Sea Lions enjoying basking in the sun on the rock formations!
Some of the many rock formations of the Ballestas Islands in Peru.
Some of the many rock formations of the Ballestas Islands in Peru.

After experiencing the sand, sun and friendly atmosphere of the oasis of Huacachina, I continued north to Pisco and the sea side resort town of Paracas to view the wildlife of the Ballestas Islands (Islas Ballestas in Spanish) or what is commonly known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos and is located in the Paracas District of the Pisco Province in the Ica Region.  After arriving in Pisco I walked around the the city center and since I was completing an independent study about dental care in Peru, I

One of the many arches throughout the rock formations of the Ballestas Islands.
One of the many arches throughout the rock formations of the Ballestas Islands.

visited a few Dental Clinics throughout the town and was blown away at how nice the dentists were and how welcoming they were to allow me into their clinics and even to give me a tour around each of their facilities. After my afternoon of experiencing local dental clinics, I spent my evening visiting different tour companies who offer trips to the Ballestas Islands to find one to go with. I went to bed fairly early as the boat tour out to the Islas Ballestas leaves early in the morning when the wildlife and the birds are most active.  

 

Pelicans waiting for fish from the fishermen!
Pelicans waiting for fish from the fishermen!

The tour company picked me up from my hostel and we traveled to Paracas which is the starting point to visit the Islands.  In the port town there were tons of birds, especially pelicans waiting at the port for the fisherman to return with their daily catch!  We all piled into a large open air motorized boat and each person put on their life jackets.  Since there is no cover over the boat and you will be in the boat the entire time throughout the tour, I would suggest to apply

Pelicans waiting for fish from the fishermen!
Pelicans waiting for fish from the fishermen!

plenty of sunscreen and a hat to protect against the sun, sea spray and even the bird guano or droppings, as most likely, someone on your tour boat will get hit at least once on the tour.  The water can be a little choppy so if you easily get seasick, I would suggest taking some Dramamine before the boat ride.  You will probably have 40 to 50 other tourists on your boat as there are hundreds of people who make this boat trip to the Poor Man’s Galapagos everyday.  As you leave the harbor with hundreds of other boats we saw dolphins jumping along the side of boats.  

 

A large geoglyph that has been etched into the desert hillside in the shape of a candelabra, a large branched candlestick.
A large geoglyph that has been etched into the desert hillside in the shape of a candelabra, a large branched candlestick.

We continued on our journey to the islands when our tour guide on the boat pointed out El Candelabro on the Paracas Peninsula above the cliffs.  It is a large geoglyph that is about 150m high and 50m wide, that has been etched into the desert hillside in the shape of a candelabra, a large branched candlestick.  Do you think it looks like a candelabra?  No one knows the true history or origins of why this geoglyph exists, but the main theory is that it exists as a beacon or meeting place to fisherman, mariners and pirates. A second popular theory is that it has some relation to the Nazca Lines built by the Nazca people.  Luckily it has survived all these years from lack of wind

A large geoglyph that has been etched into the desert hillside in the shape of a candelabra, a large branched candlestick.
A large geoglyph that has been etched into the desert hillside in the shape of a candelabra, a large branched candlestick.

and rain so it has been preserved for all of us to see!  After a few minutes of viewing the candelabra and hearing the history, we continued our adventure to the islands!  

 

After some more time on the boats, the islands finally came into view as we got closer.  It was amazing to see the open sky change and almost become dark with the thousands of birds flying overhead!  I don’t think I have ever seen so

Just a few of the thousands of birds on the Ballestas Islands!
Just a few of the thousands of birds on the Ballestas Islands!

many birds at one place in my entire life.  It really was an amazing sight to see and the Ballestas Islands are a true national and natural treasure of traveling within Peru.  Due to the large amount of birds on the islands, they also produce a large amount of excrement (guano in Spanish) that is harvested from the islands, primarily for fertilizer, because the guano has a high concentration of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, which are essential nutrients for plant growth.  The majority of those thousands of guano-producing birds that you see are the guanay cormorant, pelicans and the Peruvian booby.  They seem to each have their unique flocks

Just a few of the thousands of birds on the Ballestas Islands!
Just a few of the thousands of birds on the Ballestas Islands!

and have designated certain parts of each rock or island for their particular flock and interact with the other bird species in almost a chaotic manner.  I loved seeing so many of their nests just hanging off of the rocks.  You will also see some penguins that they guide will point out, but unless you have a camera with a great optical zoom or binoculars, it’s harder to see the penguins.  After viewing multiple islands with arches, caves and interesting rock formations, we finally got to see the colony of sea lions lying on some of those rocks jutting out of the water, basking in the sunlight!  There were hundreds of sea lions speaking to each other in what sounds like a chorus choir echoing amongst the different rock formations and islands.

 

One of the many arches throughout the rock formations of the Ballestas Islands.
One of the many arches throughout the rock formations of the Ballestas Islands.

We continue along the jagged coastline of the islands seeing the countless arches and unique rock formations.  I was in awe and just couldn’t believe that there are thousands and most likely, millions of birds resting on the islands and flying overhead!  With the huge quantity of birds flying above you throughout your entire tour, I can easily say it is a once in a lifetime sight to see and experience as it is nature at it’s finest!  The unfortunate thing about most tours is that they are shorter than you want them to be especially if you want to spend more time at

Sea Lions enjoying basking in the sun on the rock formations!
Sea Lions enjoying basking in the sun on the rock formations!

particular locations in order to take more photos or just spend more time experiencing that once in a lifetime moment in such a unique place.  When we arrived back to the port in Paracas, I was surprised to see even more pelicans waiting for fish from the fishermen!  From here you have the option of returning to Pisco or you can stay in Paracas and have lunch along the coastal city or you can continue on another afternoon tour to visit the Reserva Nacional de Paracas!  I would definitely recommend experiencing the Ballestas Islands at least once on one of these boat tours as the Poor Man’s Galapagos is a fantastic Peruvian treasure that must be seen!

Luke Keeler

 

 

Take a look at the map below to discover where the Ballestas Islands are located!

 

Shares