The Backpacker’s Complete Guide to Paracas, Peru

For international and local travelers alike, Paracas is one of the top destinations in Peru. The relaxing beach vibes, otherworldly scenery, and exciting wildlife make it a must-see destination for all sorts of travelers. However, it is a particularly popular place among backpackers. If you are backpacking your way through Peru, then Paracas is a can’t miss spot.

How To Get To Paracas

Paracas is solidly on the Peruvian Gringo trail, meaning that it should be absolutely no hassle whatsoever to get to and from this small village by the Pacific Ocean. If you are traveling from north to south, you can take a bus from Lima to Paracas for about 30 soles for a standard seat. If you are traveling from south to north, you’ll likely be in Huacachina before Paracas. In this case, take a tuk tuk or taxi to Ica and then catch a bus to Paracas for as low as 10 soles.

Things are even simpler if you are traveling with PeruHop, where you can get picked up right from your accommodation in Lima or Huacachina and then dropped off in Paracas without any hassle.

Where To Stay in Paracas

Paracas is home to a number of hostels and hotels, but for backpackers, the clear choice is Kokopelli. It also has private rooms so if you are traveling as a couple or just want the luxury of not having to sleep in a dorm, Kokopelli is still a great option. It is right on the beach and has an amazing pool where you can lounge around all day. The bar is also pretty much the only party spot in all of Paracas.

With nightly events and themes, the party is always poppin’ at Kokopelli. The spacious bar area has pool tables, foosball tables, a ping pong table, hammocks, and a full restaurant where you can order affordable food all day. This was my favorite hostel my first time traveling around in Peru three years ago. I came back for a few nights on this latest trip to Peru and it was every bit as good as I remembered.

The Best Things To Do in Paracas

Paracas is a small town where you probably don’t need more than three days for. Even two days is enough if you’re a bit strapped on time and don’t mind doing everything at a hectic pace.

Paracas National Reserve

Paracas National Reserve is the main reason that people come to Paracas. While the town itself is quiet and nothing special, just a few kilometers down the highway is a national reserve that feels like a different planet altogether. There are a few different ways to take on the popular 34 kilometer circuit that takes you through some of the park’s most iconic sites.

By Bike

I don’t know how I allowed my friend to convince me to do this but I did. The ride started off very rough. Although the road and the route is manageably flat for most of the way, the winds in Paracas National Reserve get very, very strong. If you’re lucky, the wind will help you. If you are us, the wind will fight you tooth and nail as you pedal your way 10 kilometers until the first stop. It was a struggle, even after convincing ourselves that we were Olympic athletes after having conquered an 8-day trek just a week prior.

Thankfully, the wind went in our favor on the way back. It costs about 20-30 soles to rent a bike for the day. Most people would recommend starting in the mornings but we were definitely not morning people. We started in the afternoon so we got a good rate on the bikes and then wrapped up around 5 PM after starting a little past noon. All in all, if you go at a relatively quick pace with minimal breaks, then you can do the whole circuit in less than three hours. We like our breaks and long chill sessions, so it took us almost five hours. There are plenty of beaches, viewpoints, and other side trips to fill your time so just enjoy the day.

By Quad/Buggy

This is a popular option for those that don’t want the effort of having to cycle. You are on the ground and able to see more of Paracas National Reserve than you would from a car or tour bus. It is also a lot of fun. This is how I did it my first time in Peru and it was definitely an adventure. It is a bit more expensive than just doing it by bike. A quad or buggy will cost you 120 soles between two people. If you’ve got a partner, it isn’t too bad.

Unfortunately, you also can’t just drive off into the national park on your own. With a quad or buggy, you will definitely be accompanied by a guide. Most tours last two hours, so you won’t have as much time in the reserve as you would if you were to do it on your own. If you like to see things and get out, then this might be the option for you. If you’re more of a stop and smell the roses traveler like me, then you might want to skip out on this option.

By Tour Bus or Car

If you’ve got a car, I envy you. Private tours and private cars are a popular option to see the park, as well. It gives you a lot more freedom and comfort, for sure. No need to worry about sunburns and hectic winds like if you were on a bike. Yeah, we got mad sunburnt. If you can arrange and afford a car, then this would definitely be an ideal option.

