In this Paracas travel guide, we give you the best things to do – plus where to stay, eat and drink – in the coastal locale known to insiders as the Hamptons of Peru.
Paracas Travel Guide: Best Hotels, Restaurants and Things to Do in Peru’s Windswept Seaside Retreat
Last updated: October 2023
Dramatic desert landscapes and mesmerizing ocean blues collide in Paracas, a sleepy seaside retreat nestled along Peru’s wild and windswept Pacific coastline. It’s a place where Humboldt penguins scurry across craggy rock formations, soaring outcrops host sunbathing sea lions and otherworldly desert dunes lead to jaw-dropping coastal views – all anchored by a kitschy malecón (boardwalk) flanked by eateries, souvenir stalls and colorful umbrellas peppering the golden beachfront of Paracas Bay.
When considering a visit to Paracas, most tourists default to a day trip from nearby Lima, Ica or Huacachina. Arguably better than nothing, but our advice? Don’t be those tourists. Located just a few hours south of Lima by car or bus (Cruz Del Sur is our preferred ride), we highly recommend budgeting at least one – if not two – nights to take advantage of everything this surprising coastal locale has to offer.
Don’t just take our word for it. Known regionally as the “Hamptons of Peru,” you’ll be following in the footsteps of chic Limeños who flock to the town on weekends – either to their posh second homes or a luxe beachfront resort – to indulge in a relaxing seaside escape.
In this Paracas travel guide, we give you our edit of the best things to do – plus where to stay, eat and drink – in Peru’s beguiling, under-the-radar beach town.
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But first: travel insurance to the rescue.
Wherever, and whenever, you might be traveling, travel insurance is always a good idea. I personally use and recommend Faye Travel Insurance for their thorough, easy to understand and fair-priced coverage options. Think: emergency medical and sickness benefits in the event of an accident or illness while abroad, compensation for lost luggage and personal effects, and trip protection covering things like unforeseen cancellation, interruption or missed connections.
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Pro Tip: it’s best to buy your travel insurance policy within 14 days of making your initial trip deposit (like when you buy your flights or book your hotel).
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Paracas, Peru
In Paracas, you’ll find the hotel scene more or less divided into two camps: luxurious beachfront resort, or casual in-town guesthouse. Here, our top picks for each.
Best Hotels in Paracas: Beachfront Resorts
A five minute taxi ride or tuk tuk jaunt south of town brings you to the coastal DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Paracas. Here, the global hospitality brand takes shape as a spectacular shorefront escape exceeding expectations on every level. Airy ocean view suites feature heavenly king beds, plush bathrobes, room service, a minibar with coffee maker and a separate living room complete with sofabed. Paracas’s signature bamboo reeds (you’ll see them everywhere around town) accent the room’s calming color palette.
Endless views of Paracas Bay await on your balcony, where wild flamingos wade into the shoreline and surreal sunsets take your breath away. After your morning boat tour of the famed, uninhabited Ballestas Islands (all the intel on this wildlife-rich site below) you’ll no doubt want to relax poolside with the on-site restaurant’s mouthwatering Peruvian cuisine and freshly shaken pisco sours. Or, go for a dip in the adults-only jacuzzi. The tranquil resort comes alive on weekends, when the nautical-themed beach bar opens for sundowners and wood-fired pizza and a nighttime fire pit lights up the sky – marshmallows included.
Best Hotels in Paracas: In-town Stays
For a more casual stay in the center of town (known as “El Chaco”) you can book a balcony-equipped suite at chic Casa Paracas, grab a no-fuss room at charming Betania or check into a kitschy camper at family-friendly Casa Caravanas. All are just steps from Malecón El Chaco, the town’s main seaside drag.
Best Hotels in Paracas: Hidden Gem
A wild card in the Paracas hotel scene? The hidden gem that is Inti-Mar, a six room bed & breakfast boasting unique status as the only hotel located inside Paracas National Reserve (keep reading for more on this otherworldly peninsula), residing on its own private bend of Paracas Bay. Plus, a namesake restaurant serving freshly caught sea fare. The shorefront lodge is just as charming as it is remote, perfect for those looking to get off the beaten path.
