Paracas is only about 3.5 hours from Lima, so it’s a popular stop for backpackers in Peru. Once in Paracas, many visitors opt for tours to Islas Ballestas, a group of islands teeming with birds and sea lions, and the national reserve. It’s easy to fit both into one day, with a cruise to Islas Ballestas in the morning and a bus tour to the national reserve in the afternoon.

I booked an 8:00 AM cruise to Islas Ballestas through my hostel in Paracas. About ten minutes into the boat ride, my group saw a group of dolphins in the water.

ballestas dolphins

After 30 minutes, we reached the islands and spotted three penguins casually hanging out.

ballestas penguins

Thousands of birds circled above us as we motored around the islands. Tour companies advise guests to bring a hat or head covering to guard against bird droppings. This recommendation is absolutely justified: the islands were smothered in droppings, or guano. Miraculously, everyone in our group made it out of the cruise unscathed. Our guide explained that guano from Islas Ballestas used to be a major export from Peru due to its fertilizing properties. The more you know…

Most of the sea lions we saw lounged on rocks.

ballestas seals

We saw a number of pregnant female sea lions, and our guide said the gestation period could be as long as 330 days. And I thought humans had it bad.

Later the same morning, I was picked up for a bus tour of the Paracas National Reserve. It was an easy afternoon: the driver dropped us off at a few locations, where we could take photos of the scenery. If you’re looking for more adventure, you can book quad bike tours from numerous agencies in town.

I couldn’t complain about the scenery at the reserve.


One of the highlights of the reserve was Playa Rojo, or “Red Beach.”


As for the town itself, everything was easily accessible. It took me minutes to walk through the center. Surprisingly, Il Covo, an Italian restaurant a couple of doors from my hostel, served one of the best pizzas I had in South America. Who would have guessed? (I know, I should be eating local food; shame on me; I’m a typical, tasteless American. Look, I loved Peruvian food, but a girl’s got to have her pizza every once in a while.)

I stayed in Paracas for two nights, and there were dazzling sunsets on both days.


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