For those with a keen interest in natural history, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands vacations are among the most coveted of all adventures, a place where the epic theatre of our planet’s evolution continues to this day, an environment seemingly untouched by the modern world.
Overcoming the islands’ remoteness is easy and comfortable on one of the many Galapagos Islands tours that are available, but for those without the time to spare, there is a little-known alternative that can be visited as an easy diversion during most Peru vacations.
Consider Peru’s Islas Ballestas
Although incomparably smaller than the Galapagos Islands archipelago, Peru’s Islas Ballestas make an excellent day drip from the southern coastal town of Paracas, near the regional capital of Ica.
Tours can be arranged on the spot in Paracas, or longer and professionally guided excursions are offered by providers of Peru vacation packages. The trip involves an outward boat journey that takes around 1.5 hours, depending on the conditions, followed by around an hour sailing round the islands themselves.
The islands are protected and disembarking is forbidden but the boat tours will get you close enough for a clear view of the astonishing range of creatures who have made the Islas Ballestas their home.
You’re guaranteed to spot rafts of boisterous sea lions, competing for space with squawking cormorants, penguins and pelicans (along with colorful flamingos if you visit during the summer months).
This massive concentration of bird life has given the islands a peculiar and unexpected significance, thanks to the excellent properties that the deep piles of bird droppings have as a fertilizer. In fact, these droppings were once such a valuable export that wars were fought for control of the Islas Ballestas and their neighbors. Thankfully, the bird colonies are now protected and such disturbances are a thing of the past.
On the return journey you might be lucky enough to catch a sighting of some other marine creatures, including the dolphins that make the most of these fish-laden straits. You’ll also spot the gigantic ancient shape etched into a sandy hillside, known as the candelabra, which has echoes of the mysterious Nazca Lines in the desert nearby.
How best to enjoy an Islas Ballestas Tour
– For the most professional and knowledgeable guides, book ahead with a Peru vacation package provider.
– Wrap up from the elements – either sun or rain – and take a hat to keep your head protected (both from the weather, and the copious amount of falling bird droppings).
– Boats can get very close to the islands but for the best views, take binoculars.
– The water in these straits can get very choppy so those prone to sea-sickness should remember their medication!
Tour the best of Peru. Call and chat with an expert travel advisor to start planning your dream vacation to South America!
Matt left England for Peru in 2008, originally planning to stay for just 12 months but ending up settling down in Lima working for Latin America For Less for three fun-packed years. He remains a perpetual traveller, working and writing his way through Europe, North America and Asia but he has always saved a special place in his heart for Peru and South America.