Where to Eat and Drink: Best Restaurants and Bars in Paracas
Best Restaurants and Bars in Paracas: Outstanding Peruvian Cuisine, Poolside
Leading the dining scene in Paracas is easily the kitchen at El Pardo Del Mar: poolside restaurant of the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Paracas. Here, hotel guests and non-guests alike can enjoy authentic, and exceptional, Peruvian cuisine from breakfast through dinner. A bold statement given the country’s culinary accolades, but the food here is among the best I had during an entire month in Peru. So many dishes are memorable, like the fresh ceviche carretillero (street food-style ceviche), pulpo & olivo (octopus and olives), sopa criolla (creole soup), ají de gallina (shredded chicken in a creamy yellow pepper sauce) and heaping plate of chifa cha siu (crispy pork belly with rice).
Not to mention the pisco sours. Perfectly balanced and frothy, Peru’s iconic cocktail is made here with Cuatro Gallos pisco as distilled in the nearby Ica Valley. Sip with your meal or at the adjacent Glazz Bar, a sleek open-air drinking den with couch seating and pool views. On weekends, the hotel’s nautical-themed beach bar opens for oceanfront sundowners and wood-fired pizza.
Best Restaurants and Bars in Paracas: In-town Gems
In town, it can be easy to fall into tourist-trap dining – unless you know where to look. On a charming side street one block off the malecón, Milla Cero is one such culinary star. Here, elevated takes on Peruvian seafood pair with excellent pisco sours, while sandwiches, pastas and chaufas (Peruvian fried rice) accommodate palates plant-based to meat-based.
Other in-town picks include family-run Triple C for breakfast sandwiches and smoothies, Café Cola’o for coffee, empanadas and arepas, Pukasoncco, a tiny two-table haunt serving traditional Peruvian plates in the home of the chef (who doubles as an artist), Misk’i for laid-back vibes, drinks and bar food (think: burgers and burritos, plus vegetarian options) and on the malecón: Italian-owned Pizzeria Venezia for wood-fired pizza and wine with an ocean view.
Best Restaurants and Bars in Paracas: Seafood-with-a-view
Seafood lovers seeking a truly charming epicurean experience should head out of town and into Paracas National Reserve. Here, you can dine at the idyllic seaside eatery of Inti-Mar: namesake restaurant of the only hotel located inside the protected peninsula. Nestled on a private stretch of shell-crushed sand, you can enjoy such fresh caught fare as mixed ceviche, crab causa, shrimp cocktail and house-harvested scallops with parmesan. Reservations recommended.
What to See: Best Things to Do in Paracas
Best Things to Do in Paracas: Malecón El Chaco
Perhaps the most obvious thing to do in Paracas is to stroll the Malecón El Chaco (boardwalk). It’s quirky, it’s sleepy, it’s compact: the under-half mile stretch starts at this row of cevichería stalls and ends at the (temporarily shuttered) Paracas History Museum. Along the way, you’ll pass eateries, ice cream vendors, souvenir shops and no doubt tour outfits trying to sell you a spot on their boat to the famed Ballestas Islands.
Paracas Bay runs parallel, where gently bobbing fishing boats blend with rows of colorful umbrellas dotting the shoreline. Note: due to the abundance of algae and jellyfish in the water, it is not recommended to swim here.
Best Things to Do in Paracas: Ballestas Islands (Islas Ballestas)
Paracas is arguably best known as a launch point to the uninhabited Ballestas Islands, colloquially coined the “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” This series of protected, rocky islets lies 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the Paracas shoreline, home to a bevy of wildlife like lounging sea lions, rare Humboldt penguins, Guanay cormorants, blue-footed boobies and thousands of soaring seabirds.
For just S/.50 (approx $13.00 USD) per person you can embark on a two hour boat tour of the islands. While you won’t be able to get out of the boat – shore access is reserved for scientists and researchers – you’ll cruise by the island’s craggy perimeters, arches and caves for close-up views of the site’s spectacular rock formations and marine fauna.
Ballestas Islands: Candelabra
On the way you’ll even marvel at the Paracas Candelabra, an enormous geoglyph etched nearly 600 feet tall into the looming hillside. Carbon dating of surrounding artifacts places the site as far back as 200 BC – during the time of the ancient Paracas culture, an Andean society that lived between 800 BC and 100 AD. While popular hypotheses attribute the glyph’s symbolism to that of an Incan god’s trident, an endemic hallucinogenic plant, or even a homing beacon for sailors looking for the Paracas coast, its true origins remain shrouded in mystery.
