5 Highlights of Paracas National Reserve

5 Highlights of Paracas National Reserve, Aracari Travel

Amid the striking coastal desert of Peru lies the Paracas National Reserve. A protected natural area known for an abundance of marine wildlife, arid, orange-colored desert, and dramatic shoreline of wind and wave-sculpted rock formations. Found just a four-hour drive from Lima, the Paracas National Reserve is well worth a visit, especially suited to those seeking adventure travel to Peru.

At Aracari, we have spent almost three decades curating bespoke experiences in the Paracas National Reserve, with many of our tailor-made itineraries featuring a few days here during a private Peru tour. Those such as An Amazing Andean Adventure – a journey that culminates with three days spent exploring Paracas and the surrounding region.

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5 Highlights of Paracas National Reserve

Our knowledge of this area of Peru is extensive – with longstanding connections to the most authentic experiences on offer in the Paracas National Reserve. As Peru’s only protected marine area, a myriad of wildlife can be found here – benefitting from the cool water of the Humboldt Current. There are also over 215 species of birds, that use the Paracas National Reserve as a key stopover during their annual migration path.

But that’s not all, there are also opportunities to connect with local communities and understand their way of life, along with learning about the rich history that dates back long before the Inca Empire. Plus adventure experiences, with the option to zip through the towering dunes that form much of the desert here.

But how to experience all the above with authenticity? This exclusive Aracari guide will show you how. With our expert tips, discover a true insider glimpse into our five highlights of Paracas National Reserve.

1. Take a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands

One of the main attractions of the Paracas National Reserve is the Ballestas Islands, an archipelago rich in wildlife. Paracas is notoriously windy and top gusts, known as ‘Paracas winds,’ can reach up to 32 kilometers per hour. That combination of strong waves and wind has molded the coastline over millennia, creating incredible landscapes of arches and tunnels.

It’s on these magnificent rock formations that you’ll be able to spot sea lions, seals, Humboldt penguins, and turtles, along with dozens of bird species, such as albatross, pelicans, and various breeds of seagulls. Indeed, the friendliest inhabitants of the Ballestas Islands are the gregarious sea lions, which have a habit of swimming out to greet passing boats.

With Aracari, our boat tours can be arranged on a private basis via a luxury speedboat, meaning our guests can explore the Ballestas Islands at leisure and in comfort, accompanied by an expert marine guide. During the experience, which tends to last an afternoon, you’ll also visit Punta Pejerrey. Punta Pejerrey is nearly the northernmost point of the isthmus and the best spot for seeing the Candelabro, a candelabra-shaped drawing etched into the highest point of a cliffside overlooking the bay. An experience that is included in our tailor-made itinerary: Peru Mountains to Beach.

2. Enjoy Sandbuggies, Sundowners, and Dinner in the Desert


A must-do for adventure seekers exploring the area of Paracas National Reserve is the option to soar through the sand dunes of the Paracas desert in a high-speed sandbuggie driven by a seasoned rally driver, before taking in a magnificent sunset with dinner.

Aracari is connected to the pioneers of the sandbuggie industry in Paracas, a team that maintains the utmost safety and professionalism – making them one of the most recommended in the region. To ensure our clients bear witness to a marvelous Peruvian sunset, we recommend beginning the experience 1 hour and 30 minutes before sunset.

After a safety briefing, you’ll set off on the tracks which go through dunes ranging in height from 5 to 100 meters, at which point you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the desert with many photo and video opportunities. The mapped route can also take you through the ‘Rompe Hueso’, the highest dune at 150 meters!

It’s atop this highest desert peak that your driver will stop the sandbuggie and welcome you into a beautiful Bedouin-style tent, decorated with a variety of colorful Peruvian textiles and cushioned seating. As day turns to dusk the lighting will be provided by candles and you’ll be greeted by your private bartender and waiter, who will welcome you with a refreshing chilcano of pisco, as well as light snacks and a cheese board, while you take in the magnificent setting. Then, as you marvel at an awe-inspiring Paracas sunset, one of the best in Peru, painting the sky in hues of yellow and orange – you’ll be served a delicious dinner, freshly prepared on the nearby grill.

3.Try your hand at scallop hunting in the Paracas National Reserve

The third highlight in our guide to the Paracas National Reserve is only available as part of a bespoke Aracari itinerary such as Peru Mountains to Beach. Undoubtedly one of the most unique experiences in Peru, spend an unforgettable day on the ocean with a wonderful Paracas local – hunting scallops and spotting wildlife, before enjoying a delicious fresh seafood lunch.

