The poor man’s Galapagos…

Days: 292 (13 April 2015)

Total distance travelled: 56,101.7 kilometres (34,845.78 miles)

‘The poor man’s Galapagos’, at least that’s one description we’d read of the Islas Ballestas.

I’m pretty sure I’d read of it a long ways back, but it wasn’t until we sat in an Amazon jungle lodge at the start of our time in Peru, that it jumped back onto the radar.

The place sounded interesting enough, a lot of birds, a good chance of seeing Sea Lions, but the thing that really kept it back on our radar.

It offered the chance to possibly spy some more Penguins!

Having a tour booked made it all pretty easy, we had our bags packed, got collected nice and early, then cruised our way along the coast to Paracas (it was a short trip).

Once there, we were well and truly shocked at the number of people present, the volume of tour agencies and they would be all be on morning trips to las Islas! The queues of gringos were ridiculously long, the shock I’m sure compounded by the fact that we’d seen so few people in Pisco… they were all here!

We were shown where we could stow our bags, which was in truth simply behind the counter of a restaurant right on the waterfront. Still, it worked for us!

A few additional fees/taxes needed to be paid, then it was time for us to board our vessel and get under way.

The first stop however, was not to be the Islas Ballestas.

Not content to simply be the poor version of the Galapagos, it appears they’re also fishing for the title of poor man’s Nasca, our first stop being a giant petroglyph, etched into the rock!

Not the 1st Penguin we expected to see (left) & ‘The poor man’s Nasca’? (right)

Not the first Penguin we expected to see (left) & ‘The poor man’s Nasca’? (right)

The guide spoke of conjecture, some believe the glyph the work of some older than the Nasca, others suggest it’s only a few hundred years old and in fact a navigational aid for pirates.

We never bothered to google it, but simply enjoyed the view before us…

Our boat bobbed from side to side, allowing all on board a look from several angles, and then we were off, finally headed for the Islas Ballestas.

They were always visible, but about half an hour later the engines slowed to a purr and we were there.

Welcome to the Islas Ballestas.

As we bobbed in the wake of several boats that had already passed, it didn’t look all that much at first glance.

Welcome to a barren rock in the sea

Welcome to a barren rock in the sea

We’d made the journey all this way to see a barren rock?

Well, whilst it looked barren, admittedly it was not devoid of life.

Birds circled overhead in abundance (I’d already donned my hat in anticipation of the forecast bombings from above), and it wasn’t long before we’d spied our first Sea Lions as well!

Kristina, a companion from our Galapagos times would have been thrilled with the Sea Lion spotting!

But then came our own personal money shots, & in so soon in the excursion.

Initially perched high on a rocky ledge, they were quickly on the march after they were spied.

The premiere of the Humboldt Penguin.

The march of the Humboldt’s

The march of the Humboldt’s

A perfect re-entry

A perfect re-entry

With their cute wobble, then graceful entrance into the water, they certainly didn’t disappoint.

Now, as far as marine parks go, this is a bit of an odd place.

It had all of the normal ingredients that we expected, with wildlife, rich seas & islands that were closed to people… well, almost closed.

You see scientists aside, there are a handful of people that are allowed on the island.

For what?

Well that is a rather commercial exercise, the pursuit of shit.

Bird shit to be precise, guano!

These islands still stand as a bastion to that one time widespread practice of phosphate harvesting, the fertaliser that made bird strewn outcrops like Nauru rich, before seeing them plummet to bankruptcy (that last bit was more their fault than that of the birdshit).

There are even odd looking stone fences built across the tops of the islands, not for some bizarre cattle grazing experiment, but built by Chinese labour as a means of catching the guano before it ran into the sea.

Yes, those dark swathes are birds… but the money lies in their behinds

Yes, those dark swathes are birds… but the money lies in their behinds

As we circled between the two major islands, there were further reminders of these cash grabbing endeavours, as large shit and bird covered piers jutted into the sea.

Still, despite their apparent current usage, they simply added to the charm of the place, something like reminders of a bygone age.

For us, it was back to the wildlife show, of which there was plenty.

It became difficult to comprehend the sheer volume of birdlife, but I guess it was this volume that made the place so desirous for commercial practices.

Islas Ballestas

Everywhere you look… birds!

Probably not the ideal place if something like Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ is going to freak you out…

In other news, we watched an adorable Sea Lion pup learn the art of swimming from its mother (or perhaps it was learning to fish, I’m certainly no expert), more Humboldt Penguins made a little cameo, and we also saw on a long, rocky beach, the largest Sea Lion bull we have ever laid eyes upon (believe us, we’ve seen a few, especially in the Galapagos)!

Eventually our time amongst the islands was done, so our boat made its way back towards the tranquil waters of Paracas.

We were not quite done however, one last treat, something that almost came close to trumping the penguins came our way.

Our captain cut the motors, & suddenly we were drifting, but for what?

First one, then a second broke the water beside us.


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6… it became hard to tell how many there actually were, but there was little doubt we were surrounded by a pod of 6-10 Dolphins!

There were so many, that it almost felt like cheating how easy it was to photograph them!

Making it easy to make me look a good photographer!

Making it easy to make me look a good photographer!

As far as half day excursions go, this was great value (even when you throw in the additional port fees).

Can’t afford Galapagos? Then this isn’t a horrible alternative.

Already done Galapagos but want more? Then this place is a no brainer…



* Our tour cost $45.00 Soles per person (which included our transport from Pisco to Paracas).

* An additional $12.00 Soles per person was required for the dock tax ($2.00 Soles) and for the park entrance fee ($10.00 Soles).

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