Reserva Nacional de Paracas

Lonely Planet review

The vast Reserva Nacional de Paracas is a desert reserve that occupies most of the Península de Paracas. Tour operators offer excursions; alternatively, hire a taxi in Pisco or take a combi into the village of Paracas and then walk - make sure to allow lots of time, and bring food and plenty of water.

Near the entrance to Paracas village, past Playa El Chaco, is an obelisk commemorating the landing of the liberator General José de San Martín. The combi continues further in and, if asked, will drop you in front of Hotel Paracas. Continue on foot either along the tarmac road south of Paracas, or the beach, looking out for seashore life.

About 3km south is a park entry point, where a fee is charged. Another 2km beyond the entrance is the park visitor center, which has kid-friendly exhibits on conservation and ecology. Next door is the Museo JC Tello. Chilean flamingos often hang out in the bay in front of the complex, and there's now a walkway down to a mirador (lookout). Try not to step outside the designated route as this can interfere with the flamingos' food supply.

Beyond the visitor complex, the tarmac road continues around the peninsula, past a 'graveyard' of old fishing boats to Puerto San Martín, which has a smelly fish-meal plant and a port on the northern tip of the peninsula. Forget this road and head out on the dirt road that branches off a few hundred meters beyond the museum. After about 6km it reaches the tiny fishing village of Lagunillas, where you can usually find someone to cook fresh fish for you; it's sometimes possible to catch a ride back to town, squeezed in alongside the fresh fish catch. From the village, the road continues a few kilometers to a parking area near a clifftop lookout, which has grand views of the ocean, with a sea-lion colony on the rocks below and plenty of seabirds gliding by.

Other seashore life around the reserve includes flotillas of jellyfish (swimmers beware!), some reaching about 70cm in diameter with trailing stinging tentacles of 1m. They are often washed up on the shore, where they quickly dry to form mandala-like patterns on the sand. Beachcombers can also find sea hares, ghost crabs and seashells, and the Andean condor occasionally descends to the coast in search of rich pickings.

You can ask at the visitor center for designated areas to pitch tents, but never camp alone as violent robberies have been reported. To really explore, the entire peninsula is covered by topographic map 28-K from the Instituto Geográfico Nacional (IGN) in Lima.