The Complete Backpackers Guide To Paracas & 2-Day Itinerary

Home to Peru’s take on the Galapagos islands and set amongst a never-ending desert expanse - Paracas is a must-see whilst backpacking in Peru. The Ballestas Islands, home to unique species such as the Humboldt penguin, are a perfect trip for nature lovers, and riding dune buggies through the desert at sunset is essential activity for adventure backpackers. Everything you need to know is here in our Paracas backpacker guide and 2-day itinerary.

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The 10 Best Things To Do In Paracas As A Backpacker

This small coastal town doesn’t have much going on at its centre.  It’s watching the untamed nature and exploring the surreal desert landscapes that will fill most of your time here.

 

Here are the top 10 things for backpackers to do whilst visiting Paracas:

1. Rent A Bicycle And Cycle Around The Desert

Paracas National Park is an untouched natural desert on Peru’s coastline that’s perfect for exploration and adventure.

 

One way of navigating through this unique place is on a bicycle and you won’t regret it as you fly down sand dunes with the ocean breeze in your hair.

 

Bike rental for the day should be no more than 25 soles. Always make sure to give the tires, brakes, and gears a good test before you take it out for the day. You don’t want to be stranded in the desert after all. The park is mostly flat roads but there are a couple of uphill climbs in which gears will save your legs.

 

The best sights in the park are Playa Roja (Red Sand Beach), Playa Supay, Playa Yumaque and La Catedral. Head to Playa Roja and get some photos of the deep red sand, chill at one of the many beaches or stay all day to watch the sunset over the natural cliff monuments at La Catedral.

We’ve detailed three routes for you here in our complete guide – two short routes with less time on the bike and a longer route with a whole day and ticking off every sight in the park:

 

 

2. Take A Tour To The Ballestas Islands

The Ballestas Islands are known as the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’. You can easily visit the islands from Paracas via boat and tours are cheap – hence the nickname!

 

On the tour, you can see sea lions, penguins, and loads of seabirds. If you’re lucky, you may also see dolphins riding in the wake of your boat – it will feel like you’re in an episode of Blue Planet. 

 

Sealion breeding season is between January and March when you’ll see the beach covered in these noisy but loveable creatures. If you’re visiting between August and October, this is the migrating season for Humpback whales which are often seen in the area.

 

For the cheap price and the amount of wildlife you see, we think the tour is definitely worth it – especially if you haven’t already visited Isla Plata in Montanita or the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

3. Take A Sunset Tour In The National Reserve

Another way to visit Paracas National Reserve is on a guided tour.

 

Some go out during the day but the best one is known as the Golden Shadows tour (or Sombras Doradas) –  a sunset hike along the coastal cliff edges of the reserve.

 

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 hike for around 1.5 hours across the dunes, stopping at the Red Sand Beach and ending at La Catedral where you will get some incredible golden hour photos whilst watching the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean.

We’ve outlined the best way to book a tour along with 3 other ways of visiting the reserve. For more detail, head to the post below:

 

 

4. Visit Laguna Morón and Go Sandboarding

Laguna Morón is a secluded desert lagoon where you can go swimming and sandboarding.

 

You will be picked up in a huge sand buggy and travel around half an hour outside of Paracas to reach it.

 

The buggy speeds effortlessly over the dunes and you will catch some serious air as you fly over them. Once you reach the lagoon you can go swimming to escape the desert heat and try your best at sandboarding down the dunes.

 

Whilst the lagoon is a unique place to visit and great for pictures, we recommend saving the sandboarding for when you reach Huacachina which is the next stop along the backpacker trail in Peru. The dunes are bigger, and the tour is cheaper!

Playa Roja are a local company that offer tours:

 

5. Take an ATV Or Buggy Tour Of Paracas National Reserve

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 a guide local knowledge so you know where you can drive and park, which you won’t have if you explore by 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:

 

6. Go Kitesurfing

Paracas is one of the best kitesurfing spots in the world with some of the best schools as well.

