Exploring The Islas Ballestas

Male Sea Lion, Paracas

Having spent the past 10 days  3,500 meters above sea level and having just about recovered from the nail-biting trip up and through the Andes we felt just about brave enough to hop back on the bus and descend back to sea level.

lynds and jake at lake, huaraz

Drive four hours south of Lima and you’ll find yourself in the region of Ica. Ica is a well-trodden stretch in the South West coast of Peru and home to some of Peru’s most treasured tourist traps. Coined “A poor man’s Galapagos” The Islas Ballestas are one of Peru’s greatest sanctuary’s. Situated off the headland of Paracas and covering just over 0.1km² these islands are home to valuable marine life such as Humboldt penguins and stars of the show, fur seals and sea lions.

Islas Ballestas Bridge

Most tourists choose to venture to Paracas at dawn, journeying to this deserted headland to catch one of the many speedboats that leave the marina every morning. Paracas is still recovering from the devastating effects of the 2007 Peruvian earthquake which held Ica at the epicentre of the quake. As such Paracas is little more than a boulevard of hostels, hotels and restaurants manufactured to capture the tourist trade which passes through each and every day.

Paracas Beach

boats in mooring, Paracas

Having suffered a relentless 15-hour bus journey from Huaraz we decided to lay our heads in Paracas the night before we ventured out to the Islas Ballestas.  A quick run around the town and we rapidly realised that there was little more to this headland than a few shops and restaurants all of which are equally a tad overpriced. There is a lovely beach which you can stroll down, but it isn’t really for swimming in as it’s mostly a mooring ground for the many fishing boats that fill the shoreline.

Fishing boats. Paracas

Paracas is overrun with tour operators each looking to secure seats in one of the marina’s many speed boats. Expect to pay around 45 PEN (£9) per person (inc. taxes) and don’t be drawn into the many tour operators that will greet you as you arrive in Paracas who claim to offer smaller boats and an ability to sail you closer to the animals. All the boats are the same size and each boat takes exactly the same route out and around the islands.


After collecting our tickets from the Marina, you’re herded down the pier onto one of the many speedboats. We somehow found ourselves the only two English on our “English speaking tour” with the rest being a whitewash of French over 60’s. All the boats offer a guide however due to the noise from the boats it’s hard to hear much other than the odd word.

Pelican Strip

Having said that unless you’re a wildlife buff you don’t need to hear much, just sit back relax and enjoy the incredible scenes that will surround you.  The first highlight before you get to the islands is the Candelabra Geoglyph. Almost 500 ft high is large enough to be seen 12 miles from the sea. Cut two feet into the soil, no one is sure how or who created the Candelabra, explanations range from it being a Masonic symbol to being crafted by aliens! We’ll let you decide!


Another ten minutes on the speed boat and you will find yourself in the heart of this Peruvian sanctuary.  Humungous rock formations sprout up through the surface of the teaming in colonies of penguins, birds and sea lions. Prepare to be awestruck with the beauty of the surrounding area and how close you are able to get to such incredible creatures in their natural habitat.

Birds and cliffs 2

Sea lion rock

Ballastres Isles, Pelicans

Birds blur

It’s worth taking a hat and a waterproof jacket as copious amounts of birds fly overhead and have been known to share their precious guano with the passing tourists.

3 pelicans flying copy

Sea Lion Climbing

The tour last’s approximately 2 hours with more than enough time to take countless snaps and enjoy the animals. Be sure to keep your camera in hand on the return journey as this is when you see the birds at their best, lining the sky in their countless formations.

Birds Isles BillastesThe Islas Ballestas are most definitely worth the trip should you find yourself on the South West coast of Peru. For 45 PEN this trip is a steal and most definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far.

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