Often billed as Peru’s answer to Ecuador’s Galapagos, the Ballestas Islands are a little easier to get to (assuming you’re already in Peru of course).
The Ballestas Islands at dawn
From the small town of Paracas, a boat ride of about 20 minutes takes visitors out to this cluster of small islands, roughly 5 miles off the Paracas Peninsula, on which the Reserva Nacional de Paracas (Paracas National Reserve) is centred.
On the way out to the islands, we passed one the main sights of the Paracas reserve. Experts still argue over the origins of the enigmatic El Candelabro (the Candelabra) geoglyph, carved into a hillside facing the sea at the northern end of the peninsula.
Pelican patrol over El Candelabro – the Candelabra
Is it an ancient symbol etched by the Paracas people, who inhibited this area between 600 BD and 200 AD? Or is it a navigation aid created by more recent sailors? The experts can’t seem to agree, so what do you think?
(Coincidentally, that afternoon we went on a flight-seeing trip over more mysterious geoglyphs… the World Famous Nazca Lines.)
It’s the boat’s motion making me blurry, honest!
As we approached, the Ballestas Islands glowed brilliant white in the bright morning sun.
Speeding towards the radiant white Ballestas Islands
The reason for this is less poetic than it sounds, since the white shimmer came from sunlight being reflected off thousands (if not millions) of tons of guano. In other words, the islands get their white appearance because they’re literally covered in bird poop!
Who knew guano could look so pretty… from a distance!
But don’t scoff, because it’s valuable stuff. In fact, the guano was once mined as a fertilizer. Today though, only researchers are allowed on the islands, which now form a wildlife reserve: Reserva Nacional Islas Ballestas.
Old mining buildings
This is part of an old dock, I think… the birds don’t seem to care
According to what I’ve read, the Ballestas Islands are home to over 160 species of marine bird. Thousands upon thousands of individuals cluster on every possible ledge, crag and piece of old mining equipment.
Peruvian boobies line the cliff top
And here are some Peruvian pelicans (that’s about the limit of my ornithological skills!)
Another part of the old mining equipment
Or fill the air with their wings and cries.
There are thousands of birds everywhere… easily more than 5
There are several caves and arches on the islands
Although I would have been happy with just two of them: a pair of Humbolt penguins… the first time I’ve ever seen penguins in the wild! I think of the whole trip, that was the moment Rich most grieved for his DSLR and telephoto lens, which had been stolen a few days earlier in Valparaiso.
Just the two of them, but we were thrilled! What would must be like when the whole colony is in town!!
The Ballestas Islands aren’t just a reserve for birds. They’re also a haven for marine mammals, such as sea lions.
Sea lions (or are they fur seals?) hanging out with the birds
This guy has a flair for the dramatic!
Approaching the sea lion colony
What a kick we got out of watching sea lion pups playing in the surf on a rocky beach.
The pups seemed to enjoy playing in the surf as it rolled up onto the beach
In between waves
Sea lion pups and some fast moving Inca Turns
I defy you not to say, “Aw!”
(And if you look in the crevice in the background, there appears to be another penguin hiding in it! – I only noticed this going through the photos for this post)
In some ways, our excursion to the Ballestas Islands was all the more special, because we hadn’t originally planned to do it. We’re so glad our guides for the day, Adios Adventure Travel, suggested adding it to our itinerary.
Leaving the Ballestas Islands
Many fishing boats in Paracas harbour
We got some final, stunning views of the Ballestas Islands at sunset, as our ship cruised away from Paracas and north towards Lima.
Fishing boat and El Candelabro
The Ballestas Islands as the sun goes down
Given this post is mainly about 160 species of seabird congregating in their hundreds of thousands, I think I might have overshot Cee’s Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is More than 5 Items. I was additionally inspired by the themes Bird’s Eye (View) from Paula (Lost in Translation) and Motion from Dale (Spun With Tears).
Sunset over the Ballestas
Whether you’re still trying to wrap your head around the incredible number of birds that inhabit or visit the Ballestas Islands, of just thinking ‘aw!’ at the sea lion pups, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?
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