A small cluster of islands called the Ballestas lie off the Peruvian coast near the town of Paracas. Often touted as the “Peruvian Galapagos” or even the “poor man’s Galapagos” because of the low cost and ease to visit. A sanctuary rich with wildlife, there are over half a million birds making this their home. You’ll also pass by the Paracas Candelabra, a prehistoric geoglyph etched into sandy sloped hill. No one knows it’s true meaning or purpose. Then onto Paracas National reserve where vast golden desert meets blue ocean water.
I booked the Peru Hop, a hop-on-hop off service from Lima to Cusco.
What is nice about the Peru Hop bus service is the itinerary is flexible. You add/modify your stops, hotel, and number of nights stay on the online itinerary and it tells you the pick-up locations and times. They have a guide on the bus which provides you with information and keeps track of your stays and pick-ups.
The guide also offers extra tour options for a low cost fee. The Paracas National Reserve was a Peru-hop inclusive tour and the Ballestas Island 2-hour tour cost an additional $20 which I thought was well worth the price. You also meet people on the bus with very similar itineraries.
Our first stop from Lima was Paracas where I stayed overnight at the Kokopelli Hostel in a 6-bed dorm room.
Kokopelli is known as a party hostel but I liked the convenient location, also it’s on the beach, and the amenities.
My day starts with early morning 8am short walk to the pier in Paracas from Kokopelli to board the boat to Ballestas Islands. It’s an open boat with packed seating and takes approx 40-45min to get to the islands 12 miles away. We see a pod of dolphins swimming around the harbor, like a departure gathering.
The Candelabra Glyph
Our first ‘stop’ meaning we always stay on the boat, no landfall is Candelabra along the main coast. This is a giant trident-like figure etched into a desert sandy hill, similar to the Nazca Lines. It is believed the Paracas people, who formed a well-developed culture from about estimated 1000+ BC until 200 AD pre-Incan had carved this figure. Paracas loosely translated means ‘sand rain’ from para-kos in the Inka Quechua language. Guesses at what this figure truly represents are among the tree of life, a trident of an Incan God, a hallucinogen plant?
This figure is about 50 meters wide and 150m tall with striking clarity. My first thought was how could this survive erosion on a sandy slope overlooking the sea? It can’t be real? I discover that the depth is carved to about 2 meters deep and the shape of the hill pushes the wind over the lines not against them. Also minerals from the ocean water fall onto and continue to harden the lines. Amazing that something ancient survives so intact today.
The Ballestas Islands
Next we hop across the ocean to the Ballestas Islands wildlife sanctuary. There are a multitude of marine fauna here. Some species such as the guanay guano bird, the blue-footed booby, Humboldt Penguins, seals and sea lions, storks,amongst others.
I had hoped the day would be sunnier to get more intense colors. However the water was still a rich blue and the birds were quite active flying about. The first thing you notice is the shear amount of birds and the myriad of sea and wind carved cavelets, and archways in the rough cut rocks.
Many of us get up from our seats and scurry to the boat edge to capture photos and video. I’m using almost exclusively my GoPro camera now mounted on my wrist. Our tour guide is speaking the whole time telling us about the history. We learn that the guano (seabird droppings) deposited on the island over thousands of years which creates a natural reserve of nitrogen-rich fertilizer came to be Peru’s #1 export in the mid-19th century. But today the extraction of guano has been regulated to every 10 years.
We get pretty close to some of the rock walls to look for crabs and anything other marine life we can spot.
I’m fascinated by colors of the rocks and the undulating water and sounds of the birds. So many birds!
We have about a 30min path around the islands which was about adequate to see the wildlife. Although my thought was I could spend more time here, with a kayak. But being a reserve you must be guided on a boat only.
It seemed a quick boating back to the dock. I didn’t really keep track of the time being in such a relaxed mood and fixated on the wildlife and views. It’s time to get back onto the Peru Hop bus with our free stop at Paracas National Reserve before jaunting off to our next stop at Huachachina.
Paracas National Reserva- Coastal
The Paracas National Reserve visit is along the coast located just south of the town of Pisco, a 30min bus ride from Paracas. Established in 1975 it’s a protected natural area consisting of desert, ocean with beautiful viewpoints.
We hop on off 3 the bus for 3 viewpoints in this reserve. It’s the stark contrast between land and ocean that makes this worth seeing and it was free for us. Our stay at each stop is about 15 min to look around and take pictures. Actually the Ballestas Islands and Candelabra are all part of the Paracas National Reserve but they are separate tours.
Our next stop only about 1.5 hrs away is Huacachina Oasis where I’ll be staying overnight.