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You can peek at penguins, spot sea lions and see blue-footed boobies in their natural habitat in Paracas (also known as El Chaco). This destination is said to be Peru's answer to Ecuador's Galapagos Islands. The seaside town is the gateway to the uninhabited Islas Ballestas and Paracas National Reserve, where the orange-tinged desert meets the deep blue sea on the Paracas Peninsula. From boat trips in the wildlife-rich ocean to cycle rides past wetlands filled with flamingos, there's tons to do in this region.
Pick from hostels in Paracas with beachside locations and stand-up paddle-boards, spots with pools in their grounds, and family-run places with a friendly vibe. There's a handful of restaurants in town, but hostels with a shared kitchen come in handy for giving you more choice. Some Paracas hostels organise local tours, as well as trips to the desert oasis of Huacachina or the pisco wineries of Ica, where you can sample Peru's national brandy-like drink. You can easily find a Paracas hostel with free Wi-Fi to find out more about the local area.
Paracas is pretty small – it's made up of just a few streets – but this just means you'll always be close to everything, wherever you land in town. Check out the restaurants that line the coast and the main street too. These are ideal for seeking out Peruvian specialties such as ceviche, a raw fish dish soaked in lime. Just up the coast is the port city of Pisco, dotted with grand buildings and historic plazas, and set against a backdrop of rolling green hills.
The main thing to do in Paracas is tour around the islands by boat, where you'll be whisked from the main pier towards the bird-covered land mass out in the sea, complete with the intriguing Paracas Candelabra – a prehistoric marking – on its side. Set aside a morning to do this, then at least another day to tackle the large national park area, where you'll see windswept cliffs, a dramatic coastline and orange-toned beaches.
You can cycle around Paracas National Park, take a bus tour, or go to the islands by boat. Buses come and go from either Avenida Paracas near the centre of Paracas, or the Cruz del Sur terminal towards Ica, a journey that takes about an hour – it's the place for connections to Huacachina. Peru's capital, Lima, is around a 5-hour trip away by bus.