In the south of Peru, a desert that meets the sea, rich in archeological remains, marine fossils and wildlife, in 1975 became a protected area: the Paracas National Reserve. Though, the regional wildlife reaches up to Ballestas Islands, located minutes away by boat from Paracas. The name Paracas comes from the words "para" and "akos", which combined, in the Quechua language, means "sand rain". It is a usual phenomenon of this windy area, with beautiful desertic landscapes, past civilizations' mysteries, and wildlife habitat that we are about to discover.
Paracas is named after a culture that used to inhabit the area approximately from 600 BCE to 200 CE, preceding the Nazca culture. Through the discoveries, it was inferred that people from the Paracas culture used to have a simple life based on fishing and agriculture, though they stood out in two things. One is the anatomy, with evidence of cranial deformation (practiced in order to differentiate the elite) and successful cranial surgeries. The other was weaving, being considered one of the cultures with better textile creations on the continent. Julio C. Tello Site Museum, located within the desert of the reserve, exposes interesting archeological discoveries of this culture.
Every morning, several boats depart from the Paracas town to Ballestas Islands. Nevertheless, one of the points of major interest can be seen long before arriving at them. It is El Candelabro, a 181-meter geoglyph, located on a hill of the peninsula - big enough to be seen several kilometers away. Its name, which means “the chandelier”, was given because of its shape, though, is not truly appropriate for one reason. The geoglyph was there before the arrival of Europeans to America, thus, chandeliers, as we know them, did not exist in that part of the world. In fact, what it truly represents is unknown. But it is even more curious to think that this geoglyph made on the sand survived for hundreds of years in an extremely windy place. In fact, it is so windy that, for safety, tourist boats only operate in the mornings. On top of that, some locals claim that golden reflects were seen in the geoglyph's strokes at some point.
Leaving the peninsula, after some minutes of navigation, Ballestas Islands start to show up. No humans inhabit these small rocky islands. Instead, they are crowded with seals, sea lions, Humboldt penguins, pelicans, guano birds and more sea fauna. Observing them in the capricious rock formations, which are their home, is a nice experience.
Back on land, it is time to explore the reserve. It can be toured by car, buggy, quad bike or bicycle. If you choose the last option, have in mind that it is a very windy desert zone. Therefore, the ride can be tough but worth it if you like physical challenges. The Paracas National Reserve is the northern limit of the desert area that continues after the Atacama Desert, the aridest ecosystem of South America. In the middle of the desert is the archeological museum, and, continuing to the west, is the sea with several beaches of colored sand, contrasting the blue sea.
On those beaches, sea birds make constant spectacles in the air. Species that migrate from different regions of the continent, such as seagulls, oystercatchers and flamingos, meet in this littoral. Futher than that, the underwater life is also significant, and Paracas is an important reservoir of marine fossils.
It is curious to think of how many animal species made this desert their home, as once humans from the Paracas and Nazca cultures did too. Paracas National Reserve, the desertic home of sea wildlife and past civilizations' mysteries, shows us that nature is not always green. It can be all colors and amaze us in many distinct ways.
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.