“Paracas, the Natural Paradise”
Paracas is not only a small Peruvian city but also a peninsula, a bay, a pre-Inca cultural site and national marine reserve.
In Paracas, the desert and the sea meet to form a spectacular landscape. The name Paracas derives from the Quechua language and means “Raining Sand”. Located at 245 km (152 miles) south of Lima on the Pan-Americana Highway, Paracas is not only a superb ecological destination but also an important cultural and historical site.
Birdwatchers are in heaven here: the cliffs that fringe the beaches are teeming with millions of birds that live here year-round, and thousands of others that migrate here from the northern hemisphere and, more surprisingly, considering the latitude, from the southern hemisphere, such as the Humboldt penguins that call Paracas home.
The Ballestas Islands are a group of small islands located off the Paracas peninsula. They’re also known as the “poor man’s Galapagos” or “the mini-Galapagos of Peru” because of their prolific wildlife and the astonishing scenery they offer to visitors.
Composed largely of rock formations, these islands are an important sanctuary for marine fauna, such as the Guanay Guano bird, the Blue-footed Booby and the Tendril. The quantity of birds is impressive!
Other notable species include Humboldt Penguins, fur seals and sea lions – amongst other mammals. The sea lions on the islands are almost choir-like in their bellowing. They’re heard all about the Ballestas, adding their sonorous “songs” to the raw beauty of the islands.
On the way to the islands – on the Paracas Peninsula –visitors will see El Candelabro (the Candelabra). The Paracas Candelabra is a prehistoric geoglyph nearly 183 meters (600 feet) tall on the north face of a ridge on the peninsula. This mysterious geoglyph is believed to date from the Paracas culture approximately 200 BC and may have served as a beacon to mariners. The mystery as to the origins of this particular geoglyph is on going with much speculation.
Tourists are not allowed to disembark, in an effort to preserve the archaeological integrity of the area.
Paracas National Reserve
Established in 1975, the Paracas National Reserve is the oldest marine reserve in Peru and most importantly is the only marine reserve in Peru designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is dedicated to the protection and the conservation of marine ecosystems and features unique flora and fauna and a large variety of migratory bird species.
The Reserve consists of the Paracas Peninsula, coastal areas and a portion of tropical desert, a total of 335,000 ha (approx. 827,000 acres): 217,594 ha (approx. 537,000 acres) are marine waters and 117,406 (approx. 290,000 acres) are mainland.
Within the Reserve there are approximately 1,543 species of flora and fauna: 216 bird species (native and migratory), 19 mammal species, 52 fish species and 6 species of reptiles. Several species found in the reserve are considered vulnerable, such as the Kelp Gull, the Black Skimmer and the American Oystercatcher.
The Reserve’s other main purpose is the protection of the cultural and historical heritage of the pre-Inca Paracas culture. Within the reserve, we find the Pampa de Santo Domingo, where archaeologists have dated human remains to 6,500 BC. They’ve also found a decorated quena (flute), believed to be the first musical instrument of Peru. Pottery nearby was dated to 200 BC, placing it within the Paracas culture.
The Paracas National Reserve is considered to be one of the richest and most unusual ecosystems in the world and is recognized by Ramsar (an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands) as a wetland of international importance.