If you love birds, sea lions or even penguins – you’ll love the Ballestas Islands – the poor mans Galapagos. They’re home to some of the largest colonies of wild sea birds in South America and are located just off the coast of Paracas. If you don’t like birds, don’t go – it’s that simple.
Waking up at 6:30am we had a transfer booked from Ica for a tour starting at 9am in Paracas. They also have transfers from Lima or Huacachina. The port was busy with tourists – many of whom were speaking Spanish. It appears the Islas Ballestas are a local favourite as well as a tourist attraction. Luckily our tour guide spoke both English and Spanish and we were never left feeling as if we’d missed a vital description at any part of our tour.
Paracas itself is a pretty decent coastal town, small but full of bars, restaurants and markets. Enough to spend a few hours meandering around after the tour. We boarded our speedboat at 9am, donned our life-jackets and set off through the crowded marina towards our destination to start our 2-hour Ballestas Islands tour. First stop was La Candelabra.
La Candelabra is a huge Geoglyph etched onto the side of a mountain. Anyone who has visited the Nazca lines will know the mysterious history of these gigantic drawings. The most widely held belief is that Aliens constructed them, or perhaps our ancient ancestors constructed them to please the Aliens. Whatever the case Aliens were most definitely involved. It’s in the shape of a candelabra (hence the name) and is worth trying to take a picture of. Those with a telephoto lens will be happy they brought it – it’s a long way off. Our iPhone barely picked out the shape.
Skipping along the waves for another half hour or so we spotted our first group of islands. The Islas Ballestas are pretty much made up of a few rock formations sticking up out of the sea like long-broken off shards of the Peru coast. Which might be what they are, I’m not sure.
To put it bluntly, the Ballestas Islands are an assault on the senses. The first thing that hits you is the smell. Millions of sea birds make one hell of a smell. In fact there’s so much guano on those rocks that locals used to ship it back to land to be used as fertiliser on their fields. The sea lions don’t seem to mind though.
The second assault is on the ears, but it’s a wonderful assault – like an invading army shooting flower petals instead of bullets, or delivering cakes and pastries instead of death and despair. Thousands of Sea-lions, both furry and non-furry varieties alike, form an animalistic choir. A choir that will never be in tune, never win a choir competition but is rather pleasing to listen to nonetheless. They’re joined by the squawking and hawking of the sea birds, Nazca Boobies, Gulls, Cormorants all join together to make this cacophony almost unbearable.
The final assault is on the eyes, you see rippling shapes on the rocks and realise they’re birds. There are birds everywhere. Birds on rocks, birds on birds, birds on abandoned buildings and derelict bridges. Birds in the sky, birds on the water, there are birds everywhere you look. Looking into the sky you’ll catch flying V-formations, formations so tight they’d give the famous Red Arrows a run for their money.
There is another secret assault, one that everyone who had bought a ticket had also been unknowingly entered into – the bird-poo lottery. If you can imagine a thousand birds in the sky above you at any one time, chances are you are going to be hit. Two pieces of advice – wear a hat, and if you have to look up – keep your mouth closed.
For over an hour you tour around the rocks and soak up the most wild of wildlife. Hopefully, if you’re a nature fan like I am you’ll leave thinking that it’s not a poor mans Galapagos – not really – because you’ll leave feeling enriched from seeing so many wonderful creatures in a habitat that they’ve claimed and called home for many years.