The Paracas Peninsula, and the Ballestas Islands that lie off its shore, comprise one of the world’s most important marine reserves. Created in 1975, this 839,800-acre (340,000 ha) protected zone is the migratory home to thousands of sea lions, penguins and other sea mammals, and more than 215 species of birds, some of which come from as far away as the Arctic Circle and Tierra del Fuego.
The peninsula was named after the Paracas culture, which flourished between 300 B.C and 200 A.D. by mastering the art of irrigation to channel precious water so that barely a drop was wasted.
The Paracas people – renowned for their extraordinarily fine textiles – were accomplished at Trepanation, a crude but effective form of brain surgery. They also practiced the intentional deformation of infants’ skulls with wooden boards and sashes to elongate the head, considered an epitome of esthetic beauty.
Examples of these practices can be seen at the reserve’s Julio Tello site museum, with artifacts and mummies from as early as 700 B.C. One of the cliffsides is also the site of a pre-Columbian geoglyph called the Candelabro etched into the arid, sandy face of the hill. The giant etching, at least 165 feet (50 m) long, is best seen from sea.