<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=766060260189124&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

The Paracas Peninsula + Other Weekend Trips On The Peru Coast

Posted by Jen King on 12/11/23 11:31 AM

ILP Peru

Red cliffs jutting up to sandy beaches and the bluest of ocean views — wow wow wow Peru! While most travelers head right to popular destinations like the Rainbow Mountains and Machu Picchu, we've fallen in love with the Pacific coastline.

Our first stop along the western edge of Peru is always going to be the Paracas Peninsula. The National Reserve is stunning in its own right, but another perk is that this area packs in so many must-see spots that are close by.

ILP volunteers are living in a sleepy fishing port in Pisco, right on the coast, but just head a bit further north and south and you'll find colorful cities, surfing, penguins, ancient Inca geoglyphs, and the Paracas Peninsula! You can spend just about every weekend taking off for a new adventure. 

Volunteering In Peru
Learn more about this ILP Adventure Abroad


When you think of Peru, are mountaintop ruins popping into view? They're iconic! But there's so much more to Peru and we're excited to introduce you to the Paracas Peninsula + beyond!

This is where the desert meets the sea. “Paracas” actually comes from Quechua words which means “rain of sand”, pointing to the strong winds that regularly whip across the sandy coastline. Here are a few highlights you can't miss:

The Ballestas Islands

Just a couple of flights north of Pisco sits the world-famous Galapagos islands in Ecuador. A trip to the Galapagos definitely makes the ultimate dream vacation list for most travelers, but for those on a budget, you've got a much more accessible version right here in your backyard.

Peru's Ballestas Islands are rocky cliff edges inhabited by a variety of species, similar to what you may find in the Galapagos (it's even nicknamed "the poor man's Galapagos".

Keep your eyes peeled for sunbathing sea lions as well as dolphins, and cormorants. There are thousands of birds, Blue-footed Boobies, and even Humboldt penguins! Humpback whales migrate from August to October, so our Summer and Fall ILP groups may get lucky and spot some.



Peru is typically known for more famous Incan sites, but it's actually one of the most biodiverse countries in the world! A lot of that is thanks to the rainforest, but the Ballestas islands give you so much more. These little islands just outside of Pisco are one of the best wildlife experiences that you'll find in Peru.

The protected Ballestas are seen by boat tours, and it's really easy to book a tour. Most are two hour tours leaving from nearby Paracas town and typically cost in the $20-25 USD range. Check to see if your tour includes the entry fee and port tax (otherwise those will be in addition).

The nice thing about the boat tours is that they also put you in the perfect viewpoint to see an ancient geoglyph carved in the Pisco Bay, the Candelabro.

Screenshot 2023-11-22 at 3.44.49 PM

Paracas + The National Reserve

Just south of the Ballestas island is the Paracas Peninsula. Paracas is a once small fishing town that now acts as the best jumping off point for travelers who want to visit the entire surrounding National Paracas Reserve.

The reserve is most famous for the red desert cliffs jutting up to the coastline. Because the entire area is pretty expansive, you might want to focus your time on a few highlights.

Head To The Beach

There are tons of beaches to choose from, but these few right in the peninsula's cove are some of the most accessible and most popular.

El Chaco is the closest beachy-beach to where ILP volunteers live, about a 20-25 minute drive away. You actually can take a quick walk over to the coast from your house, but if you're looking for a nicer beach to relax at for the day, El Chaco is one of the good ones. Because it's so close to Paracas town, it's usually one of the busier beaches with lots of vendors and tours available.

El Chaco AdobeStock_134383435

La Mina is a great little cove with a sandy beach that's popular with both locals and tourists alike! It's a popular one and also can get pretty busy, especially during the warmer months of the year. You've got to visit at least once (especially ILP volunteers who are living so close), but know that you'll find other spots to love just as much as you explore more of the peninsula. Don't make this your last stop in Paracas.

Screenshot 2023-11-22 at 3.44.34 PM

Playa El Raspon is just down the coast from La Mina and while it does get quite a few visitors, it's often a better option if La Mina is too crowded that day.

Playa Roja is by far the most photographed. There are no vendors and you can't swim at this particular beach, so it's typically tour operators swinging visitors by for a quick photo of the iconic red sand views.


Screenshot 2023-11-25 at 12 copy


Paracas town is only 30 minutes away so you'll likely come enjoy the area more than once during your semester in Pisco. There's so much to explore here! 

