Just three hours by bus from Peru’s capital, Lima, Paracas is the go-to getaway beach break for Limeños and backpackers alike! Many travellers head here to catch some rays before catching a flight out of Lima or heading onward to more mountainous, much colder, climes!
The beach isn’t spectacular (pebbly and lots of seaweed) and the food is pretty expensive but it’s a good seaside fix for the traveller in need of some R&R and there are a few worthwhile excursions that can be planned from the town.
At weekends, the town fills up with rich holidaying Limeños who stay at the fancier resorts or private beach houses which line the coast south of the main strip. The main drag consists of a promenade with restaurants (all giving you a free pisco sour upon entrance!) and an overload of ceviche and other seafood dishes.
Where to stay in Paracas, Peru
For the Backpacker – Kokopelli Hostel Paracas
One of the most lively backpacker hostels in Paracas is the bright and cheerful, Kokopelli Hostel. With a bustling bar, swimming pool, table tennis table (always a winner!) and beachfront access it’s a popular choice. Beware the largest dorm that backs onto the hostel bar is a rather noisy affair if you want to actually get some sleep! From $14 US per night for a dorm bed. Read a full review of Kokopelli Paracas here.
For the Backpacker – Paracas Backpackers House
An upcoming backpacker favourite, Paracas Backpackers House sits along the town’s main road. There is a range of rooms offered including dorms and privates. The cheapest bed comes in at 21 soles inside a 10-bed dorm separated by dividers which means, that’s right, no bunks! There is a communal kitchen and an outside area with hammocks for socialising. Tours to the nearby Ballestas Islands run every day and can be booked inside the hostel for 30 soles per person. This trip also includes the opportunity to see the famous ‘Candelabra’.
For the Flashpacker – Bamboo Paracas Resort
Bamboo Paracas Resort is a luxury glamping experience complete with swimming pool, beachside bar, hammocks and sea views. Great for a group travelling together as you can bag a bungalow for $85 US per night for a bungalow that sleeps four. Read a full review of Bamboo Paracas here.
Top 10 Things to Do in Paracas, Peru
1. Take a Tour of Islas Ballestas
About an hour from the coast lies the rocky Islas Ballestas and trips can be arranged for as little as 30 soles (not including entrance fees which are 16 soles per person) from any travel agent in town. A small boat will take you out to the islands to see seals lazing on rocks, waddling Humboldt penguins and other seabirds perched amongst the rugged cliffs.
2. Don’t miss the “Paracas Candelabra”
On the way to the Islas Ballestas, you will pass ‘the chandelier’ which is Paracas’ answer to the Nazca lines. An ancient and mysterious carving in the sun-drenched land into the shape of a chandelier – believed to have been created over 500 years ago.
3. Explore the National Park and Beaches around Paracas
Day tourist trips, by bus, will take you out to visit the nearby beaches and islands of the beautiful and rugged national park of Paracas (much more beautiful than Paracas main beach), yet we recommend hiring a bicycle and heading up the coast alone for a much more adventurous and free experience! Crystal clear seas fringing white and red sands await.
4. The Paracas Heads Museum
Perhaps the strangest tourist attraction in Paracas (and indeed the whole of Peru!) is the Paracas Heads Museum, ran by a quirky elderly gentleman who is clearly fascinated by his bizarre possessions! The museum seems to go under the full name of Paracas History Museum – Juan Navarro Hierro and is 10 soles to enter.
According to the wall paintings – over 500 years ago, there was a race of people living in Paracas who strapped tightly wound bandages around their babies heads as they were growing, in order to misshape their skulls. The results are startling and are on display in glass cabinets for all to see – and even touch if you like!
The collection of cone shaped heads; some more pointed than others, some wider at each side could be an example of the most extreme efforts by human beings to deform a part of our bodies. The different shapes, the owner suggested, could be to denote some kind of class system.