 

The coastal desert is an ideal place to learn with easy learning conditions and fantastic scenery to please every rider.

 

You can rent equipment if you already have experience. Or if you are a beginner, you can sign up for single lessons or stay with them for longer and take lessons over the course of a week.

 

Perukite and Kangaroo Kite are the two main professional kitesurfing schools based on the edge of Paracas National Reserve:

7. Sunbathe On A Desert Beach

The desert sun of Paracas is perfect for backpackers looking to work on their tan. You can sunbathe on the beach in town called El Chaco, but it’s a thin strip of sand and the views of the harbour aren’t the best.

 

An alternative is to head into the national park for the day and go sunbathing on one of the desert beaches.

 

The best beaches to swim at are Yumaque beach, Playa de la Mina and Playa el Raspon. The waters are calm at these beaches and if you are lucky and time it right, you may even get the whole beach to yourself.

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

 

 

8. Try Fresh Ceviche And A Pisco Sour At Lagunillas

This is another activity that can only be done inside the National Reserve. Once inside the park, just across the water from the red sand beach, you should see the small town of Lagunillas.

 

There’s a handful of restaurants here, with a couple on the water for a nice place to eat. Try either La Tia Fela or Sol de Oro.  Sit yourself down and order yourself some fresh ceviche and a pisco sour – what better way to enjoy the amazing views.

 

At Lagunillas, there’s also a short walk up to a viewpoint at the edge of the outcrop of land where you can get some great panoramic views of the bay. We’ve covered the route there in our bike guide. 

9. Visit Paracas Museum

The Paracas Museum can be found at the edge of the national park. There’s not much inside but head in if you are interested in learning about the early cultures in the region. There’s information about skull deformation which was practiced by the indigenous cultures and you can see some preserved elongated skulls and pottery and textiles.

 

If you are into historical and cultural activities, you may enjoy this place. The museum is rather small so you can walk through it within a hour but in our personal opinion, we’d skip it. For 15 soles entrance fee as well, it doesn’t seem worth it.

10. Walk Along Malecon El Chaco

The Malecon (boardwalk) in Paracas is short and sweet. It’s full of seaside restaurants, bars and a couple of artisan craft shops. 

 

It’s a nice place to walk a sunset and to have some food. Sitting out on the Malecon will give you a  great view of the bay and you can watch the fisherman finishing up for the day and feeding the awaiting Pelicans.

 

You won’t find the most affordable food here however and you’ll be paying around 20-25 soles for food just because your’e on the waterfront. Head a few roads back for cheaper fare more suited to budget backpackers and then come here for a Pisco Sour.

How Many Days Do You Need In Paracas?

Two days is an ideal amount of time to spend in Paracas.

 

The two best things to do in Paracas are a tour of the Ballestas Islands and to visit the National Reserve. You can spend one full day visiting the National Reserve either on bikes or via a guided tour, and the second day visiting the Ballestas Islands.

 

The town of Paracas is small so there’s not much else going on nightlife wise to make backpackers stay any longer.

 

Take three days maximum if you wish to visit the park more than once in a different way, for example, one day on bikes and then another day on a sunset tour. Or just take a third day if you want to relax and catch some sun by the pool.

2-Day Paracas Itinerary For Backpackers

Day 1 – Take A Tour To The Ballestas Islands

Morning

We recommend staying at Kokopelli Hostel in Paracas. It’s the only backpacker centric hostel in town and it has everything you need for a great stay. Breakfast is included with the price so get up and enjoy the spread.

 

After breakfast it’s time to visit the Ballestas Islands.

 

There’s a pier located in the centre of the town and the all tour boats leave from here. You can buy tickets from vendors on the street but we recommend arranging a tour through your hostel. Its easier and cheaper. The tour should cost around $15. 

 

We’d recommend an early morning tour as the sea can get choppier later in the day. The tour lasts around 2 hours. Your first stop will be to observe the bizarre geoglyph carved in the desert sand, the Paracas Candelabra. It can be dated to about 200 BC, but only myths exist to explain its presence.