Since it's so close, ILP volunteers could just always make it a day trip from the house in Pisco. Paracas town is a popular hub though which makes it an ideal spot for a staycation if you wanted to spend the night. There's something for every budget, from beachside resorts to budget hostels, so you really can customize the trip to what you're looking for.

Here are a few budget hostels you might want to check out with good reviews.

  1. Paracas Backpackers House
  2. Hospedaje Mary
  3. Viajero Kokopelli Hostel Paracas

Explore By Tour

Tours are so popular in Peru and there's no shortage around the Paracas Peninsula.

There are so many tour options that will get you out and around the reserve. It's best to just do a Google search to find the ones that best fit what you're looking for. Make sure to compare what they include (do they include entrance fees, pickup at your location, etc) and always read through the reviews before you book. You'll want to go with a more reputable tour.

Civitatis — a 2 hour bus tour of the reserve (it's a quick stop at each area, but you can also make a note of which places you want to go back to!)
Bamba — full day tour of both the Reserve and Ballestas Islands

Explore By Bicycle

If you're more of a DIY, off-the-beaten-path type of adventurer, this might be right up your alley! It's easy to rent a bike in Paracas for the day, escape the crowds, and discover your own spots along the Reserve's coastline. 

These bloggers mapped out a route around the peninsula that took a full day of cycling, but you could use their recommendations to pick and choose certain spots if you're not in for the full 30km commitment.

Oh and fun fact ... pink flamingos play in the ocean from July-November, so that's a cool bonus If you're here during the Summer and Fall trips with ILP.


Laguna Moron

Just about 12 miles to the east of Pisco (where ILP volunteers are living) sits "the hidden Oasis of Ica". A swimmable lagoon hidden right in the middle of the dunes!

It's totally off the tourist radar — you won't find vendors, shops, or crowds here. Just little straw huts offering safe haven from the sun and a wooden dock. The locals are keen on preserving the land and keeping it in its natural state.

It's just a quiet little spot to come relax for the day and a nice break from the salty sea ... plus the water is warm! Oh and we've heard that sunset out here is so stunning too. 

You'll need to get yourself to Bernales first. The DIY option is to take a colectivo from Pisco (it's public transportation like a little minibus) to the eastern outskirts of the city, in San Clemente, which puts you close to the highway heading towards Ayacucho. From there you can take a combi (another little minibus) out to Bernales. Or you could hire a taxi for the day, who will take you straight to your destination and back.

From Bernales it's a bit of a trek walking about an hour down a sandy road to get out to the lagoon or it's possible to hire a company to take you out here. It really is off the beaten path but once you arrive, you'll be so glad you make the trek to this hidden gem.

It's free to visit so the only cost is transportation getting here.

adobestock Laguna Moron


Tambo Colorado

Only a few miles further east of Laguna Moron are these incredibly well-preserved ruins, said to be the most intact Incan ruins in Peru. Once upon a time, these ruins served as lodging for travelers. Today though, you can wander through and admire the unique architecture.

Like the lagoon, these ruins are pretty under the radar. It's just a short drive from Pisco though, so hiring a taxi to get out here and back is a cinch. It's a perfect little day trip if you're looking for something to do on a Saturday while you're volunteering here.

It's popular to combine Tambo Colorado and Laguna Moron into one day trip from Pisco because they're so close. If you hire a taxi for the day, just let them know you're interested in seeing both!


Nazca Lines

There's another piece of history in this area that you can't miss! Further down the coast, south from Paracas, is a 450 square kilometer UNESCO Heritage Site that is home to a set of geoglyphs carved into the desert ground.

Scientists believe that the majority of lines were made by the Nasca people, from around A.D. 1 to 700. The geoglyphs depict everything from geometric lines to imaginary figures and living creatures. They're huge too ... some lines run up to 30 miles and can be seen from the sky. 

But why are they there? It's still a mystery today, but some theorize that they were paths leading to water where rituals were performed. But it's all based on educated guesses at this point. It's so unique, which makes it a must on the Peru to-do list!

The best way to see the area is overhead by a small plane. Just book a tour online to get about a 30 minute flight over the area. Most have an option for pickup, which makes getting out here even easier. It's not the cheapest excursion, but there are tours for just over $100 USD which isn't bad for such a cool experience!

