On the Islas Ballestas group of islands off the southern coast of Peru, cute penguins, roaring sea lions and thousands of seabirds cavort, covering the jagged rocks like a feathery blanket.
The archipelago of the Islas Ballestas off the south coast of Peru is a fantastic natural paradise, also called "the little Galapagos". The rocky islands with their countless animal inhabitants live up to this name.
The Islas Ballestas consist of three islands, the Ballestas Norte, Centro and Sur, and are protected over an area of 7,200 hectares including two nautical miles. They are located about 18km from the fishing and holiday settlement of Paracas on the peninsula of the same name.
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PICTURES: Islas Ballestas National Park
Photo gallery: Islas Ballestas National Park
Getting to the Islas Ballestas
A boat trip to the "poor man's Galapagos" is a must for every traveller to the south of Lima and Pisco! The starting point is the pier of the Paracas National Park, which is always left in the morning. Already here, in the harbour of Paracas, the first pelicans are waiting for waste from the arriving fishermen. Equipped with life jackets, we set out to sea in motorised rubber dinghies. A tour to the Islas Ballestas, including sightseeing and return trip, takes about 2 hours.
Tip: The wind blows constantly on the boat, so be sure to wear weatherproof clothing. By the way, headgear not only protects you from wind, spray and sun, but also from a possible bird droppings attack! Binoculars or a good telephoto lens can't hurt as equipment either!
The first sight is already on the way. After Playa San Martín, the so-called "Candelabro" appears on a slope on the left-hand side. This strange structure is reminiscent of a candlestick (hence the name) and is 128m high and 78m wide. Until today, it is not known - similar to the nearby Nazca lines - how or why this oversized trident was drawn into the hill.
About 10 minutes later, the outlines of the Islas Ballestas emerge from the eternal fog off Peru's southern coast.
Gigantic animal wealth of the Islas Ballestas
The sight of the unbelievable number of animals is enough to make any observer speechless. The rocky islands are littered with fluttering, chattering and roaring representatives of the animal kingdom. The air around the rugged islands is also filled with whirring lines and billowing clouds.
Guano or Peru Booby on the Islas Ballestas
The clearly dominant animal species on the Islas Ballestas are the black and white guano or peruvian boobies. The excrement of the hundreds of thousands of birds, called "guano", is ideal as a natural fertiliser and accounted for a large part of the regional economy as an export product in the second half of the 19th century.
In the meantime, however, guano has long since been replaced by chemical fertiliser and the only economic factor left for the rugged islands is tourism. The bird droppings are nevertheless removed - every 5-6 years a layer of an incredible 4 metres accumulates!
Sea lions on the Islas Ballestas
If you get closer to the island, the next inhabitants appear. Sea lions cavort in great numbers, both in the water and on the rocks. The cute animals have lost all shyness about the visitors in their boats and snooze peacefully on the rocks or on the pebble beach. Others fight over the best spots, making a deafening noise that rivals any wolf pack.
Countless other water birds
Inca terns, strikingly coloured with bright red beaks and feet, fly in and out of the sea caves of the Islas Ballestas above roaring waves. Cormorants or the stately Chilean pelicans perch on the rocks and preen their feathers. Every now and then, one of the rare blue-footed boobies, which are actually native to the Galapagos Islands, gets lost on the Islas Ballestas.
With a bit of luck, you might even catch a glimpse of the rare Humboldt penguins, which are among the smallest penguins in the world at just under 70 cm. The boats are sometimes accompanied by dolphins or schools of fish, and on some days the odd grey whale makes its presence felt with its fountain.
Information on the Islas Ballestas on the Paracas tourism website incl. prices and tours