How To Visit Paracas National Reserve – 4 Ways To Suit Every Backpacker

The striking coastal desert of Peru should be on every adventure seekers bucket list. The protected area, spanning over 3,350 km², consists of rolling desert, jagged ocean cliffs and rocky islands populated with a diversity of wildlife. Exploring this breath-taking landscape can be done in several ways. Here’s our complete guide on the best ways to visit Paracas National Reserve so you can decide which works best for you.

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What’s The Best Way To Visit Paracas National Reserve?

Paracas National Reserve is a 10-minute drive from the town of Paracas. There are four different ways of visiting the park, each one suiting most backpackers needs from budget-friendly to expensive.

 

Here are the four best ways of visiting Paracas National Reserve:

 

 

  • Renting a bicycle
  • A guided tour with transport into the park
  • An ATV or buggy tour
  • Renting a moped

 

In the table below we’ve summarised each method including the price, timings, advantages, and disadvantages so you know which way will work best for you.

Cost Timing Advantages Disadvantages
1. Renting A Bicycle
$5-6
All day
• Freedom to explore anywhere
• Cheapest Option
• Little escape from the sun
• Requires more effort
• No local knowledge from a guide
2. Guided Tour
Starting from $15
4 Hours
• Low effort
• Local knowledge from a guide
• Still a great budget option
• Limited time
• Can’t explore the whole park
3. ATV or Buggy Tour
Starting from $35
2 hours
• Great fun
• Can explore areas you can’t reach on foot
• More expensive than a normal tour
4. Rent A Moped
• Most expensive option
• Need experience riding a moped or motorcycle
All day
• Freedom to explore anywhere
• Much less effort and you see the whole park in less time
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All tourists have to pay an entrance fee of 11 soles to the park. You will have to pay this for all four options we have outlined. 

1. How To Bike To Paracas National Reserve

  • Cost: 25 soles for bike rental ($5-6) 
  • Advantages – freedom from a tour to explore anywhere, the cheapest option
  • Disadvantages – no escape from the sun, a lot more effort, no knowledge from local guide

You can easily rent a bike from places in town. It should cost you no more than 25 soles for 24 hours rental. Just check the tires, brakes and gears before you head out as you will have a couple of hills to deal with.

 

From the town, you can simply follow the highway (PE-28 / Ingreso Puerto General San Martin) south until you reach the national park. Just be sure to stick to the side of the road as it is mainly used by heavy goods vehicles. It’s around a 15-minute cycle along the main road before you reach the checkpoint for the park.

 

Once you start heading up a hill with the Paracas Museum on your right, this is your indication to take a turn soon. At the top of the hill, the path will split with all the trucks and lorries continuing along the highway. Take the left along the dirt road ‘Ruta a Lagunillas’ (you should see a sign pointing the way) and you are in the national reserve.

 

Once you’re in the park you can follow the path you are on to cycle to Red Sand Beach (Playa Roja) which should take no longer than 20 minutes.

We’ve gone into a lot more detail on 3 potential routes to see all the sights and places of interest here if this is the option for you:

 

 

We suggest leaving early in the day if you go for this option (around 7 or 8 AM) to make sure you aren’t out in the midday desert heat for too long. Don’t worry too much about being hot though as the ocean breeze keeps you nice and cool, worry more about sunburn.

 

One downside to consider is, if you want to visit all the sites such as Red Sand Beach and La Catedral, this will mean a long day and a lot of distance on the bike so make sure you are fit enough!

2. How To Book A Guided Tour To Paracas National Reserve

  • Cost: Tours start from $15
  • Advantages: low effort, meet people, see everything, learn from the guide
  • Disadvantages: no freedom, limited amount of time spent at sights, higher cost

A guided tour will help you tick off all the best sights in the national park such as Red Sand Beach and La Catedral. Guided tours often go out in the late afternoon as well so you get to watch the sunset along the coast.

 

Most tours start from around $15 and last 4 hours.

Here is the cheapest we can find:

 

 

 

Or Get Your Guide have more expensive options starting from $40

An even better way of booking a tour and getting it cheaper is going through a backpacker hostel.

 

In our Paracas backpackers guide, we recommend staying at Kokopelli Hostel.  They have an in-house travel agency running tours that are a bit cheaper than the ones in town. This option is also a great way to meet people from the hostel.

 

Check out Paracas backpacker guide for everything else you need to know about the town, including the best places to eat and some other great tours you can book:

 

 

If you book through Kokopelli, they specifically advertise it as a sunset tour. The tour will last about 3 hours and you’ll be picked up around 3 PM, the sunset is at approximately 6 PM all year round. You’ll be taken into the national park on a minibus and the driver will drop your group and the guide off.

 

You’ll hike for around 1.5 hours across the dunes, stopping at the Red Sand Beach and La Catedral,

 

Then you’ll reach the viewpoint for sunset to take some incredible pictures and watch the sun go down over the Pacific. After this, the bus driver will be waiting to take you back to the town.

 

Make sure to take a coat or windbreaker as the wind can be strong. It’s no coincidence as to why Paracas is a popular kitesurfing hotspot.

