On the first leg of my journey across Peru, I stopped off at Paracas and nearby Hucachina, spending just one night in each. Both these places are relatively easy to do from Lima on a day/weekend trip too.
Prices in both places are high by Peruvian standards; their only real industry is tourism and so they charge accordingly. Food was more expensive and my (very basic) hostel rooms cost 80 soles each (£16/US$24). This is another reason that I opted for just one night in each place.
Paracas is a small seaside resort; you can walk through the town in around 20 minutes. As you drive in, there are a couple of resort-style hotels, a Hilton and a couple of others, then as you arrive in the town there is a little collection of backpacker hostels.
Paracas probably gets more visitors on a weekend, but when I was there on a Monday it was deathly quiet, leaving the numerous restaurants to fight for custom, accosting you as you walk by, proffering a menu and extolling the virtues of their food and beverages.
The main thing to visit Paracas for is the Ballestas Islands; you can get a speedboat out in the morning and see penguins, sea lions and all types of birds. I opted not to do the Ballestas tour, because I’d already seen plenty of penguins in Argentina and I really didn’t fancy the early start. I thought I’d benefit more from a little lie-in, but as it turned out I was awake early anyway; isn’t that always the case?
Other than that there is the beach. The best section is up by the Hilton. They try to give the impression that this is private but it isn’t and you can go up there regardless of where you are staying.
Paracas National Park
Also, you can take a little tour of the Paracas National Reserve. I saw people hiring bikes to do this, although it is quite a tough ride. However our Peruhop bus included this anyway. There is a small visitor centre, but its main attraction is some dramatic cliffs where sea meets desert.
Next day I moved on to Hucachina, a little oasis in the desert with a few hotels/hostels and restaurants arranged around a lake close to Ica. This is only around an hour’s drive from Paracas.
You can walk around the lake in about 15 minutes. Other things to do include getting the dune buggy up the sand dunes (or climbing up them if your calf muscles can take it).
Whilst there you can also visit nearby vineyards. I went to the El Catador vineyard, but there are others and the numerous tour/taxi people are always keen to take you there.
At El Catador they still trample the grapes by foot, employing people for the season in February-March who then tread grapes for long 10-hour nights (too hot in the day).
They produce a couple of sweet wines, but their main product is Pisco, a 42 percent spirit used in their national drink of Pisco Sour (prepared with egg white, lime juice, a sugar syrup, and bitters) and also drunk neat as a shot.
Both Chile and Peru claim ownership of this drink. It is named after the nearby town of Pisco. As with Champagne needing to come from the Champagne region, Pisco should come from the Pisco region, however the cunning Chileans now have recently re-named a Chilean town as Pisco, so the rivalry continues.