A four-hour (30PEN/CAD$10.50) bus ride down the smooth Pan-American Highway is all it takes to land yourself in Pisco. We went with PeruBus, but several other companies make the trip from various bus terminals in Lima. We bought our tickets ahead of time through the hostel and were charged 10PEN/CAD$3.50 extra on each ticket. To avoid being overcharged, we suggest taking a taxi to the terminal of your choice and just buying a ticket the day of your travel. The buses stop on the highway just outside of Pisco, so grab a taxi (there will be many hawkers waiting for the buses) into town (3PEN/CAD$1).
Pisco is a small desert town that was annihilated by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in 2007. Hundreds of people were killed in Pisco and 85% of the town was destroyed. It will take them years to rebuild.
Pisco is an interesting and dusty town. The main square is surrounded by banks, pharmacies, municipal buildings, etc. Just a few blocks southwest on Fermín Tengüis is the local market where mototaxis, combis, and people abound; definitely worth a visit. Organised chaos is probably the best way to describe it (and Peru in general).
To the south of the Plaza de Armas is Plaza Belen which seems like a more authentic town square. You will also find a grocery store here too.
We stayed at Hostal Tambo Colorado, Avenida Bolognesi 159 (1 night, double room, 30PEN/CAD$10 per person). It was a great hostel and the owner makes a killer Pisco Sour!
We took a stroll down Avenida Jose de San Martin (heading west off the main square), and this gave us an idea of the damage the city sustained. The guidebooks warn that this street is dangerous, and while we wouldn’t recommend walking it at night, we had no problems.
This avenue will take you to the ocean. There’s no real beach, just a marshy/sandy type area. We walked the extremely damaged (but safe enough!) boardwalk with locals out with their families and fishermen trying to catch a meal. At the end of the boardwalk, we were surprised by a show from some sea lions who were out swimming and fishing.
The real attraction here are the Ballestas Islands. Boats leave from El Chaco waterfront (just down the road from Pisco) and tours of the islands are a lot cheaper if bought there. Expect to pay about 35-40PEN/CAD$12-15 for a 2-3 hour boat tour, depending on how your haggling skills are.
To get to El Chaco take a combi marked “El Chaco-Paracas” from the market in Pisco. This will cost about 1.50PEN/CAD$0.50. Catching the combi may seem a daunting task, but it is much easier than it appears. At the Pisco market on Fermin Tenguis, the combis line up and shout their destinations. On the way back to Pisco the combis pick on the other side of the road.
As soon as we stepped out of the combi, we were swarmed by tour operators, so choosing a tour and talking them down is easy enough.
There are some overpriced, touristy restaurants along the El Chaco waterfront, so we ducked down some of the smaller side streets where we found cheaper sandwich and juice places to grab a bite to eat while we waited for our boat to leave.
The tour was well worth the money. We were bombarded with sea lions, boobies, and guano at every turn.
Our next stop is Ayacucho. To get to Ayacucho we had to take a taxi from Pisco to San Clemente (a small market town on the highway). There are two bus companies that make the trek through the mountains: Molina and Anhanza. We decided to buy our tickets the day of and the Molina bus was sold out so we ended up taking Anhanza. Buses leave from San Clemente for Ayacucho at 12:00pm, 12:30pm, and 7:00pm and cost 35PEN/CAD$12.
We leave Pisco CAD$18 over budget, but we ended up spending an extra night there.
To get a better sense of our adventure in Pisco, watch the Pisco video in our backpacking South America series of videos.