A journey South to Paracas and Ica begins at one of Lima’s bus terminals such as Soyuz, or Cruz del Sur. Travel time to Pisco, 240km’s is about 3hr 30mins by bus. If your bus doesn’t go directly to Paracas, then get off in Pisco, and take a taxi to Paracas. There are plenty of hotel accommodations in the small village, which lies in the Atacama Desert in the Paracas National Preserve, and along the shores of Pisco Bay.
The number one attraction in Paracas is a two hour boat tour of the Ballestas Islands. Numerous speed boats take turns docking against the pier in a sort of pecking order, as tourists pour over the side of the pier into the boats which fills up quickly. At the entrance to the pier sits a booth which charges an entry fee to enter the preserve, and everything seemed straight forward at first. However, it was a disorganized chaos, or so it seemed while waiting in line to purchase a ticket. Several tour boat operator touts were rattling off different prices like an auction in reverse. Break out your negotiating skills here to try for a better deal. A Russian entrepreneur has built a new pier beside the old one, as well as a terminal with a small aquarium which should all be operational by now. I took this trip in August 2014.
The boat tours are typically from 8:00 – 10:30 am when the sea is calm. Try to get a seat on the sides of the boat rather than the middle, so you can get better pictures. But still, it’s difficult to get great shots without someone’s head, hands or arms entering your frame. A zoom lens helps to weed out some of that, and get closer shots of the wildlife.
The Ballestas Islands are a wonderful place to see one of the world’s largest sea lion populations, and as many as 150 marine bird species, including the Humboldt Penguin, Cormorants, and the Peruvian booby. It was very nice to see these animals in their natural habitat, and that more than makes up for a crowded boat.
During the 19th century the islands provided Peru with much of its economic inflow, as they contain a byproduct of the marine birds that inhabit these islands; vast quantities of ‘Guano’ (bird droppings). It is estimated that 20M tons of guano was exported from Peru’s islands to Europe for use as fertilizer, before artificial fertilizer was invented in the twentieth century.
Ica’s Huacachina Desert Oasis
For my trip to Huacachina, I first took a taxi back to the bus terminal in Pisco, and then onto Ica, which is 76km and a little over an hour’s time. I cannot say a lot about Ica as I didn’t spend much time there. It was bigger and busier than what I was expecting and has plenty of accommodation. Instead I caught a taxi and headed for Huacachina, a natural desert oasis amongst some of the world’s tallest sand dunes. Here the traveler can find accommodation, restaurants, bars, clubs, discotecs, sandboarding, and dune buggies. Many of the hostels offer an adventure with each night’s stay. (I.e. a Pisco Winery Tour or Dune Buggies etc.)
I had planned another trip to Huacachina just a few months ago but it happened to fall on a Peruvian holiday. Everything was booked in Huacachina and Ica, except for a few rooms, and those were in the hundreds of dollars. Weekends and holidays, especially during the winter months when people in Lima want to escape the gray skies and head for some sunshine will fill up and be twice as expensive. Buses and hostels alike will double their prices on Peruvian Holidays.