It was a reasonably early start to the day as we set off from the private pier of the luxury Hotel Paracas in a small speed boat and headed from the Paracas Peninsula
in southern Peru
towards our destination: the Ballestas Islands
. These volcanic islands were declared a national reserve by the Peruvian government in 2009 and are made up of incredible rock formations in various shapes - the caves, tunnels and arches make the islands worth seeing even before you add in the wildlife!
About 20 minutes into the boat journey, an enormous candelabra-like geoglyph appears on the side of a cliff. Its origin and meaning are still debated: some believe it could be related to the Nazca Lines
while others say it was put there by ancient sailors as a land marker. Wherever it came from, it’s pretty impressive! With only 1.8mm of rain a year, the Paracas region is very dry all year round and thanks to a north-south wind that passes over the mountain without touching it, the symbol has remained very well preserved.
A further 10 minutes in the boat and you reach the islands, which are home to huge colonies of seabirds, from the endemic Peruvian pelican and Humboldt penguin to the Blue-footed booby (its only other habitat is the Galápagos Islands
and Isla de la Plata in Ecuador). Red-legged cormorants, Inca terns, Frigatebirds, vultures, sunbathing sea-lions, huge red crabs and starfish also populate the islands and as you pass by slowly in the boat your guide points out the various wildlife on display and explains what you’re seeing. You may even be lucky enough to spot a dolphin or two!
What the islands are most famous for is the Guanay cormorant. This bird looks a little bit like a penguin and its dropping have helped drive the Peruvian economy… The ‘guano’, as it is known, is used as a fertiliser owing to its high potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen content and some of the islands have collection points, which can be a bit smelly but not to the point that it’s unbearable.
After about an hour of touring round the islands, the boat heads back to the mainland. The best time to visit is from December to March as this is when most birds and mammals reproduce but I visited in May and the amount of bird life on display was still amazing.
Things I’d recommend to take with you:
• A long-sleeved t-shirt or windproof jacket (it can be very windy in the morning)
• Sunscreen and a hat
• Bottled water
• Some money for tips
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