Islas Ballestas, more popularly known as the ‘poor man’s Galápagos’, are a group of islands that are located off the coast of Paracas (El Chaco). Situated on the southern coast of Peru, the islands are just 250 km away from the capital Lima. These rocky islands, almost completely devoid of any vegetation are home to an incredible variety of marine species.
Ballesta Norte, Ballesta Central, and Ballesta Sur are the three main islands of the group. Note that all the islands are protected so you will not be able to walk on them or swim in the waters. You have to book with an operator for a boat tour that starts and ends in Paracas. It will take you through all the highlights in the area and as close to the animals as possible. So throughout the tour, you will remain in the boat and there will be no stops in between. Make sure that you dress suitably as the boat will not have a cabin; you will be exposed to the sun and also water sprays from the sea.
The islands boast of diverse marine species, mainly the Humboldt penguins, sea lions, fur seals. Bird species like the red-billed Inca tern, guanay, blue-footed booby, cormorants, Peruvian pelicans and Kelp gulls are found in plenty. And if you’re lucky, you will be able to spot dolphins, whales and turtles as well.
Though it is a year-round destination, the best months to visit the islands are between December to March. January to March is the breeding season for sea lions, so you can see plenty of tiny pups delightfully running around the islands.
After visiting the islands, you can head to the nearby Paracas National Reserve which covers over 335,000 hectares of Peru’s coastal desert. It houses dramatic arid landscapes and wildlife that is similar to what you will find in the Ballestas Islands. You will find plenty of beautiful beaches here like Playa La Mina, Playa Roja and Playa Yumaque, where you can swim, bird-watch or even spot dolphins. There are also various activities in the reserve that include kitesurfing, camping, dune buddying and sandboarding.
While you are in Peru, it is quite impossible to escape its ancient mysteries. In the reserve, you will also come across the Candelabra geoglyph, a huge three-pronged candlestick that is carved on a sandy slope and its origins remain unknown. Your tour guide is sure to interest you with all the theories behind this geoglyph and you cannot help but compare it with the enigmatic Nazca lines.
Islas Ballestas are a beautiful ecotourism destination with a diverse collection of marine fauna, and it is quite rare to observe them in their natural habitat without any human intervention. Passing through these rocky islands, with the constant calls of these animals and birds, accompanied by the sounds of crashing waves and the ocean breeze will surely be cherished by any lover of nature, wildlife or the sea.
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