Ballestas Islands

You can smell them long before you see them and their sound fills the air before you get the first glimpse of them basking on the rocky beach. Even if you’ve seen sea lions before, the sight of such a vast colony of brown and grey creatures lazing in the sun is sure to make an impact.

Ballestas Islands Tours

The Ballestas Islands are just off the coast of Peru, and are often referred to as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’ because of their diversity of wildlife and the relative ease of reaching them. We ventured out at sunrise for a three hour tour and saw an impressive variety of sea birds as well as the inquisitive sea lions. The Humboldt penguins were the main attraction, with these islands being one of the most northerly places in the world to spy any type of penguin. Pelicans flew in their typically clumsy fashion above the boat, hoping for any generous scraps from the folks on board. Countless cormorants bobbed on the water, diving in to catch a snack and flying up to the rocks of the low-lying islands.

As if the smell of the sea lions wasn’t bad enough, the Ballestas Islands are literally covered in a thick layer of guano. For many years this was a valuable source of income for local entrepreneurs, who harvested the bird droppings and sold it on as a highly prized fertiliser. The practice is now considered environmentally unsound and has long ceased, allowing the layers of white bird poo to pile up on the Ballestas Islands. The fact that visitors are not allowed to set foot on the islands is probably good news all round.

El Candelabro

One of the highlights of the boat trip to the Ballestas Islands is the sight of El Candelabro, an enormous carving in the sand. While this 50 metre high piece of public artwork might be assumed to be linked to the nearby mysterious Nasca lines, in fact the candelabra is thought to have been made up to 1000 years before the lines, most probably by the Paracas civilisation who pre-dated the Nasca people.

Boat tours leave from the Paracas peninsula and usually require an overnight stay nearby. The city of Ica is worth a stop, mainly to visit the excellent museum which displays objects recovered from many of the civilisations that made the surrounding desert home for many centuries. Several mummified remains can be seen here and the carefully preserved handicrafts from the Nasca period are also impressive.

Sand Surfing

For something completely different, head to the nearby Huacachina lagoon, a stunning turquoise pool surrounded by very high dunes. While you can relax in the cafe by the lagoon, it is the dunes that provide thrill-seekers with a short but highly enjoyable adventure. For a small fee you can trudge up to the top of the dunes with what looks like a mini-surf board. At the top you apply a small packet of wax to your board, jump on and hurtle down the slope. Most folks fall off quite quickly, but if you manage to stay on the board you’ll reach some quite impressive speeds. Endless soft sand ensures any crash landing will be smooth, although be warned – the sand gets everywhere you’ll be finding it in the most unlikely places for days to come.

Visit our site for more information about adding Paracas and Ica to your itinerary for your holiday in Peru.