Along the southern coast of Peru are three small towns – Nasca, Huacachina and Paracas. Each one of them unique from the other, they all have something special that draws tourists to them.
I made a quick stop in Nasca on my way to Huacachina, and I’d say that’s all you need. The major pull to this town are the Nasca Lines – Etched designs, carved into the dry desert ground, dating back a few millennia. To see the lines, you can book a flight tour to get the full experience, or you can climb one of the lookout towers to observe a select few designs (this is what I did).
The area has been coined a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason, as these designs have stood the test of time. The reviews for the flyover tour are amazing, so if you have the time and the money, then check them out. If not, I’d scrap it from the list of places to see.
Further north up the coast is probably the cutest little town I ever did see – Huacachina. Not only does it have a name that is the most fun to say, it’s also the coolest oasis town. Never have I seen a community developed in such a neat place! The accommodations, shops and restaurants that make up this tiny town are nestled around a small body of water – an oasis – surrounded by picturesque sandscapes (a.k.a. sand landscapes ;)). Huacachina is definitely worth hitting up!
I only stayed in Huacachina for a few days, but I wish I stayed longer. There isn’t too much to do there, but I could have taken in those views unlimitedly. I stayed at Banana’s Adventure Hostel, which I highly recommend. A night’s stay is pricier than your average hostel, but it includes an activity for each night of your stay! It also includes breakfast, so…winning!
Banana’s has a pool to relax around and the cutest outdoor set up, with comfy lounge chairs, a tiki bar and a tropical menu. The food is really good, too!
Things to do:
Dune Buggy & Sandboarding – This was one of the coolest experiences I had while in Peru. The brightly coloured dune buggies whip you around the desert and bring you to the top of some pretty gnarly hills to board down. Board rentals are included in the price of the tour and are just a basic vessel to ride down on. The guides recommend you only go down the dunes on your stomach, and I would listen to their wisdom. From personal experience, sandboarding is NOT the same as snowboarding. It is much more challenging, and I may have walked away with a slight back injury from trying to be a hero and standing up on the board. Don’t be like me.
I do have to say that sandboarding was one of the most exhilarating yet terrifying things I have ever done. It’s one of those things that I only want to do once. Some of the smaller hills were fun, but when we got to the top of the larger hills, looking down was terrifying. Going down was a whole other form of terrifying. It’s unbelievable how fast you are going. I stayed perfectly still on the descent, because I felt like any false move would flip me over, and at that speed, end my life (dramatic, but true). By the time you get to the bottom, your shoes are completely filled with sand as well as your pants, shirt, hair, etc. Trust me when I tell you to wear long sleeves, socks and proper footwear – you don’t want to leave with sand burns.
Overall, sandboarding is something that you need to try once, and Huacachina is the place to do it!
Pisco Tour – When in Huacachina, you have the option to visit the neighbouring city of Ica to experience a vineyard tour. This is a fun and relaxing day that I would recommend to travellers. You are brought to a vineyard and taught the methods they use to make pisco (brandy) and wine. At the end of the tour, there is a (healthy) tasting and you can browse their shop to purchase your own spirits. It was interesting to learn the process locals go through to produce Peru’s most popular drink – the Pisco Sour!
Wild Olive served the best pizza you could ask for after a day of sandboarding. The portions were big and the patio overlooked the water – what more could you even want? Highly recommend.
Banana’s, as stated above, had a great menu, especially for a hostel. They served up classics like hamburgers and fries, but also had vegan and vegetarian options.
An amazing view, a fun adventure-packed experience, and great food…Check out Huacachina while in Peru!
Paracas is a cute little fishing town, just north of Huacachina, and right on the coast of the Pacific. It is mostly known for its “Poor Man’s Galapagos Islands,” or Islas Ballestas.
Although I enjoyed my stay in Paracas, I don’t think you should spend too much time there – one night is plenty! The town is small, and everything there is to do can be done in a day’s time.
By far the best hostel in Paracas is Kokopelli. It is right on the beach, has a pool, a huge outdoor patio with tons of games, and it is just FUN. The dorms have their own little private pods with a curtain and there are lockers for your belongings. The outdoor patio has pool and foosball tables, an extra large bar, hammocks and the best sign that says “Wish you were beer.” I mean, how can you go wrong?
Oh, and they also provide kayaks and stand-up paddle boards!
Things to do:
Islas Ballestas – I have mixed feelings about this trip. On the one hand, I feel like it was good to get out on the water (as this didn’t happen too much on my trip, despite Peru being a coastal country), and on the other, it just wasn’t what I expected. Islas Ballestas was the VERY poor man’s Galapagos. I saw a shit-ton of birds and a few sea lions and that was it. It may have been the time that I was there (early August – Peru’s winter), or the day (very overcast and cold), or even my luck, but I just wasn’t too impressed.
If the weather is nice when you are in Paracas and you enjoy being out on the water, I would say “Go for it!” You may get lucky and see some penguins or aquatic life, but know that you may also just be paying to be target practice for the hundreds of birds that inhabit in the area. Making memories either way!
Malecon El Chaco – This is a little pathway that runs parallel to the coastline. It hosts a number of restaurants and stores that overlook the water. It’s a cute little area to walk along, grab some grub, and watch the events happening on the water.
Other than that, there isn’t too much else to do in Paracas, but there are some neat day trips that you can take outside of the city! My top recommendation would be the Paracas National Reserve.
Paracas National Reserve – This is a protected, natural area just south of the town of Paracas. It is a gorgeous landscape where the desert meets the ocean. The waters are turquoise-blue and super picturesque. The reserve is also home to many different wildlife, as an extension of Ballestas, but I wasn’t lucky enough to see any while I was there.
The Candelabra is another interesting spectacle located at the reserve. It is a candlestick-shaped geoglyph that has been etched into the side of one of the coastal ridges, dating back to 200 BCE.
Casa Hacienda San Jose – Another day trip includes this hotel, about an hour drive from the town of Paracas. The hotel, also known as the “slave tunnels” of Peru has a dark history, despite being a sight for sore eyes. It is currently opened to visitors to book rooms, but previously was a sugar and cotton plantation where slaves were smuggled in through the underground tunnels which connect all of the Haciendas in the area. Slavery was legal in Peru at the time, but the owners avoided paying taxes on the slaves by bringing them underground, immediately from the boats they arrived on.
Through the Peru Hop tour I was on, we were able to enter the hotel without staying overnight. We went underground to check out the tunnels, many of which were a tight squeeze! It was creepy, to say the least, but fun at the same time. I recommend taking a quick stop on your way back to Lima to check it out!
Although it doesn’t take long to see it all, Paracas was a definite 10 on the cuteness scale and worth a quick stopover. Take a day to get a taste of life by the sea!
Go back to The South of Peru – A Backpacker’s Guide