Of course the misshaping of the human skull caused a lot of problems such as brain tumours and aneurysms and so the people would perform an ancient kind of brain surgery using metal tools to make holes in the skulls. The patient would be under some form of a hallucinogenic drug such as the San Pedro Cactus while the operations were being performed, and of course, many of the patients did, in fact, die mid-operation.
Why this Paracas people never put two and two together to understand that the deformation of the skull was causing the brain problems in the first place is as much a mystery as to where this strange race of people came from! Don’t leave without asking the owner about his alien theory!
5. Quad Biking
Head out into the nearby desert with a local tour operator for an adrenaline-fuelled adventure on four wheels. Prices are as little as 30 soles for an afternoon and you get to drive your own quad bike as fast as you like into the dunes. Childish fun!
6. Learn to Kite Surf
It’s pretty pricey at around $300 USD for three-day beginners lessons but Paracas is a good place to learn with a light wind and a sandy bay. Check out the company, Peru Kite for more information.
7. Try Paragliding
Companies will take you out to the nearby cliffs for the experience of a lifetime. Check out the company, Peru Fly for more information.
8. Have a Cocktail at the Hilton
Stroll along to the most manicured part of the beach, way down south of the promenade and you’ll find a Moroccan themed bar complete with rugs and enormous basket chairs right on the beach. It’s the perfect place for a cocktail! You’ll have to get a wrist band from reception to sit there but your classy bracelet will only make the folks back at Kokopelli jealous.
9. Visit Nearby Pisco
It’s the place where your favourite liquor is named after, just half an hour up the road! Although it’s not the most beautiful or inspiring town – how many people can say they’ve had a Pisco in Pisco?
10. Gorge on Local Seafood
You won’t find a restaurant that doesn’t serve cevice, so get your fix here while fresh fish is available at the coast. Be sure to try ‘scallops a la parmigiana’ for a tasty treat!
Food and Restaurants in Paracas, Peru – Don’t Miss
Pukasoncco Arte y Restaurante
This little restaurant serves traditional Peruvian cuisine. The owner is a painter and the walls of the restaurant are adorned with his colourful work. There is even the opportunity to purchase some of his paintings there! The food is great and the restaurant is often busy as a result. Be aware that they may be a slight delay in getting a table. Despite this, the wait is well worth it as the food is divine. The waiters are particularly knowledgeable and can make some great recommendations about local dishes. Personally, I would suggest trying the Lomo Saltado (stir-fried veg with beef strips and chips) and the Filete de Lenguado Frito (fried fish with potatoes).
Conveniently located next to Paracas Backpackers House, this cute cafe is a favourite of the gringos who flock here like moths to a flame. They serve a range of breakfasts including combos which also have a hot drink and juice in the price. The coffee is some of the best we have had during our time in Peru! Whilst it is more expensive than the local food, you can still get a breakfast combo for under 20 soles. The staff are friendly and the cafe also has a good WIFI connection.
Destinos Resto Bar
An absolute must for seafood lovers, this restaurant is famed for its delicious barbecued fish. The beachfront location makes it a great choice for watching the sunset or sinking a few bevvies as the night falls. Great recommendations are given by the staff regarding the menu and they are much more friendly than some of the other pushy restaurant vendors that work on this street. Destinos Resto Bar is a great place for trying the famous Peruvian tipple Pisco, especially during happy hour!
How to get to Paracas
It’s just three hours to get from the capital city of Lima to Paracas (a distance of 260km). Buses leave from the main bus station in Lima all day long at regular intervals. The cost is around 50 soles for a one-way journey and you will be dropped off at Avenida Paracas, the main tourist strip in town.
Where to go next?
Huacachina: An otherworldly oasis surrounded by palm trees, this desert destination is heaps of fun with sandboarding, pisco wine tours and plenty of partying backpackers!
Lima: Peru’s sprawling capital is an entry and exit for many backpackers into the country with great restaurants and home comforts.