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One of Lima's beautiful buildings
One of Lima's beautiful buildings
This small group of rock formations was located in the middle of the Humboldt Current that flows 2,000 miles from Antarctica along the Pacific coastline. The warm shallow waters along the Peruvian coast stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, which in turn stimulates an ecological food chain that culminates in the largest concentration of birds on earth. Guano collectors are the only humans allowed on the Islas with collections occurring once every 10 years.

The Paracas National Reserve includes the Paracas Bay and Peninsula along with the Islas Ballestas, which are located 10 miles off shore in the Pacific Ocean. Established in 1975 and the primary marine conservation center in Peru, the Reserve is two-thirds ocean. Dirt roads crisscross the hot desert land, reaching small fishing villages, and offering spectacular views of red, black or gray cliffs and beaches, as well as the ocean. The arid climate and layers of sand provided protection to the elaborate embroidered textiles that are now recognized as the finest representatives of pre-Columbian woven art.

We woke at 6 am in order to be ready for our ride to the harbor and the trip to the Islas Ballestras that was scheduled from 8-10:30 am. A 25-passenger speedboat provided the 10-mile ride to the islands. A cloudless sky provided a beautiful contrast to the varied blue and green shades of the water. The shoreline was hilly and arid but colorful due to the different mineral content in the soil. En route to the Islas, we viewed the Candelabro, a giant candelabra-like drawing etched into a cliff overlooking the bay. Although its history remains unknown, some believe it to be a ritualistic symbol of the Paracas or Nasca cultures, while others believe it served as a protective symbol or navigational guide for sailors and fishermen. Upon reaching the Islas, we viewed Humboldt penguins, the South American sea lion (nursing her pup), red-footed cormorants, the Peruvian booby and hundreds of other Guano producing birds perched upon the rocky cliffs. Several pods of dolphins were also observed.

At 11:30 we began the land tour of the Paracas National Reserve. Our local guide was more than pleased to share his wealth of knowledge of the Paracas culture dating from 7000 B.C until 200 A.D. Traveling over deserted salt covered dirt roads with sand dunes resembling a moonscape, we stopped to view the former Cathedral Rock formation that crumbled during the earthquake of 2007. The different mineral content in the cliffs resulted in a black beach as well as red beach, which were formed by the magnesium oxide in the cliffs. Along the shoreline, local residents were seen harvesting kelp to be used in the production of collagen.

Lunch was served at a picturesque fishing village on the bay. Large pelicans hovered at the doorway awaiting the discards from the cleaning of the fresh fish. Bass ceviche was delicious as was the chichi - a purple corn drink flavored with cinnamon. A quick stop at the local information center/museum completed our tour.

At 3 pm we returned to the La Hacienda to retrieve our luggage prior to the 6 pm bus departure to Nasca. Dick and I enjoyed a well-deserved cerveza following a busy day in the sun. We arrived in Nasca at 9 pm and were driven to the Hotel Majora that was located about 10 minutes from town, down a long bumpy dusty dirt road. A simple but delicious chicken and rice dinner was served at 10 pm. Although our room was small, it was comfortably furnished with antiques and framed fragments of ancient textiles. Doorways were ornately carved and colorful murals were painted on the walls.

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