The Paracas Nature Reserve on a rocky desert peninsula and the guano-rich Ballestas Islands just off the Pacific coast, a short drive from Lima, are often visited en route to the Nazca Lines and Arequipa, but for wildlife lovers they are a real treat in their own right. Sealions, Humboldt penguins, pelicans, terns, cormorants and flamingoes thrive here, and the marine life is equally prolific, with dolphins, sharks and whales.
Between Paracas and Nazca, the town of Ica is the centre of Peru's pisco industry and viticulture. It sits in a fertile valley close to towering sand dunes, 50km from the sea. There's an interesting museum but the main reason for a visit is to discover the bodegas, or wineries, one or two if which offer delightful accommodation. A few km from the town is an oasis with a palm-fringed lagoon at the summer resort Huacachina.
The Nazca Lines, huge geometric designs and figures etched into a bleak, barren plain inland from the coast (3.5-4 hrs’ drive from Paracas and 7 from Lima), were carved around 2,000 years ago, possibly as an astronomical calendar. Close to Paracas is the port Pisco, from which you can take a light aircraft flight over the Nazca Lines.