Day 104 – 13 Jun, 2015
Scooting on up the Peruvian coast, my next stop was Paracas, famous for being the home of Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve. Islas Ballestas have garnered the nickname as the Poor Man’s Galapagos because it’s incredibly cheap to take a 2 hour boat trip to view the wildlife that call the islands home. For someone without the means or time to go to the actual Galapagos Islands, Ballestas is a convenient and worthwhile detour, but don’t be fooled into thinking these two places are the same.
Pisco, the town that is regarded for its grape brandy by the same name of pisco, is within a stone’s throw from Paracas so this seemed like a good place to begin. After spending nearly a month in Chile and a month in Peru, I have had my share of pisco sours, the cocktail that has caused much rivalry between the aforementioned countries (sorry, Chile, my allegiance lies with Peru on this one!). However, I had never tried a straight tasting of pisco itself. With a couple of friends, we hopped in a collectivo taxi to Pisco and were unceremoniously deposited in the middle of a crowded square. I think we all expected to see pisco bars lining the streets but we found nothing of the sort. In fact, it took us a handful of false starts to even find a place that had pisco at all! We came close on our second attempt at the Pisco Community Center, meaning that they didn’t have pisco but that a distinguished gentleman that appeared to own the joint sent his bartender somewhere out the back door, he was gone for quite a long time and then came back in the rear door with 3 pisco sours on a silver platter. So close…..!
Finally, we found it – the only pisco bar in the whole town of Pisco. By this time, we had already downed several pints of beer and a pisco sour during our search so drinking straight pisco probably wasn’t necessary, but when in Rome…. (I mean….Pisco)… The owner was all too pleased to have gringos in his bar so one by one we sampled 3 or 4 varieties – it becomes a bit hazy after the first two.
Stumbling back to Paracas late that night, we had to concede that our plans of an early boat tour to Ballestas the following day was not in the cards. As it turns out, Paracas is a quaint little fishing village with loads of family-owned seafood restaurants. There isn’t much to do there unless you visit the islands or the national park, but if you’re looking for a quiet place to relax, this is a good choice. Travel burnout was beginning to hit me hard. Add in a rockstar pisco hangover and the lack of sleep from the all-night disco next door to my room and a quiet day in Paracas was exactly what I needed.
On Day 3, it was time to voyage to Islas Ballestas. The tour to the islands is timed so that you can visit the national reserve in the same day and both are definitely worth a look. The islands are mostly composed of rock and are designated as a wildlife sanctuary for Humboldt penguins, fur seals, sea lions, blue-footed boobies (of Galapagos fame), pelicans, and a host of other bird species.
Paracas National Reserve, jutting out on the peninsula south of Paracas, is one of the only places in the world where the desert meets the ocean. Because of this, the landscape boasts stunning views from every direction. The red sand beaches, the dramatic cliffs, and the menacing sea – it’s almost hard to believe that a place like this is so accessible for visitors, yet so few people actually come. It’s also possible to hike and camp in the reserve and I can only imagine what it must be like to wake up in such an isolated universe. Next time…
I have very fond memories from my time in Paracas. There is not one thing that stands out as more significant there than anything else I have done or other places I have gone in the last few months, but the vibe of the town was exactly what I needed at exactly that time. It was nourishment for the soul when I was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed with my travel pace and trying to absorb too many experiences too quickly. This will undoubtedly happen on other occasions during my journey and it will probably not be the places I expect that will eventually help me get my travel mojo back. Paracas was one of those special places.