You’ll begin by meeting our local partner and his family at his small camp in the Paracas National Reserve. Taking a seat on the verandah, you’ll enjoy the tranquil view of the beautiful bay as he explains more about the birds and marine life, as well as telling you his story along with fascinating facts about the local history and geography.

Boarding your boat to explore the bay, the first stop will be a scallop farm found right in the middle. Dropping the net, our local guide will collect some scallops for you to taste, adding lemon and salt to the freshly plucked shellfish. Whilst you tuck into the scallops and sip on local white wine, the speedboat will cruise for about 20 minutes, when it’s not uncommon to see dolphins swimming near the boat.

You’ll then reach the edge of the Bay where the ‘Candelabro’ – or candlestick – becomes visible. The candlestick is a magnificent ancient carving etched into the desert that was created by ancient Peruvians – similar to the origins of the Nazca lines. Here you will briefly stop for a swim at ‘Playa Pirata’, meaning pirate beach, and there’s a possibility of some close encounters with Humboldt penguins and sea lions.

By the time you return to the bay, it will be close to noon. Back on the shore, you’ll swim, relax on the verandah, or use the paddle boards or kayaks to explore the wonderful peaceful bay at your own rhythm, before enjoying a freshly prepared scallop paella.

4. Discover the many beaches of Paracas National Reserve

The beaches of Paracas National Reserve are a natural spectacle. The landscape here is home to some of the driest deserts in the world, which crash right into the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. The contrast is jaw-dropping and often one of the highlights for those visiting.

Because it is highly exposed to the elements, much of the Paracas coastline is more suited to nature walks and hikes rather than swimming and bathing. However, there are precious pockets such as La Mina, which offer a gorgeous beach for swimming with clear emerald waters and horseshoe-shaped hills sheltering the area from the winds. The beach is hidden from above and only appears as you make your way down the steps, revealing one of the most unique beaches in the world, with blue waters surrounded by desert.

Nearby to La Mina, you’ll also find a viewpoint from which one can spot sea lions sunbathing on tiny islets. Other beaches worth visiting are the aviary haven of Mendieta Beach located in front of Zarate Island and in the heart of the desert and Red Beach, or Playa Roja, where the picture-perfect shore is painted a deep scarlet color.

It is worth noting too that many of our recommended hotels in Paracas also have access to their own private stretch of beach where you can unwind after a day exploring the highlights of Paracas National Reserve.

5. Learn of pre-Inca Paracas culture

The coastal desert area around Paracas National Reserve was once the home of the pre-Inca Paracas culture, famous for its exquisite textile work. Visiting the region with one of Aracari’s expert guides means a peek into the ancient past – learning about a civilization who were around more than 3,000 years ago.

Relics of that ancient past are visible in the land here too. Relics such as the giant three-pronged figure etched into the sandy hills, which is more than 150m high and 50m wide. No one knows exactly who made the glyph, or when, or what it signifies, some connect it to the Nazca Lines, while others propound that it served as a navigational guide for sailors and was based on the constellation of the Southern Cross.

At Aracari, many of our itineraries combine a visit to Paracas National Reserve with a private flight over the nearby Nazca lines. These gigantic carvings etched into desert sands thousands of years ago stretch up to 300 meters in size, covering 220km² of the desert. The flight lasts approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, of which 20 minutes are spent circling over the Nazca Lines and Palpa Lines – an experience included in our tailor-made itinerary An Amazing Andean Adventure.

Visiting the Paracas National Reserve

The small fishing village of Paracas is the main entrance to the national reserve and is 260 kilometers (about 160 miles) south of Lima, a 4-hour drive along the Pan-American Highway. Our top tip for exploring Paracas National Reserve is to do so via a private Peru tour. This allows you to visit key sites like the Ballestas Islands, beaches, and more on a different schedule from the mass tourist groups. For example, while everyone may be scheduled to visit Ballestas Islands at 8 a.m., you can head there at 10 a.m. and have what feels like the whole ocean to yourself!

Of course, a visit to the Paracas National Reserve is also perfectly combined with other nearby highlights of the region such as Nazca as shown in our An Amazing Andean Adventure itinerary, whilst in Pisco, you can visit one of Peru’s most charming wineries, as detailed in our itinerary Peru Mountains to Beach.

When to visit Paracas National Reserve

The coastal desert of Paracas is one of the driest areas in South America – the annual average temperature is 24ºC (75ºF), and the sun shines almost all year with little humidity, making it a year-round destination. But when you visit don’t forget a jacket to protect you from the strong winds that are native to the area.

To start planning your private Peru tour with Aracari, book an appointment with one of our luxury travel designers today.

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