Also called 'El Chaco', Paracas is also a very popular beach resort destination. Although the local beach leaves a lot to be desired, it is a few miles from a coastal reserve with miles of sandy shores.
Flora and fauna
You can drive to Paracas from Lima which will take around 4 hours. The other way to get there is by flying. The route is Lima-Pisco with the Airline LC Bucre.
Buses from Cruz del Sur and Oltursa have a bus station near Paracas and connections to Lima and Arequipa (and towns in between). Also there are minibuses to Ica, which are a bit cheaper and provide hotel-to-hotel service.
Cheaper bus companies only go to Pisco, from where you can get a taxi to Paracas, but you will have to compare prices, and after you choose one, you will have to find the company's terminal since there is no central bus terminal.
Peru Hop buses operate 7 days a week to Paracas from Lima. They have a daily connection from Huacachina and their buses also travel north from Arequipa via Nazca. Besides, they offer comfortable and safe trip, with free pickups and drop-offs being included for free. There are also free additional stops and tours on the way to Paracas.
Fees and permits
The town itself is small enough to easily walk, although there's not much to see. To see the reserve, rent a car, take a tour, or rent a bike from any local business. It's about 5 km away but the road is not worth walking.
The town is very small, geared toward Peruvian and Latin American tourists with lots of restaurants/bars on the malecón. The beach is not so nice, the town is still recovering from an earthquake (a lot of new hotels and big resorts are being built).
The area, including the town but especially on the Ballestas Islands and Paracas reserve, is full of seabirds which are quite interesting to watch.
Explore the Península de Paracas with a tour or on your own, for example on rented bike (which will cost around S/.30 per day). Or take a 2-hr boat tour to the Ballestas Islands for around S/.35. Peru Hop passengers can enjoy free Paracas National Reserve tour.
Go on a 2-day (or 1-day) tour with Casa Hogar Illary Ica, a project offering help to children and families affected by the earthquake in 2007, which they finance through tourism and volunteers. In a 2-day tour you get to see the Islas Ballestas, the Paracas national reserve, a laguna where you spend the night in tents along with a bonfire, get to do sand-surfing, taste pisco and wine grown by a local, organic farmer and spend some time at the project with the kids. It would be advisable to speak some Spanish.
Restaurants along the waterfront offer a 'menu del dia' for S./25 (Mar 2018) of soup, two small dishes (e.g. ceviche, causa, fried rice) and a lemonade. Their à-la-carte menus are much important expensive. Many offer 2-for-1 drinks.
Not much choice, mainly fish dishes. However, the fish is extremely fresh, usually caught that morning, and the Ceviche plates are excellent.
There are two small grocery stores in the center next to each other. Prices, quality, and selection are exceptionally poor by Peruvian standards; if you intend to cook for yourself you may wish to bring food from Lima or Arequipa.
Restaurants also serve drinks, but must charge a lot. Some have 'happy-hours' for mixed drinks, but the prices are very high.
You can get cheaper drinks in the two minimarkets near the plaza.
Most options are really expensive, especially when you book them online. Better is to just show up and try to get a discounted price, which shouldn't be much of a problem in the low-season. Expect to pay around US$25-30 for a double in a two-star hotel close to the beach. Some places shut down in the low season.
- Five Star Double Tree, Lote 30-34 Urb. Santo Domingo.
- Hotel Paracas, Avenida Paracas 173.
- Paracas Backpackers House, Av. Los Libertadores. Check-out: 12:00. Extremely basic place with privates and dorms. Popular with very young crowd, that, in combination with paper-thin walls means it can be quite noisy. Friendly and helpful owners who also speak English. S/.40 for a double with shared bathroom (unfortunately there are just two hot showers for 20 people), S/.70 with private bathroom. Free wifi. No breakfast. Note that there are two other hostels in the same street which are also called 'Backpacker'-something and look very similar.
- Zarcillo Paradise Hostel, Av Principal de Ingreso al Chaco 101. Inside the Cruz del Sur bus terminal, new, clean and comfortable, but completely characterless motel-like and right on a busy road quite far from the center. Wifi available, breakfast optional. S/.50 for a double with private bathroom.
- Santa Maria Hostal, Ignacio Morsesky 126 (other side of the street from Paracas Backpacker House). Looks nice from the outside, but the rooms are nothing special albeit they're clean and with hot showers. Also houses the most well known restaurant of the town. Simple breakfast included. US$30.
A few areas in the Paracas reserve permit overnight camping. There are no facilities of any kind and the area is among the driest in the world, so be careful.
There isn't much to worry about in Paracas because there is not really a town like Mancora. There is no slum population, there is only beach houses and beach resorts.