What to See at the Paracas National Reserve in Paracas Peru

A natural arch at the Paracas National Reserve in Paracas Peru

After a full day touring Lima Peru with kids we were ready to make an escape from the city and into the Peruvian countryside. We spent the previous day exploring the Lima coastline, and many of the beautiful day trips from Lima, Peru including the Pachacama ruins and the Lima catacombs. But today our tour guide, Lima Discover, would be taking us to the desert oasis of Huacachina for some dune buggy and sandboarding adventures. Along the way, we were stopping in Paracas Peru on the Paracas Peninsula to experience the Paracas National Reserve and the Ballestas Islands National Reserve. And we would be seeing penguins again! You can read our entire two-week Peru itinerary here.

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The Wandering Wagars boys point at the wildlife in Islas Ballestas in Paracas Peru

Getting to Paracas from Lima

Paracas, Peru is a popular day trip from Lima, but it isn’t a short ride to get there. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 4:00 in the morning to meet with our guide, Alberto. It was pitch dark, but the van we were riding in was good for 12 people and only had 6 of us for the journey. With lots of room to rest, the boys quickly fell asleep for most of the drive from Lima to Paracas. You can read all about our experience in Lima Peru with kids here.

The route along the Panamerican highway was recently re-done, cutting hours off of the journey between Lima and Paracas. Consequently, the Paracas National Reserve, Pisco, and Huacachina are now long, albeit, accessible day trips from Lima. Previously, a hotel stay would have been necessary. You can also take a bus from Lima to Paracas with companies such as Go2Peru. From our later experience taking the bus from Cusco to Puno, we can say that tourist buses in Peru are excellent. You can read all about our Cusco to Puno bus trip here.

What to see in the Town of Paracas Peru

Thanks to our early start and the great new Panamerican highway (and maybe some speedy driving), we made the trip from Lima to Paracas in well under 4-hours. In fact, we had planned to catch the 9 am boat ride to Islas Ballestas National Marine Reserve, but ended up rushing through breakfast in order to make an earlier 8 am boarding time. The region around the town of Paracas is a hotbed of tourist activity. There is no doubt when you visit that tourism is the main reason for the town’s success. Yet like all the regions of Peru that we explored, visitors are still treated to warm welcomes and polite service.

A walrus sculpture in Paracas Peru near the Paracas National Reserve

The main hotbed of activity in Paracas, Peru is the waterfront. The boardwalk is wild with activity. As visitors scramble to make boat launch times, dogs lazily snooze under the tables of the restaurants that line the boardwalk. We were among those anxious visitors, so it wasn’t until after our tour that we had time to learn about what to do in Paracas. While most of the town is focused on the surrounding reserves, the Boulevarde, or boardwalk in Paracas is lined with gorgeous metal sculptures that show the wildlife in the region. You can also rent watercraft to explore the waters surrounding Paracas yourself. Many visitors, like us, use Paracas as a stop between Lima and Huacachina. It’s easy to include a visit to nearby Pisco, Peru for wine tasting and Pisco Sours.

A young boy rides his sandboard down the dunes of Huacachina Peru after exploring Paracas Peru and the Ballestas Islands National Marine Reserve

Pro Tip: Huacachina Peru is an adventure sport paradise. It can easily be combined as a day trip with a visit to the Paracas Nature Reserve.

What is the Paracas Nature Reserve and Islas Ballestas National Marine Reserve

Paracas National Reserve

The Paracas National Reserve, (also known as the Paracas Nature Reserve) covers a huge area of coastal and tropical desert surrounding Paracas, Peru. It was established in 1975 to protect the unique marine ecosystem in the area. But the Paracas National Reserve also holds some of Peru’s most incredible prehistoric finds. The Paracas Reserve is home to the Paracas birds, and what may be the largest concentration of birds on earth. Watching thousands of birds dance around Paracas got our boys really excited for our upcoming visit to see the Andean Condors in Colca Canyon.

Birds line the rocks at the Paracas National Reserve in Paracas Peru

The Paracas National Reserve is also home to some of Peru’s greatest, yet often overlooked historical treasures. Additionally, it is home to the Paracas culture. And finds in the region have included 8,500-year-old human remains and a decorated flute believed to be the first musical instrument of Peru. It also holds the Paracas Candelabra, also known as the Candelabra of the Andes. This 595-foot tall geoglyph sits on the shores of Pisco Bay. It has been dug two feet into the soil and is lined with stones. Its history is unknown, but it is believed to be around 2,000 years old.

The prehistoric Paracas Candelabra on the Paracas Peninsula near Ballestas Islands in Paracas Peru

Islas Ballestas National Reserve

While the Paracas National Reserve is amazing, most visitors make a beeline for the marina in Paracas for a boat tour of nearby Reserva Nacional Islas Ballestas. It is also known as the Ballestas Islands National Reserve. This small region hosts a huge assortment of marine wildlife and birds. The only way to reach the Ballestas Islands is by a guided boat tour. These tours are available right off the Boulevarde in Paracas. We opted to use Paracas Explorer for our boat tour in Islas Ballestas.

D boards a Paracas Explorer boat in Paracas Peru to see the Ballestas Islands National Reseve

Pro Tip: All the tour boats have an open cabin. The weather can be cool and the waves unpredictable. Make sure to dress warmly in a wind or rain jacket. And if you suffer from motion sickness grab some Gravol.

