While travelling the south coast of Peru we had to make a stop in the fishing town of Paracas to visit the incredible Ballestas Islands. Nicknamed “the poor mans Galapagos”, a tour there packs in a lot of wildlife and natural beauty for less than 1% of the cost of visiting the actual Galapagos Islands. As a bonus, the town of Paracas isn’t a bad place to hang out either.
Boats leave from the main pier to the islands at 8:00am and 10:00am. We heard it’s best to go at 8am as the ocean is usually calmer, allowing you to get closer to the islands and the wildlife (since you are not actually allowed on the islands). Once on the boat we headed out through the bay, weaving between fishing boats crowded with pelicans and cormorants. After about 15 minutes of wave hopping we stopped at the famed Candelabra geoglyph, a 160m high mystery carved into the desolate mountainside. The origins, age and meaning of the carving are all a matter of speculation and range from early people communicating with aliens to a sea map for the Spanish.
Another 20 minutes away we approached the Ballestas Islands. The island chain is made up of craggy rock formations sticking straight out of the Pacific. Thousands of birds were perched on the cliffs and circling overhead.
Our guide was quick to point out the different species that live there including Peruvian boobies, Inca Terns and amazingly, Humbolt Penguins! These tiny little penguins were so cute to watch as they wobbled along the cliffs before diving into the water to find food.
For us, the highlight of the tour was getting up close to the sea lions. They seem to love to put on a show for visitors, posing on the rocks and jumping out of the water. It was incredible to be able to get so close to these playful animals. There are over 1000 of them on the Ballestas Islands and that number can grow to over 3000 when more come from the Galapagos to breed. On one beach in particular hundreds of moms and pups were packed in together where the youngsters learn to swim. As we rounded each small island we came face to face with more of the adorable sea lions and thousands more birds.
On our way back to Paracas we were treated with one last show from the animal kingdom. A group of about 6 dolphins playfully swam alongside our boat, jumping out of the water, and generally just having fun.
While we’re sure the Ballestas Islands don’t quite compare to the Galapagos, visiting them was a real highlight for us.
Ballestas Islands Traveller Information
Getting To/From: The Ballestas Islands are most easily reached from the town of Paracas. This is where boats leave from. They depart at the pier at 8am and 10am. The cheapest tickets will be available at the docks first thing in the morning. We paid 40 soles from our hostel the day before but overheard a sale for 20 Soles per ticket (not including 10 Soles marine reserve fee) while waiting to board our boat. You can also book a tour to the islands from Pisco, Ica or the resort town of Huacachina.