While seeing it from the sky is unrivaled, if you're not a fan of small planes or want to take the cheaper option, you can also catch a view of the lines by climbing a small tower (there's just a small fee to use the tower). This post has a little more information on getting there.

There are some other sites in the south of Peru that you might want to see, like Arequipa. So this would be a good activity to add on if you're already heading south!

Screenshot 2023-11-22 at 4.59.41 PM-1


There is a little desert oasis, surrounded by 360 degree walls of sweeping sand dunes. And the photos are d-r-e-a-m-y! It's only about 1.5 hours or so outside of Pisco, so this makes for a pretty unique and easy day trip.

You'll first want to take the bus from Paracas to Ica, a city in central Peru. From Ica it's just a 15 minute mototaxi ride to get out to Huacachina (they look like the tuk-tuks you'll see around Asia).

Huacachina is a very small town, with a little lake. There's not a ton to do here ... the dunes are the big pull (not to mention those killer views).


Sandboarding is snowboarding ... but on sand. And it's really popular here. But you can even swap for skiing if that's more your style.

It's easy to DIY it for cheap by renting equipment and simply walking up the dunes that are right on the edge of town. You can also book a tour with a professional who can take you out a bit further and really get you going. A lot of people say sandboarding isn't as easy as it looks, so this helps ensure you get the full experience. Those tours are typically in the $55 USD range.

Paddle Boats

It's possible to swim in the lake in the center of town, but it's not recommended. There are paddle boats you can rent instead for around 50 soles ($13 USD) for 1 hour.

Screenshot 2023-11-29 at 3.42.30 PM

Screenshot 2023-11-29 at 3.44.30 PM



This hidden gem is giving serious Grutas de Tolantango vibes (our favorite mountainside hot springs in Mexico). Peru keeps dishing out the surprises and this one is stuuuuuunning! While all of the tourists are heading to the Sacred Valley, you can get off the beaten path at the Millpu's cascading pools.

First get to Ayacucho, a city in central Peru. You can book a tour of Millpu departing from Ayacucho (it's a good idea to do so ahead of time, especially if you're visiting in the high season). Most tours are a full day because it's a 3 hour windy drive to get out into the canyon. In total, you'll spend more time in the car than you will at the pools, but your reward is that long series of turquoise + green pools and waterfalls that make their way down the steep canyon. Beautiful.

It's a bit of a journey to get here which is probably why so many tourists miss it, but we love that this scenic spot comes sans crowds ... for now anyways. It's starting to become more and more known, so this is a perfect time to come visit before it makes the list of top Peru spots to visit. And no, you can't swim here or stand on the ledges of each pool (it's a strict rule to protect the environment).

The Millpu Pools are about halfway between Lima and Cusco. You might even want to just tack this stop onto a vacation to Cusco if you're an ILP volunteer coming from Pisco, otherwise, get yourself to the city of Ayacucho first and then book a tour of Millpu from there. It's just a quick 1 hour flight to Ayacucho from Lima.

AdobeStock_542397097 copy



Lima is not only the capital of the country but also the largest city in Peru.

For ILP volunteers living in Pisco, it's the largest city nearby (about 4 hours drive away) with an international airport. You'll be here at various times throughout the semester as you fly in and out, but there's so much more to Lima than just being a transit city.

The city center, Centro Histórico, is home to some stunning architecture — check out the Plaza de Armas and the Basílica y Convento de San Francisco. Miraflores and Barranco are two neighborhoods that are popular to explore on foot. Miraflores offers upscale shopping, a boardwalk with ocean views, and even ancient pyramid ruins (Huaca Pucllana), while Barranco is much more on the artsy side.  

There's a small park, Parque del Amor, that is inspired by Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain and you can try your hand at surfing off the coast with beginner lessons. There's so much to see in this capital!

Screenshot 2023-11-30 at 9.24.10 AM

AdobeStock_550384741 (1)

Spend a semester abroad on the coast of Peru!

Join a group of ILP volunteers — you'll be spending a few months living just north of Paracas, volunteering to help kids learn English, and still have plenty of time to explore all Peru has to offer. It's a great way to immerse yourself into another culture all while having the support of new friends with your ILP group. Learn more by clicking that button!

Discover Peru


Topics: South America

Hey friends!

We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

  • There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.

Need More Travel Tips + Volunteering Updates?

Popular Posts