Tour bus is the most popular way, it seemed like, for travelers to experience Paracas National Reserve. There were loads of them when we went, although we somehow managed to get lucky and always time our bike rides to right when all the tour buses were leaving. We’d often get the best views all to ourselves before setting back off on our tired two legs to the next mirador or beach.

Golden Shadows Tour

One new thing that popped up since I was last in Paracas was a tour called Golden Shadows, or Sombras Doradas. It is a sunset hike to a section of Paracas National Reserve that makes for some incredible golden hour photos. I didn’t have the chance to go because I was absolutely wrecked following our bike ride but it looks like an amazing experience. Golden hour definitely hits differently when the landscapes are already gold, like the otherworldly desert landscapes of Paracas.

Islas Ballestas

A part of Paracas National Reserve, Islas Ballestas requires a boat ride to get to. Here, you’ll see a diverse amount of wildlife, the highlights being sea lions, penguins, and a number of other sea birds like blue-footed boobies, pelicans, and more. There isn’t much wildlife that Peru is particularly known for, so this easily accessible island is practically a must-do if you are in the area.

This was definitely one of the coolest experiences I had in Peru. I mean, sea lions. What more could you want? It was really cool being able to see so many sea lions, penguins, and more wildlife in their natural habitat. It was a quick trip, only about two hours including the travel time it takes to get to and from the port. However, it is a very cheap tour so it is hard to complain.

The cost of the boat trip is usually around 30-50 soles. As far as I know, there’s really no difference between the tours. You can’t get off the boats so no matter what, you’ll just be on the boat so the prices basically just depend on how good at haggling you are.

Kitesurfing

Paracas seems to be really popular among kitesurfers and you will see dozens and dozens of them along the beach closer to the national reserve. I mean, Paracas is a very windy place so I can see the appeal as a destination for kitesurfers. I didn’t see too many places offering anything in the way of kitesurfing rentals or lessons so it seems more like a bring-your-own-equipment sort of thing. However, I’m sure if you asked around, the right Peruvian will know the right people if you were interested.

Beach Days

Paracas does have a lot of beachfront, although none of it is particularly emitting of paradise vibes. The only people you see swimming are usually locals. However, there is plenty of beachfront to have a relaxing beach day and catch a tan in sunny Paracas.

If you want to go out into the ocean, some places rent out kayaks, paddle boards, and even catamarans and jet skis. There are a lot of options if you want to get out into the water.

Malecon

Paracas has a little boardwalk lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and more. You’ll likely find yourself walking up and down this area quite often, probably in search of affordable food. Hint: the affordable food is a few roads up where you can get the usual Peruvian daily specials for more reasonable prices of 6-10 soles. On the boardwalk, you’ll be paying 25 soles minimum for the daily menu.

However, it is a much livelier strip where you’ll often find musicians, performers, and other interesting characters.

Eat Ceviche

Being right on the coast, Paracas is known for its seafood. I had my first ceviche ever when I was in Paracas and was immediately hooked. It goes great as a starter with Arroz con Mariscos or Chicharron de Pescado. The seafood in Paracas is top-notch and well worth trying.

Where To Go After Paracas

Lima

Peru’s capital city and one of the most vibrant hubs in all of South America. For food, culture, and nightlife, Lima offers top-notch options for pretty much everything. Backpackers often overlook Lima in favor of less chaotic destinations, but for those that thrive in the hustle and bustle of a big city, Lima is one of my favorites in the world.

Huacachina

Peru’s desert oasis that was once a backpacker haven has become… a bit less hidden. That’s an understatement but it is still easy to see why so many travelers, both local and foreign, have flocked to this beautiful gem in the desert. For a day or two, you can’t go wrong with Huacachina.

Nazca

The Nazca Lines are one of Peru’s most famous destinations. The mystery surrounding them has attracted the attention of people worldwide. Whether you just stop by to see them from a tower or take a proper flight to see them in all of their glory, Nazca is an experience for sure.

Arequipa

Peru’s White City of Arequipa is one of the most beautiful in all of South America. When I first visited back in 2016, I was amazed by the beauty and laid-back vibe of the city. Although growing in popularity by the day, Arequipa still has the local feel of a lesser-known city. It is an overnight bus away from Paracas.

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