Paracas and the desert coast dazzles with its blend of wildlife, undulating dunes and stretches of coastline.
The coastal desert of the Paracas peninsula is where rolling golden dunes meet the dramatic seas of the Pacific in Peru. Wildlife enthusiasts will revel in the rich variety of bird and animal species here, including Sea Lions and Humboldt Penguins on the nearby Ballestas Islands; while those seeking action and adventure should head straight for the Ica Desert with its sandboarding and dune buggying opportunities.
Contrasting with the verdant valleys of the Andes and the tropical jungles of the Amazon, the Paracas peninsula is generally an arid place that hugs the Pacific Coast in Peru. The National Reserve of Paracas is a vast expanse of desert, allegedly home to the highest concentration of marine birds anywhere in the world, including Pelicans and Flamingos, while the seas are teeming with Sea Turtles, Manta Rays and Dolphins, to name a few. Meanwhile off the coast the Ballestas Islands shelter colonies of Sea Lions, Humboldt Penguins and even more birdlife. The islands are reachable all within a day trip from the coastal resort of El Chaco (also known as Paracas), which makes for the perfect base from which to explore these natural highlights; its sandy beaches, lively Malecon and opportunities for water-sports only add to its appeal.
For a different kind of activity, head inland to the Ica Desert for thrilling 4WD and sandboarding adventures over the undulating dunes; this is an adrenaline-junkie’s paradise. Also nearby are the enigmatic Nazca Lines, a scattering of huge, awe-inspiring geoglyphs whose majesty is best seen from the skies on a light aircraft flight. If all this sounds like too much action, wine aficionados will be kept happy in the town of Ica itself as this is a mecca for wineries in Peru; but if it’s Pisco Sours you’re after, opt for the Pisco Route to find out how Peru’s signature drink is made and enjoy a tasting or two yourself.
Ballestas Islands wildlife-watching
Meet the Sea Lion and Humboldt Penguin colonies on an excursion to the Ballestas Islands. This archipelago, strewn off the coast of Paracas, is a haven for marine birds like Pelicans and Peruvian Boobies; you’ll see all sorts of creatures lounging or perching on the rocks of these uninhabited islands, making their presence known through all their squawking and barking! En route, the boat passes an awe-inspiring geoglyph that stretches for 150m in height and 50m in width.
Dune buggying in the Ica Desert
The vast, soft sands of the Ica Desert call out for adventure. Bumble over the dunes on an exhilarating buggy ride, driven by the experts, and hold on tight as you career up and over these rolling mounds. You might also want to try your hand at sandboarding; much like snowboarding, only swapping snow for sand, and not as easy as it may look!
The oasis of Huacachina
Find a slice of tranquility at this beguiling lagoon at Huacachina. The waters are said to possess healing properties, shrouded in legend and hence playing an important role for the people of the desert here. Climb up to the top of one of the sand dunes that edge in this magical oasis for the best view, particularly at sunset when the desert is lit up in a blaze of fiery orange and red.