Ballestas Islands: Boat Departure Times and How to Reserve
Boats heading to the Ballestas Islands depart two times daily – 8am and 10am – from El Chaco Pier along the malecón. The 8am departure is typically recommended as winds pick up as the morning progresses. The boats themselves are motorized speedboats, accommodating up to 40 passengers each.
It’s worth noting that all of the boats are the same no matter which tour operator you book with – unless you’re cruising private. In this case you can pre-reserve this private speedboat accommodating up to 6 passengers, or this luxury yacht accommodating up to 12 passengers.
Otherwise – if you’re spending at least one night in Paracas – you can simply head into El Chaco upon arrival where you’ll find plenty of tour operators (both in town and along the malecón) offering you a spot on their boat for the next morning. After checking with multiple tour outfits in person ourselves, we found the price to be pretty well set at S/.50 (approx $13.00 USD) per person.
Best Things to Do in Paracas: Paracas National Reserve (La Reserva Nacional de Paracas)
Head three miles south of town and you’ll end up at the entrance to Paracas National Reserve: a wild peninsula of vast desert, windswept beaches and glistening Pacific ocean that can best be described as otherworldly. It’s considered the second most popular activity in Paracas, though we find plenty of reason to argue it should rank as first.
The protected reserve stretches a whopping 827,803 acres, a third of which covers rugged desert terrain while the remaining two-thirds extend to the surrounding Pacific and islets – including the aforementioned Ballestas Islands.
Paracas National Reserve: Entry & Museum
After entering through the ticket booth where you’ll pay a nominal fee of S/. 11 (approx $3.00 USD) per person, your first stop should be Museo de Sitio Julio C. Tello de Paracas: a small museum housing elongated skulls, ceramics, textiles and more ancient artifacts belonging to the region’s mysterious, pre-Inca Paracas culture. The museum is founded by and named after Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello, who pioneered excavations in the region in the 1920s. Behind the museum you can follow a marked path that will take you to a lookout to view wild flamingos.
Paracas National Reserve: Beaches
Beyond the museum, Paracas National Reserve plays host to several playas (beaches) and miradores (lookout points). Mirador Cátedral offers one of the most stunning vistas of the peninsula, overlooking dramatic cliffside, crashing waves and the remains of La Cátedral: a rock formation famed for its impressive cathedral shape, until much of it collapsed into the ocean due to an earthquake in 2007.
Playa Roja is famed for its red sand beach – lent its enigmatic color by volcanic minerals – while the sheltered cove of Playa Las Minas is considered the most beautiful for its shimmering turquoise water. A popular stop and rightly so, Playa Las Minas is calm, swimmable and one of the few beaches in the reserve equipped with bathrooms.
Paracas National Reserve: Seafood
In between Playa Roja and Playa Las Minas, Lagunillas resides as the one and only fishing village located inside the protected peninsula. Here, you’ll find a beach, bathrooms and a smattering of local cevicherías.
For an elevated seafood experience inside Paracas National Reserve, head to (aforementioned) Inti-Mar. It’s the namesake restaurant of the reserve’s sole hotel, and your only other dining option aside from the eateries at Lagunillas.
Paracas National Reserve: How to Explore
There are several ways to explore the reserve, including independently by renting a bicycle or scooter. Given the reserve’s vast expanse, desert heat and steep inclines, the former is only recommended for experienced road cyclers or mountain bikers. The latter is our preferred pick for DIY exploration, but note you’ll need a motorcycle license from your home country in order to rent a scooter in Paracas. Bicycles and scooters can be rented from any number of tour operators in town, like Playa Roja Tours or Emotion Tour Peru.
What about renting a car? Self-driving the reserve is an obvious choice if you’re arriving to Paracas in a car rental. Otherwise, there is nowhere to rent a car once in Paracas. You can however opt for the happy medium of a private driver. Any of the town’s taxi drivers will be more than happy to negotiate a flat rate to take you through the reserve.
For those seeking a dose of geological and historical insight from a local guide, a stroll through town will lead you to several tour operators offering private and shared excursions. Alternatively, you can pre-book online. This highly rated adventure takes you through the reserve in a private vehicle with a bilingual guide, plus includes the boat tour to Ballestas Islands – all with hotel pickup and dropoff.
Or you can up the adrenaline on this guide-led, small group ATV tour ticking off three of the reserve’s top sights. (Sorry, DIYers. ATVs are only available in Paracas with a guide.) Serious thrill seekers can even see the reserve from a bird’s eye view on this paragliding flight.