For most, the main attraction of Paracas is undoubtedly “the poor man’s Galapagos”, a.k.a. Islas Ballestas, which truly is a fun two or so hour tour of wildlife with a taste of sea breeze en route. There are many other attractions in Paracas, albeit none as fascinating as Islas Ballestas.
For this writer/photographer team, the best attraction of all is getting to share the scene with the growing number of Peruvians—mainly from Lima—who obviously are tasting the good life with a quick sojourn here for seafood and hanging on the beach.
Paracas is named for an ancient culture of 800 – 100 B.C. that had a proclivity for burying mummies without heads and what is said to be some pretty sophisticated notions of irrigation.
Paracas is a Lima Beach Getaway
El Chaco is the beach town within Paracas where your bus lands. It has a line of seafood restaurants—all with more or less the same menu and similar feel. On the weekend it is a happening place. On a Monday it seems to be almost mourning the lack of tourists.
Those quiet days though are perhaps the best time to explore the other attractions without crowds. With 20-20 hindsight one might do better with bike or the special sand scooters one can rent to explore the vast and scenic sand dunes and red beaches beyond the town. The sun is bright but the blues of the sky contrasting with the bright sands make your spirits sing.
Reserva Nacional de Paracas
This Paracas preserve (Reserva Nacional de Paracas) is said to be 4 times the size of Switzerland, nearly two-thirds of which is ocean. This is a highly protected area, with only fishing of small anchovies allowed and gathering of algae for feed and makeup products. Pristine expanses of sands that we hear sometimes whip up into punishing sand storms are there not only for the tourists—but for scientists, archeologists interested in its pre-dinosaur fossils and rocks, and others who are mining these untouched sands for their studies. An American visiting Peru at the time when Trump and his minions are readying to sell off federal lands to developers wants to cringe with pain at the contrast.
A small museum tells you of the flora, fauna, geology, history and more of the area. Its exterior architecture is perfectly synched with the landscape, and in itself makes it worth a visit. The curators seem to be cut from the same cloth as those of major museums in the USA that manage information in ways that speak to children and adults at once. If you go with a group tour expect to be rushed out before you can truly take it in.
What these tours seem to be mainly about is the long layover at one of several restaurants—operated sans electricity—where ceviche and fresh seafood is king. The quality of the food is highly touted—and it is good—but then again, there is no shortage of excellent seafood in Peru anywhere near its long coastline.
The bigger lure at these restaurants is the chance to take in the scenery, if not a dip, and to admire the gumption of the thieving pelicans ever ready – and able!- to steal fish from trucks unloading by the wharf. The sands that had been undersea for 40 million years come in various colors, with the iron-based red clay sands the most striking.
Truth to tell, this was a very inexpensive tour – with a seat in a minivan – that probably, at least in the off-season, lets you take in the scene for about the same price as a bicycle hire for the day. It’s well worth it.
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