Paracas, Peru’s unexpected nature reserve

The vast protected area sees a stark Sahara-style desert bump up against a turbulent sea packed with an astonishing abundance of marine life.

The reserve makes a thrilling weekend getaway from Lima, or the perfect stopover on the way to the Nazca lines.

Imagine being surrounded by giant, shifting sand dunes beneath the glare of a tropical sun and with not a plant in sight. You could be in the Sahara, of course. But you might just as well be in Paracas, the vast nature reserve a four-hour drive south of Lima. Covering some 335,000 hectares of land and sea, the reserve straddles Peru’s Pacific coastline. It also marks one of the starkest clashes of ecosystems you are likely to see anywhere on earth. Just as the Paracas desert is bone dry and barren, the stretch of the Pacific Ocean that it abuts along a series of remote, spectacular windswept beaches is home to one of the most diverse and abundant marine ecosystems on Planet Earth. Everything from plankton to Humpback Whales frolic here. So too do hoards of sea lions, penguins and pelicans.

Paracas once again proves that Peru has as great a variety of landscapes as any nation on earth. Our country is, famously, home to the Andes, the world’s second highest mountain range. But two thirds of Peru is in the Amazon basin, a vast tropical rainforest twice the size of California. In fact, only three nations, Brazil, Congo and Indonesia, have more jungle than Peru. But then Peru also has its coastal desert. And the jewel in the crown of that desert is Paracas. The name actually derives from a term in the indigenous Quechua language meaning “rain of sand”. That’s because Paracas can have some astonishingly strong winds — which can make it a wonderful place for expert windsurfers and kite surfers, although not so much for beginners.

Some love to camp out on its beaches, including anglers who set up barbeques for their freshly caught fish. But there are also several top level hotels just outside the reserve for those who want to enjoy its stark natural beauty during a 4x4 foray from their luxury digs. Other activities include boat tours around the Paracas peninsula to see the marine wildlife, sometimes including snorkeling with the sea lions, and to view a vast candelabra carved into the rocky shore of one island by members of the mysterious Paracas culture some 6,000 years ago. If you are looking for something different in Peru, then Paracas is waiting for you.

To visit Paracas as part of your unique, individually tailored itinerary, contact the Peru Empire Company at or on +51-1-700-5100 or, if you are in the US, 347-713-7030/34.


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