3. How To Book An ATV or Buggy Tour To Paracas National Reserve

  • Cost: Tours start from $35
  • Advantages: super fun, knowledge of guide to know where to drive
  • Disadvantages: less freedom to explore, more expensive than a simple guided tour

What better way to see the park than by driving a buggy over the rolling dunes and then parking up on the cliffs to watch the sunset. This is a great way to see the national reserve, especially if you’re looking for an adrenaline fix as well.

 

You also get the added benefit of the guides knowledge so you know where you can drive and park, which you won’t have if you rent one yourself. Guides always know the best spots for pictures too.

 

These tours are shorter compared to the rest on this list, lasting 2 hours, but you will still see all the popular sights.

Playa Roja Tours do mini-buggy and ATV tours of the park:

 

Or Get Your Guide has tours as well:

 

4. How To Rent A Moped To Visit Paracas National Reserve

  • Cost: Rentals start from $45
  • Advantages: freedom from a tour, go anywhere and stay in places longer, no effort required
  • Disadvantages: most expensive option, can’t drive everywhere that buggies or bicycles can go

Like renting a bicycle, this option will give you the most freedom. You will also save a lot more time as you won’t have to be busting a lung pedalling on a bike and you can stay out of the sun more as you will reach shaded areas of the park quicker.

 

Because of the time saved, you can spend more time at the sights or sunbathing on the beaches in the park. You can easily stop for an hour or more for lunch at one of the few restaurants in the park and just take everything at a much slower pace.

 

Another benefit is that you can stay to watch the sunset and not have to worry about it getting dark. You can ride back to town on the road with your moped which you couldn’t do if you had a standard bicycle.

 

The only downside of this option is the cost but if you can afford it, it’s the way to go.

Emotion Tour Peru rent mopeds:

 

Visiting Paracas National Reserve is one of our many reasons to visit Peru. For more great reasons, check out the post below:

 

 

How To Get To And From Paracas

How To Get To Paracas National Reserve From Lima

Paracas will usually be the second stop on a backpacker’s journey from Lima, and it’s easy to reach.

 

The bus journey takes around three to four hours, and there are several public bus companies to pick from. We went with Cruz Del Sur due to the better reviews and weren’t disappointed. The process is the same for any bus company you choose so we’ll outline what we did here.

 

There isn’t a single main bus terminal in Lima, and the different bus companies have separate terminals. So, to get to Cruz Del Sur bus terminal, we found it on google (Av. Javier Prado Este 41, San Isidro, 15034) and hopped in a uber which cost around $5 from central Lima.

You can book your bus online or turn up on the day. Here are two online booking sites:

 

  • Red – is specifically for Peru – the app works well, and there’s no need for physical tickets
  • Bus Bud – an international company that we used a lot travelling around South America.

How To Get From Paracas To Huacachina

The easiest way to get from Paracas to Huacachina is by local bus. The bus journey takes around an hour and a half.

 

If you are going to Huacachina then you will have to get the bus to Ica and get off there, then take a taxi into the oasis. The taxi shouldn’t cost more than 10 soles.

For more information on the incredible desert oasis of Huacachina, check out the post below:

 

 

How To Get From Paracas To Arequipa

If you aren’t stopping at the desert oasis of Huacachina, then the next stop south will be Arequipa. The journey is over 750km and takes around 20 hours via bus so best to take a night bus.

 

Alternatively, you can travel back to Lima and then fly to Arequipa.

 

For more on Arequipa, check out our travel guides:

 

 

Paracas National Reserve FAQs

What Can You Do In Paracas National Reserve?

The main attraction in Paracas National Reserve is visiting the natural wonders such as the unique Red Sand Beach (Playa Roja) and the now collapsed rock formation of La Catedral. You can also visit the beaches and swim at some of them. There are also a small number of restaurants in the town of Lagunillas (inside the reserve) for people wanting to have some fresh ceviche for lunch or to enjoy a pisco sour.

Can You Swim In Paracas?

Yes, you can swim in Paracas. The beach in Paracas town (El Chaco) has shallow water and you can go for a dip here. There are also a couple of beaches inside Paracas National Reserve that you can swim at. The best beach to swim at is Yumaque beach as the waters are calm.

Can You Swim At Playa Roja?

The best way to get from Lima to Paracas is by bus. The bus journey takes three to four hours and there are several public bus companies to pick from.

 

Once you arrive in Paracas town you will need to book a guided tour or rent a bicycle to explore the national reserve.  

How Many Days Do You Need In Paracas?

Two days is an ideal amount of time to spend in Paracas. You can spend one day visiting the National Reserve and the second day visiting the Ballestas Islands.

 

Take three days maximum in Paracas if you wish to visit the park more than once or in different ways, for example during the day on bikes and then at sunset on a guided tour.

Is Paracas Worth Visiting?

If you are backpacking through Peru, then Paracas is well worth a visit.

 

It’s the second stop along from Lima on the classic gringo/backpacker trail that follows the coast south and then loops round to end in Cusco, so it is easy to get to.

 

Also, the desert landscape is unique and beautiful and the Ballestas islands are definitely worth ticking off if you want to experience wildlife but can’t afford a visit to the Galapagos Islands.

For more on backpacking in Peru, check out our itineraries and travel routes:

 

 

For more on backpacking in South America, check out our expertly curated itineraries and travel routes:

 

 

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