Some like it planned to the minute, some leave it all to discovery. If you’ve read about our travels earlier, you’ll know we are big fans of serendipity and letting the road show us the way.
Our visit to Islas Ballestas in Peru was a perfect case of how you can be delightfully surprised in your travels when you leave your door open for the unknown.
There were certain experiences we were looking forward to in South America. The beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the stunning landscapes of Argentina and Bolivia, high altitude Andes, Machu Picchu (of course!) and the Amazon rainforest.
But we weren’t aware there was a group of islands off the Pacific coast of Peru called Islas Ballestas. By then, we had confirmed that islands were absolute favourite places to be! Not only were these islands a protected reserve but everyone we spoke to referred to it as “poor man’s Galapagos”. Well, by then we were poor enough to not afford a visit to the Galapagos. And what’s not enticing about Galapagos, right?
We decided to visit Islas Ballestas early in the morning.
How to get to Islas Ballestas?
These group of islands, the Islas Ballestas are off the coast of the beach town of Paracas. Paracas is a 4-hour journey to the south of Lima. Travelers usually halt at Paracas on their way down from Lima to Cusco or northwards from Cusco to Lima.
Map of Lima to Paracas to Ica/Huacachina
Unlike at Machu Picchu, where prices were predominantly quoted in USD and they were unsure about accepting the local currency, all transactions here are in the Peruvian soles.
The mystery at Islas Ballestas
A giant geoglyph known as the Candelabra on the face of the Paracas peninsula greets you at the start. Said to date back to 200 BC, it is roughly 600 feet tall. The guide in our boat was giving us all this information. Islas Ballestas is popular among the international tourists to Peru. The guide was well versed in Spanish and English to handle local as well as foreign tourists.
Welcome to the foul smell at Islas Ballestas
The main attraction of Islas Ballestas: Wildlife and birding
Sea lions at Islas Ballestas
Our most special moment on Islas Ballestas
And then, at the top of one arch, we saw them – the penguins. Our first ever sighting of these elusive birds! What a place to see them! Not in a show or enclosed in artificial settings in a zoo – but in the wild, in their natural habitat at Islas Ballestas! This – we realised was how nature should be observed. We have to be bystanders, as nature goes about doing its thing.
The return journey from Islas Ballestas to Paracas was spent in the “post-penguin-high”. Back in Paracas, we saw some more Peruvian gulls and juvenile flamingoes.
One of the primary joys of long-term travel is the endless possibilities of discovery. When each day has the potential for “the first time ever”. There is always a counter argument that you can do your research and find out about all the fascinating possibilities before embarking on the journey. But for now, we arent’ prepared to give up the child-like wonder of finding something new all the time!
Our visit to Islas Ballestas was to us a validation of leaving things to serendipity while we travel.
Tips for traveling to Islas Ballestas
- To visit the Islas Ballestas, you can stay either at Paracas, Ica or like we did – at Huacachina. (We stayed at the Hosteling International hostel Desert Night). It is possible to catch the 8 AM boat ride if you leave from either of these places.
- Boats leave from the Paracas pier. You can buy your tickets on the spot. However, if you’re going on a holiday, it is better to book beforehand. You can either book online or with a local operator. We had gone with the company Paracas Overland.
- Life Jackets are available onboard and everyone has to wear them. If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, take a pill beforehand. The ocean does get rough!
- We preferred sitting on the left side of the boat while going towards Islas Ballestas. Once you reach the islands, the captain takes the boat around in both directions so everyone gets a chance to view the birds and other wildlife. However, from the left side, you get the first view.
- Protect your scarf, caps or hats. It gets windy once you’re out in the Pacific ocean and these things tend to fly off.
This is really important: As tempted as you are, don’t try to get those sea lions or penguins back home.