priests during the Paracas or Nasca eras worshipped the setting sun from this spot. A poorly signposted trail leads 15km across the desert from the Museo de Sitio ; the first 2km follow the main park road, and then just before the modern port complex of San Martín, a sandy side-road leads away from the sea and around the hills on the outer edge of the peninsula towards the Trident.
Lagunillas and around
The tiny and likeable port of Lagunillas, some 6km from the entrance to the park, is a fishing hamlet with a few huts serving Conchitas (scallops) and other great seafood.
Lagunillas is really the only place within the Paracas reserve where you can buy a meal and drinks - but note there's no accommodation. From here, its possible to appreciate the unique and very beautiful peninsula, so flat that if the sea rose just another metre the whole place would be submerged. Pelicans and sea lions hang around the bobbing boats waiting for the fisherman to drop a fish, and little trucks regularly arrive to carry the catch back into Pisco. From Lagunillas the rest of the Paracas Reserve is at your feet.
Beaches near Lagunillas
Lagunillas is home to a few lovely beaches, including La Mina - just 20min walk from Lagunillas and a good place for camping - and Yimaque, an empty beach where you can stay for days, often without seeing anyone. A track goes off 5km north from Lagunillas to a longer sandy beach, Arquillo; on the cliffs a few hundred meares beyond there’s a viewing platform (Mirador de los Lobos) looking out over a large colony of sea lions. Another path leads north from here, straight across the peninsula to the Trident and on to Punta Pejerrey. There have been reports of stingrays on some of the beaches, so take care, particularly if you're without transpon: or company; check first with the fishermen at Lagunillas which beaches are the safest.
According to myth, the lagoon at HUACACHINA, about 5kra southwest of Ica, was created when a princess stripped off her clothes to bathe. When she looked into a mirror and saw that a male hunter was watching her she dropped the mirror, which then became the lagoon. More prosaically, during the late 1940s, the lagoon became one of Peru's most elegant and exclusive resorts, surrounded by palm trees, sand dunes and waters famed for their curative powers, and with a delightfully old-world atmosphere. Since then the lagoons subterranean source has grown erratic and it is supplemented by water pumped up from artesian wells, making it less of a red-colored, viscous syrup and more like a green, salty swimmable lagoon; it retains considerable mystique, making it a quiet, secluded spot to relax, The curative powers of the lagoon attract people from all oven mud from the lake is reputed to cure arthritis and rheumatism if you plaster yourself all over with it; and the sand around the lagoon is also supposed to benefit people with respiratory problems, so it’s not uncommon to see locals buried up to the neck in the dunes.
The settlement, still little more than twenty houses or so, is growing very slowly, but one end of the lagoon has been left fairly clear of construction. Climb the dunes at the end of the lake and take in the views from the top early in the morning, before it gets too hot and prior to the noisy dune-buggy runs. On the Salvaterra side of the lake there's great little library - Biblioteca Abraham Valdelomar - with a strong ecological focus.
The tour operators can also help organize the following activities:
Sand-dune surfing On the higher slopes, sand-dun surfing is all the rage and you can rent wooden boards e foot-skis for around S/10 per hour from the cafés and hotel along the shoreline.
Dune buggies Adrenaline rides are offered at some of the cafés, hotels and independent kiosks and shops. Boating you can rent boats for rowing or peddling on the lagoon.
Take a Boat Tour to the Ballestas Islands
Large flocks of birds and huge sea lion colonies offer you a unique boat tour surrounded by rare marine wildlife. The area is reserved for genuine ecotourism and research and wildlife lovers will love navigating right up to the islands’ banks for closer wildlife observation.
Enjoy the Water in Paracas
Paracas is a land of sunshine and calm beaches and is the perfect place to enjoy nature and relax, get away from the world and explore the wonderful sandy, marine pathways. Alternatively, you can take the opposite approach and head down to the shore and choose from kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, kitesurfing, windsurfing and many other wind and water sports.
If you are an adrenaline-seeker, book a dune buggy and sand board tour of the sand dunes around Huacachina. An expert driver will drive you over the massive dunes at breakneck speeds. You can then practice your sand boarding skills on both big and small dunes.
Splurge and chill out poolside
If you’ve got a packed itinerary, your Paracas hotel is a great place to relax and renew your energy before tackling your next adventure. Paracas boasts a wide choice of reasonably priced beach resorts with gorgeous swimming pools overlooking Paracas Bay. Enjoy the beauty of the landscape, sip on a pisco cocktail, and bask in the warmth of the sun arching its course overhead.
Most the accommodation options below area located 12 km south along the seafront and by Paracas Bay, pleasantly away from noisy Pisco town centre; Paracas is quickly being developed as a resort.
The following are our top choices for hotels in Paracas.
DoubleTree Resort by Hilton
Address: Santo Domingo Urb. #30-34, Paracas – Ica – Peru.
The Doubletree by Hilton Resort Peru – Paracas hotel has one of the most interesting and richest ecosystems in the world, on the south coast of Peru encompassed Paracas National Reserve, two-thirds of which is composed by water. This natural wonder with diverse species of fish, birds, and marine mammals will make your stay a memorable and repeatable experience, while Paracas Bay hosts water sports of all sort too.
The Doubletree by Hilton Resort Peru – Paracas hotel offers luxurious, spacious and modern suites.
Hotel Paracas Luxury Collection
Address: Paracas Avenue #173, Paracas – Peru.
The Libertador Paracas Hotel (part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection) was opened in November 2009 and is the best of the three large resorts opened in the same year.The Libertador was built over the remains of a famous Hotel Paracas that was severely affected by earthquake that took place in August 2007, and devastated the nearby town of Pisco.
The Paracas Hotel is one of the most important five-star hotels in the south of Peru. Strategically situated in the bay of Paracas, this luxurious hotel is the ideal starting point for excursions to the Ballestas Islands.
Aranwa Resort & Spa Paracas
Address: El Chaco, La Puntilla lote C, Paracas – Ica.
The Aranwa Resort & Spa Paracas hotel is located in the province of Pisco, close to Paracas Bay, the establishment offers an irresistible invitation to discover the wonderful natural diversity of Paracas, as well as exploring the rich cultural and history of this region.This modern and exclusive place is an ideal setting for large-scale social or corporate events and the perfect getaway for family vacations, with its special facilities and activities for children.Situated at three hours from Lima city by car, here you will be able to access two of the most important natural reserves in Peru: the Ballestas Islands and the Paracas National Reserve.
La Hacienda Bahia
Address: Santo Domingo Urb. lote 25, Paracas – Pisco – Peru.
The Hacienda Bahia Paracas Hotel is located just three hours south of Lima, on the shores of the beautiful Paracas Bay where luxury and simplicity are blended perfectly. Come and experience the comfort and tranquility that its nearby beaches offers. It is an experience that you will never forget.
Its restaurant, "El Coral", offers the best view of the bay, also this breathtaking view is combined with an exquisite menu, the comfort of its dining room, and the genuine warmth of our service; your meal will truly be an unforgettable experience.
Address: Chaco “La Puntilla” – Paracas, Ica.
Located along the southern coast of Peru, here travelers can visit the Ballestas Islands and see all sorts of animals, including sea lions, seals, and thousands of birds. At the Paracas National Reserve, you can explore impressive natural features like the Cathedral (a seaside rock arch) and Red Beach. Other activities in this area include sandboarding and surfing. The hotel also features a large outdoor pool where guests can swim and relax. This is a pleasant place to pass time in the afternoon within your free time at Paracas area.