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).
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.
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.)
As we approached, the Ballestas Islands glowed brilliant white in the bright morning sun.
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!
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.
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.
Or fill the air with their wings and cries.
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.
The Ballestas Islands aren’t just a reserve for birds. They’re also a haven for marine mammals, such as sea lions.
What a kick we got out of watching sea lion pups playing in the surf on a rocky beach.
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.
We got some final, stunning views of the Ballestas Islands at sunset, as our ship cruised away from Paracas and north towards Lima.
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).
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!