The Ballestas Islands – Peru’s Galapagos

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

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

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 is making me blurry, honest!

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

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!

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

Old mining buildings

This is part of an old dock, I think... the birds don't seem to care

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

Peruvian boobies line the cliff top

And here are some Peruvian pelicans (that's about the limit of my ornithological skills!)

And here are some Peruvian pelicans (that’s about the limit of my ornithological skills!)

Another part of the old mining equipment

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 thousands of birds everywhere… easily more than 5

There are several caves and arches on the islands

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.

Penguins!

Penguins!

Just the two of them, but we were thrilled! What would must be like when the whole colony is in town!!

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

Sea lions (or are they fur seals?) hanging out with the birds

This guy has a flair for the dramatic!

This guy has a flair for the dramatic!

Approaching the sea lion colony

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

The pups seemed to enjoy playing in the surf as it rolled up onto the beach

In between waves

In between waves

Sea lion pups and some fast moving Inca Turns

Sea lion pups and some fast moving Inca Turns

I defy you not to say,

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

Leaving the Ballestas Islands

Many fishing boats in Paracas harbour

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

Fishing boat and El Candelabro

The Ballestas Islands as the sun goes down

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

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?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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About Jaspa

Star of my own award-winning adventure novels, Jaspa's Journey. Geocaching addict & F1 fan. Adventure Journeyer & blogger extraordinaire. Check out my website: www.jaspasjourney.com And don’t forget to download the books and see what the buzz is all about!
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20 Responses to The Ballestas Islands – Peru’s Galapagos

  1. Hannah says:

    So captivating! Makes me want to be there! 🙂

  2. Cee Neuner says:

    Such a fun and marvelous entry for this week. Thanks Jaspa. 😀

  3. Anabel Marsh says:

    Wonderful, I had never heard of these islands. We visited Galapagos in 1999 and saw similar bird life. Someday I plan to put some pictures on my blog, but they’re prints and the thought of all that scanning puts me off!

  4. Paula says:

    Fascinating wildlife and landscapes! Thanks for the link, Jaspa.

  5. Pingback: Thursday’s Special: Bird’s Eye (View) | Lost in Translation

  6. Me encanta volver a ver las Islas Ballestas otra vez.
    Estuvimos allí el año pasado en nuestro recorrido por Perú y nos parecieron preciosas, había pocos pájaros por la época que era, y no tuvimos que soportar el mal olor del guano. El país nos gustó mucho.
    Estuviste en muchos lugares de Perú?

  7. lifelessons says:

    I’ve been there and took pictures in most of these same spots…It is incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many birds in one spot. Did you see the Nazca Lines as well? I believe we saw them both on the same day. What a day! http://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/07/07/more-than-5-items-cees-fun-foto-challenge/

  8. Pingback: Travel Theme-Land-Water | WoollyMuses

  9. Very interesting information and your beautiful photos would make anyone want to visit! I had never heard of these islands. What a bummer about the camera.

    • Jaspa says:

      Thanks, Marilyn! Fortunately, we saw so many amazing things on our trip we didn’t focus (no pun intended) on the minor inconvenience of the missing DSLR. Especially since cell phones have pretty good cameras these days!

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