When most picture Peru in their head, the image of Machu Picchu and the high Andes or the lush green Amazon comes to their mind. Most forget that the entire coastline from Tacna near the border with Chile all the way up to Piura is desert. It’s dry, brown, and empty. High sand dunes, some of the tallest in the world, are more common than trees.
Paracas, three hours south of Lima, has long been known as a jumping off point for the Islas Ballestas, nicknamed the poor man’s Galapagos. There have always been a few simple guesthouses in the small seaside village, though nothing to write home about. In 2009, three large resorts opened on the edge of the national reserve fronting Paracas Bay, just down shore from the town of Pisco, which was nearly wiped out in a 2007 earthquake.
The first hotel to open was the Doubletree/Hilton, then came La Hacienda, and finally the Luxury Collection Libertador Hotel Paracas, which was built out of the rubble of the original Hotel Paracas that was destroyed in the earthquake. While the ocean here is windy and murky and better for wind surfing, each hotel has added large pool areas and trendy daybeds to enhance the resort feel. Peruvian chains Aranwa and Jose Antonio are also constructing new hotels here.
Now, apart from trips to the Islas Ballestas, there are flyovers of the Nazca Lines, organized trips to Pisco Distilleries in nearby Ica, and desert dune buggy and sandboarding tours at the Huacachina Oasis. Other beaches such as Asia closer to Lima, Huanchaco in Trujillo, and Mancora in the far north are better for a traditional beach atmosphere, but Paracas is unique. It’s isn’t a traditional beach atmosphere. It’s true desert. It’s far away and empty. It’s a real escape.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.