At first glance, the coastal regions around Lima may appear to be a desolate desert. But an adventure through Paracas National Reserve will reveal an incredible ecosystem with a wide variety of wildlife, pretty beaches, and unique scenery. The reserve is huge and there are many things to see along this stretch of coastline, but a dune buggy tour will cover a few of the highlights.
Getting to Paracas National Reserve
Paracas National Reserve can be reached by your own vehicle. This is a great option if you’d like more flexibility and the ability to see more of the reserve that tours don’t often visit. Various attractions in the reserve, such as Playa Roja and Playa Las Minas have parking areas for visitors.
While the roads to these more popular spots are generally packed down, some of the other roads and areas to pull off for camping or viewing have sections of deeper sand. Know the limits of your vehicle and use caution when driving through the reserve.
We didn’t see any car rental agencies in Paracas. There are limited options in Pisco, the city just north of Paracas. So, your best bet if looking to rent a car would be to pick one up in Lima or Ica.
By Taxi or Shuttle Service
If you don’t have your own transport, but don’t want the set itinerary of a tour, another option would be to grab a taxi (or hire a shuttle if you have a group) in Paracas. You can ask a driver to take you around to the sites you’d like to see. If you’re planning on hanging out for longer at one of the beaches in the reserve, you can have them wait for you or you can get their number or the number of the taxi company and call/WhatsApp them later to come pick you up.
Whatever you decide, be sure to agree on a price and plan before heading out to the reserve.
Some people opt to bike through the reserve. There are bikes available for rent in Paracas. This would also allow for flexibility in regards to what you see and how long you spend at various sites. If you opt for this, prepare for the heat, wind, and intense sun. It is about 11 kilometers (just under 7 miles) one way to Playa Roja from Paracas, but there are other beautiful viewpoints further into the reserve.
The most popular option is to visit with a tour. There are many options from Lima, Ica, and directly from Paracas. If you’re limited on time or planning to take a tour from Lima, we recommend booking in advance. Various options can be found on sites like Get Your Guide, Viator, or directly on a tour agency’s site. Many of the tours from Lima and Ica often include other stops, such as Las Islas Ballestas and Huacachina.
Alternatively, you can book in person at offices in Lima, Ica, Pisco, or Paracas. We walked around Paracas, found an agency, and booked our tour a day in advance. You can visit a few agencies to see what they include, which itineraries are offered, and to ensure they meet your needs, such as if you need an English-speaking guide. The companies were generally pretty similar. Private tours, itineraries that include additional stops, and excursions from outside Paracas will cost more.
In addition to the cost of your transport or tour to the reserve, there is an S/.11 per person national reserve fee that must be paid in cash (Peruvian soles) at the entrance station or to your tour company if they organize the entrance pass for you. If your tour includes Islas Ballestas, you may need additional cash for that reserve as well.
Our Paracas National Reserve Tour
As mentioned above, there are a variety of itineraries and tour options to choose from. Since we were staying in Paracas and had already seen Las Islas Ballestas and Huacachina, we opted for a 2-hour dune buggy tour of the reserve. If cruising in a buggy isn’t ideal for you, there are also similar options that go in a tour van.
We headed out in the morning to the tour office. Despite booking a group tour, it ended up being only Matt and me plus our guide! We took off in our dune buggy, following our guide out of town. Soon, we found ourselves surrounded by vast desert landscape.
Our first stop was the Playa Supay viewpoint. From the cliffs, we overlooked the rocky isles and watched the waves crashing far below. There were many birds sitting on their rocky perches, soaring overhead, and diving into the water.
We then skirted closer to the coast towards Playa Yumaque. We drove our buggies down onto the beach and our guide gave us some time to walk the shoreline. There weren’t many people around because it was a windy winter day that wasn’t ideal for swimming or hanging out at the beach.
Our next stop was the famous Playa Rojo. We first hit a viewpoint that overlooked the beach from above before winding around the beach to the lower viewpoint. The blue ocean meeting the unique red shore and desert landscape had us in awe. It was truly beautiful!
Our last stop was just a short ways away at Mirador Lagunillas. Here there was a walkway to a viewpoint, a small beach, and a couple restaurants. After taking in the views, we cruised back to Paracas.
What to Bring to Paracas National Reserve
Water & Snacks
Camera: If you want to capture some of the beautiful landscape
Sun Protection: There is no shade out here, so bring your hat and sunscreen.
Sunglasses: To protect your eyes from sunlight, sand, and wind while in the dune buggy or walking the coastline.
Layers: Sea breeze and cooler, cloudy mornings may require a jacket/windbreaker. But summer days here can also be extremely hot, so light layers are good to bring to be prepared.
Cash: Some extra soles to tip your guide and pay the national reserve entrance fee.
Swimsuit & Towel: If you have the opportunity to take a dip or sun on the shores at one of the many beaches in the reserve.
Passport or ID Card: Not necessary to bring to the reserve, but you may be required to present this when booking.