Although I haven’t been to Galapagos island yet, but if it is anything like the Isla Ballestas, nicknamed the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”, then I know I would be in for a treat. Isla Ballestas is actually a collection of islands in the Paracas National Reserve located on Peru’s southern coastal desert. The rugged terrain of these islands that include caves and arches is a perfect shelter for many different kinds of seabirds and hundreds of sealions.
An excursion to Isla Ballestas is only possible by boat as there is no where to dock on the island itself. Speed boats leave early in the morning from Paracas and spend a good few hours making an excursion around the different islands. Paracas can be easily reached by public buses from Lima or Pisco. Alternatively, one can jump on an organized tour that departs Lima every morning. We used the “Cruz del Sur” bus (advance reservation required) that departs at ungodly hour from the Lima central bus station and brings you to Paracas at 8am sharp. Upon arriving at the Paracas bus station, there is a tour company called Zarcillo Connections right at the arrival point where you can book your place on the speed boat for Ballestas Island birdwatching trip. DIYing the travel, we found, was far more economical than using a tour agency.
On the way to the Ballestas Islands the boat makes a stop in front of a pre-historic geoglyph on the peninsula called The Candelabra by the locals. It is a huge sign carved into the hill side and has several myths associated with it. There is, however, no clear account of its creation or history. There are many more such signs etched into the large expanse of barren land near Paracas called The Nazca Lines. They have their own unique stories of origin starting from alien intervention to religious cosmology.
Anyway, after a good look at this strange piece of art, the boat takes you to one of the most amazing sights you will ever encounter. You may think you have been on a boat before to watch birds but this is something all together different and unique. When we were about to reach the islands we felt as if the clouds ahead had gone dark and the island had started shimmering. Turns out that the dark clouds were nothing other than the thousands of birds circling the islands and the island shimmer was caused due to all kinds of birds conquering every bit of their territory. These islands are also unique due to the sheer variety of the birds that breed here. You will see all kinds of Peruvian Bobbies, Penguins, Cormorants, Inca Terns, Pelicans and Vultures co-existing in one of the many nooks and crannies. Just as we were recovering from the sheer pleasure of watching these birds in their natural habitat, we spotted no less than a dozen colonies of sea lions. One such sight was the extraordinary maternity sea lions colony. During the breeding season, the male sea lions become extremely territorial and try to attract as many as a few dozen females. In this particular maternity ward, you could hear the loud shrieks from the pregnant females for miles. It was a little disturbing to be honest and I am sure I wouldn’t want to be messing with them in their gestation period (well, not that I would want to mess with them at other times but hey).
They say that when you are having fun the time passes away quickly. This was particularly true for us on the Ballestas Islands excursion. It was one of those super fabbie days that we will fondly remember for the rest of our lives. Here are some photos I took from the boat. Enjoy!