 

After that, you’ll head to the Ballestas Islands themselves. As mentioned, the islands will be packed full of sealions, penguins and colonies of seabirds. You can’t go on the islands, but your boat will circle round whilst you get photos of all the wildlife – so make sure you bring your camera.

Afternoon / Evening

Once back on dry land, you have a whole afternoon to play with.

 

If you’re the type of backpacker who likes to cram a lot into a single day then why not book onto the sunset tour from 3PM?

 

If you prefer to relax, then Kokopelli has an amazing pool where you can chill out and work on the tan. Then in the late afternoon, head along the Malecon and enjoy the sunset         

Day 2 – Visit Paracas National Reserve

Morning

Renting a bike is the cheapest way to explore Paracas National Reserve and gives you a lot of freedom to explore. You can easily spend the whole day in the park but just make sure you bring lots of protection from the sun.

 

Start off by visiting Playa Roja. If you stop at the top of the hill and go off the dirt road you can get an incredible view all the way along the beach – perfect for some insta photos.

 

After Playa Roja, head along to the town of Lagunillas. Here you can go in one of the restaurants and escape from the sun. Order yourself some fresh ceviche and a Pisco sour and enjoy the views of the bay.

 

Finally, head to Playa de la Mina to sunbathe for a while and to have a dip in the ocean.

 

Cycling around the park requires a lot of effort on your part but the freedom to explore makes up for it. You might want to call it a day after that and head back to town.

Afternoon/Evening

When back at the hostel why not rent a kayak or paddleboard and head out into the bay?

 

Enjoy the sunset on Playa el Chaco and then spend the night at the bar in Kokopelli. Most days of the week the bar staff will organise fun events from drinking games to pool tournaments.

 

There isn’t much nightlife in Paracas so this is the best place to drink and have a good time.

The Best Places To Eat In Paracas

Take a walk along the waterfront in Paracas and you will find a selection of restaurants, many with outside seating perfect for watching the sunset over the habour.

 

If you take a left when coming out of Kokopelli hostel and walk to the harbour this way, the street that leads to the sea has rows of small restaurants serving cheap food.

 

  • Fruzion has great breakfast options, including pancakes and fruit, with several fantastic smoothies to choose from too.
  • Vegano Peruano is an incredible restaurant is on the third floor of the shopping mall. It has the best view out onto the sea. The food is stunning and they’ve recreated all the classic Peruvian dishes using vegan ingredients – we can’t recommend it enough. Try the vegan Lomo Soltado if you visit!

Where To Visit Next After Paracas?

How To Get To Paracas From Lima

Most backpackers start their travels through Peru in Lima, and then head down the coast before curving up into the Andes to reach Cusco. This makes travelling in Peru straightforward and easy to plan.

 

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.

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.

For more backpacker guides on Lima, check out the posts below:

 

 

 

How To Get To Huacachina From Paracas

The easiest way to get from Paracas to Huacachina is by local bus. This is a much shorter journey bus journey of 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 To Arequipa From Paracas

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 backpacker guides and itineraries:

 

 

 

How To Get From Paracas To Cusco

If you are going to skip over Huacachina and Arequipa and go straight to Cusco, then best to travel back to Lima and fly – the bus journey doesn’t exist as it would take over 24 hours!

 

Flights from Lima to Cusco take around an hour and 20 minutes and should cost between $80-100.

For more on Cusco, check out our backpacker guides:

 

 

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.

 

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 and South America, check out our itineraries and travel routes:

 

 

The Best Backpacker Hostels In Paracas

We’re going to keep this one simple. There aren’t many hostels in Paracas as it’s such a small town. You’re going to want one with a pool due to the desert heat so go with Kokopelli Hostel.

 

It has a decent-sized pool, a substantial outside bar area for relaxing in the shade, nightly activities and a mix of comfortable dorms and private rooms.

 

The hostel also backs out onto the sea, so it’s a great place to sit and watch the sunset in the evening.

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