Islas Ballestas – The Poor Man’s Galapagos

The bus dropped me off at a small bamboo shack in the middle of a sand dune. Paracas, I was assured by the bus driver as I stepped out in the sand. Walk seven minutes down that road and you find main economic area. Very small and very safe. Lots of hostels.
Very safe, huh? That’s a first, I thought. Immediately I could smell the ocean and feel the salt on the my skin. It was quiet and early in the morning as I walked into town. I found my backpackers hostel easily, and had a small chat with the owner in spanish. He showed me to my room, a cozy dorm built out of bamboo and straw with a loose foundation in the sand – just like everything else, I noticed. I liked it instantly.
20121029-210348.jpgParacas is a tiny peninsula town on the coast of southern Peru, where the desert meets the sea. A popular vacation spot for locals, there is little more to do in this town than sit on the beach, swim, kite-surf and sample the freshly caught seafood. About 30 minutes from the coast, however, is the main attraction, Las Islas Ballestas. 20121029-210404.jpgEvery morning at 8am, a fleet of speed boats zip tourists out to these islands for a 2-hour tour. Known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos, these islands are the protected habitat of hundreds of Blue-footed Boobies, Pelicans, Peruvian Terns, Humbodlt Penguins, and a few species of Sea Lions. Composed of mainly large rock formations, every inch of the surface is covered in bird poop. In fact, I have never been surrounded by more birds in my life. The entire place was swarming with life. It was a full high definition surround sound experience of squawking birds and roaring seal lions – not to mention a thrilling, bumpy ride through the waves. 20121029-210418.jpgFor an extra 30 Soles I had decided to take a tour of the national park in the afternoon as well. There was something unsettling about look I had received when I ask if I could just walk though the park myself, that had made me book the tour. I am so glad I did. The park is nothing but sand. For four hours we drove through the desert, stopping to see some of the coast line at various look outs. Finally, we reached a small fishing cove, where a couple of restaurants were set up next to the swimming beach. We were given an hour, so a couple of other travelers and I picked an ocean view table to enjoy some seafood and a beer. 20121029-210425.jpg
Feeling good by the end of the day, I spent the rest of the evening on the beach watching the sun go down. I knew the weather would be turning to cloud, so I made plans to leave the next day. It was a short, but sweet visit to Paracas making me even more excited for the real Galapagos.