Our first two stops on the Peru Hop system were Paracas and Huacachina, Peru. They're both very small towns a couple hours south of Lima so we thought we'd group them together because we didn't spend much time in both places.
Paracas is the main town in the Ica Region of Peru and about four hours south of Lima. It's a very small, somewhat dingy, port town where everything revolves around the tourism and the fishing boats. Paracas is bordered by the ocean on one side and the desert on another. It consists of one main road, a few hostels and hotels, and the beach is lined with small restaurants and locals selling goods. The reason we stopped for the night in Paracas (and the main reason to visit) is the tours to Paracas National Reservation and Islas Ballestas.
The day we arrived in Paracas we got up early for the first tour- the tour of Paracas National Park. It was done by the Peru Hop bus and took about two hours. We started off driving through the desert of the national reservation. Paracas National Reservation is made up of the Paracas desert, archeological sites from the pre-Inca culture, and beautiful cliffs overlooking the ocean. The entire reservation used to be the ocean floor we were told by the guide and a ton of pre-historic fossils have been found here. We stopped at multiple viewpoints and had an incredible view of the rocky coastline from Playa Roja (Red Beach)- one of the most beautiful beaches in the park due to the red color of the shoreline. We also had the opportunity to see La Catedral, a large rock formation off the coast that now stands almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in recent years. Unfortunately, the day we visited the weather was overcast and not as clear as we'd hoped.
The next morning we were ready for the second tour which was completely different from the national reserve. Islas Ballestas is Paracas' wildlife attraction and definitely the highlight of our stay! It's considered the 'poor man's Galapagos' and even though Ron doesn't think they even compare, there's still amazing wildlife to see. Luckily the weather completely cleared up too! The tour was two hours by boat and took us about thirty minutes offshore to a cluster of 'islands' that are actually huge rock formations. The guide suggested them to be around 2,000 years old. They're now protected and considered wildlife sanctuaries. And they are covered in wildlife! Which is why we never actually got off the boat. Penguins, sea lions, and THOUSANDS of birds are everywhere. While the thousands of birds were flying overhead, I realized quickly why everyone onboard was wearing a hat! Unfortunately no one had given us the hint. We trolled around the islands for a while spotting small penguins and sea lions sunbathing all over. We even stopped momentarily at sea lion beach where twenty-thirty sea lions and their babies hung out.
Huacachina, Peru is an awesome place just over an hour southwest of Paracas. This is the town we stopped in for one night... to sandboard! It's a very small town and a desert oasis surrounded by towering sand dunes. We were in awe of the landscape! The town is centered around a beautiful and large lagoon, but we spent most of our time in the dunes. Most visitors in Huacachina are members of PeruHop. During the ride on the PeruHop bus to Huacachina we selected Casa de Arena from the list ($25/night).
The sandboarding tour is about three hours and can only be done in the late afternoon when the sand won't blister your feet. We walked out front of our hostel at 3:30PM and joined the other travelers for the tour. There were people from around the world- China, England, Australia, California. For the first time in a while we weren't the only travelers from the states! At 4PM a caravan of dune/sand buggies were parked along the street and everyone climbed inside. Everyone buckled up and got their GoPros filming. I looked around the buggy at the cage reassuring myself an accidental flip wouldn't be so bad (nervous giggle). Half the tour is filled with riding the dune buggies up and down the dunes at very high speeds with a professional driver. The other half is spent sandboarding down the HUGE sand dunes until sunset. Most people ride the snowboards down on their stomachs like I did. But, if you're an experienced snowboarder like Ron, you can ride down standing. Only two people (Ron and another guy) in our group had the courage to try it standing up! The entire tour is a thrill and so much fun! But it's also more than just a thrill, the dunes, desert, and view are absolutely incredible- especially at sunset. The tour ended in one more round of high speed drive through the dunes as the sun set and the sky was full of colors.
Ron in Paracas National Reservation.
Hotel Residencial Los Frayles. Were we stayed for a night in Paracas.
View of the beach and water from a restaurant in Paracas.
The small main strip along the beach filled with restaurants and shops.
So many vendors! We usually stay away from these packed places, but they're fun to walk around.
Paracas National Reserve
The PeruHop bus that took us into the national reservation.
La Catedral, destroyed by an earthquake in 2007.
Looking down on Playa Roja.
Starting the tour in the harbor.
View of Nazca Lines along the way to Islas Ballestas.
Views along the way.
Covered in birds!
We started spotting wild sea lions on the rocks everywere!
Don't worry... he's only sleeping!
This guy too. He made my back ache just looking at him.
Sea lion beach.
Casa de Arenas in Huacachina.
Inside our dune buggy.
Three other groups getting ready to sandboard down.
If you look closely you can see someone sandboarding!
About to sandboard down!
The sun starting to set.
Our green buggy on the right.
All the dune buggies gathered to view the lagoon.
Huacachina surrounding the lagoon.