The Islas Ballestas boat tour took us past the Paracas Candelabra, so we got a great view of just how visible it is from the sea. From there, we made our way out to Ballestas Island. The region has been dubbed the Poor Man’s Galapagos due to the huge variety of wildlife in the region. On our tour, we saw sea lions basking in the sun that brought us back to our sea lion adventure in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. We also got to see a few Humboldt penguins. This had the boys really excited as they relived their adventures with the penguins in Punta Tombo, Argentina. You can read about our SCUBA diving with sea lion adventure here. And you can check out our visit to the penguin sanctuary in Punta Tombo here.

A sea lion sun bathes on the rocks in the Paracas Nature Reserve near Paracas Peru

A Humboldt penguin basks in the sun at the Paracas Nature Reserve near Paracas Peru

The Poor Man’s Galapagos also has an incredible number of birds. In fact, we learned that every few years the island is mined for the up to 10 feet of guano (bird poop) that the birds leave on the island. That’s a lot of poop.

Birds line the docking port in the Ballestas Islands near Paracas Peru

Another thing that makes Islas Ballestas National Reserve so cool is just how the islands have been shaped by waves and weather. The entire site is made of up craggy rock formations. And the main island itself is almost entirely built of sea caves and natural arches.

A huge sea arch in Isla Ballestas near Paracas Peru

Food and Pisco Sours in Pisco Peru

After our tour of Paracas Peru, we made our way to nearby Pisco, Peru. Pisco is the home of Peru’s famous drink the Pisco Sour. For lunch, we stopped at El Catador, a restaurant and vineyard that has been in business since 1856. The wide-open dining area was great for the boys. And the food was excellent. Included in our meal was a tour of the winery. We had a chance to see how Pisco sours were made. And we even had a chance to do a tasting of this delicious local treat.

Bottles of Pisco Sour at El Catador in Pisco Peru near Paracas Peru. El Catador is a great lunch spot for those visiting Paracas Peru and Huacachina Oasis

Even the boys had a fascinating time learning about winemaking in Peru. Although they were a little jealous that they weren’t able to taste the Pisco themselves. El Catador even has an antique grape crusher that we all had fun exploring. And I think we got them really interested in the idea of taking off their shoes and socks and bouncing around in a pool full of squishy grapes.

Wine barrels in El Catador in Pisco Peru

Where to Stay in Paracas and Pisco Peru

For those who are looking to spend more than a day in the Ica, Peru region. Or if the idea of 10 hours combined driving time from Lima to Paracas and back sounds daunting. There are places to stay in the region around Ica. Some of the most popular options for those looking for a little luxury in Paracas include the DoubleTree Paracas by Hilton Resort, Hotel Paracas, and La Hacienda Bahia Paracas.

For those looking for budget accommodation in Paracas the region also offers some highly touted hostels in Paracas including Paracas Backpackers House. You can find a list of some great places to stay in Paracas, Pisco and the Ica region here. You can check out our guide to the best resorts in Peru, including Paracas here.

About the Author

Kevin Wagar is a professional traveler and family travel expert living in the Greater Toronto Area. His beautiful wife Christina impressed on him her love of travel and they have made exploring the world an integral part of their life. With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that traveling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.

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  1. Whoa! It seems like Paracas is one beautiful place that I would surely love to visit some day soon. Although it seems the place has become a tourist hot spot which means that it would be crowded but still would enjoy it.

  2. Wow, there’s so much to do in Paracas and I haven’t even really heard of it. I visited a friend in Lima and did Machu Picchu, but I certainly missed a lot. Luckily she still loves there. Maybe we can get away to Pisco to try the drinks.

      1. Peru is one of the most fascinating countries I’m discovering on the internet. I am definitely going to have to see it personally some day.
        The people seem so nice, and welcoming. I hear Peruvian food is fantastic as well.

  3. Paracas looks gorgeous. Looks like you had a fabulous trip. Dune boarding and pisco sours and a trip to the Ballestas Islands National Reserve … we visited here on a day tour. We were on a Princess Cruises around the world 104 night cruise and this day trip was fantastic – your story brought back wonderful memories and a desire to go and discover more of Peru.

  4. Paracas looks like a lovely and pristine destination, still relatively untouched by commercial trappings. Happy to note that the boys enjoyed stomping grapes. Must have been a wonderful experience.

  5. Why have I never even heard of this plac? It sounds wonderful! I would love to see the Candelabra of the Andes. Birds! Diving with sea lions! Pisco Sours! I am adding Paracas, Peru to my bucket list for sure! Thanks Kevin.

  6. You had me at penguins!! I’ve never heard of the Poor Man’s Galapagos before but that seems to suit me perfectly. I’ve always want to adventure in Galapagos but just can’t afford it as a full-time traveller. Great to learn that there are alternatives.

    Jane M

  7. With Peru, I never think of the coast. But, of course, the country has a fair bit of it. Particularly the Islas Ballestras look like a great destination.

    Thanks & happy continued travels!

  8. What a beautiful area! I’m sure it WAS worth the bus trip. I’d never seen pictures of the caldelabra etched into the mountain before. I’ll bet that’s supposed to be a tree of life image and that’s so cool!

  9. Hi Kevin,

    Really neat.

    Paracas has that Galapagos feel to it, without the long waits for a trip there, as we know that world famous island chain is backed up with tourists.

    Good to know it is a quick trip now from Lima. When I visited Lima I mostly hung out in Miraflores, for some great eats and also, one of the coolest cat parks I have experienced during my world travels.

    So cool to see all those gorgeous animals too. This is one reason why I love traveling so much; the glorious fauna we get to see in different regions of the world.

    Thanks for sharing Kevin.


  10. A dream destination. Last year I was in Peru but I had no time to visit there. Now your photos and words push me to make another plan 🙂
    Thanks for sharing all this.

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