I had thought that an island full of birds and no humans would be a novelty. Then I ended up going there three times in a span of 5 months, and will probably go again, accompanying a few more visitors.
Islas Ballestas is accessed by boat, after a 3-hour drive from Lima to Paracas. The boat ride lasts 30 minutes, and the annoyances can be plenty – cold, wind, rain, diesel fumes, but the sight of the island looming through the mist is spectacular, and the sheer number of birds is awe-inspiring. No getting off the boat until you return.
Before you spot birds, however, there is a bonus. A geoglyph, called the Candelabra, firmly planted on the side of an island along the way. As mysterious as the Nasca lines, this one is in fact deeper, often partly shrouded in mist. If you don’t catch a good glimpse of the candelabra on your way out, you might get another chance on the return trip.
There are Humboldt penguins to spot (if you’re lucky), and Peruvian boobies, and Inca terns by the hundreds. And cormorants and pelicans and sea lions. Crabs and other marine creatures if you look carefully.
The benefit of visiting at different times of the year is that you get to see different life cycles – the first time I went (in May) was the sea lion breeding season.
There is no limit to their cuteness!
The following month, in June, Humboldt penguins were out in force.
The Inca tern has a distinctive, intellectual-sort of look.
The Peruvian booby is best known for its poo, called guano, a potent fertiliser that has been the cause of territorial battles between nations.
We’re talking islands full of guano-poo that get harvested every few years for export, worth millions.
You only notice the crabs when the guide points them out, but they sure have a presence!
Too soon, it’s time to head back.
I’ve been there with super early starts from Lima (4.30 am) as well as on the late afternoon bus ride (Cruz del Sur). The boat rides are scheduled at 8 am and 10 am, depending on the weather conditions, and in the not-so-peak season or weekdays, getting tickets is a breeze. Coupled with the Paracas National Reserve, the day trip from Lima is not too tough, unless you’re traveling further to Nasca or Arequipa, in which case the bus works better.
A tip for photographers: Carry your zoom lens (I used 200mm and 300mm), but stabilisation on the boat can be a little difficult. Cellphones don’t make good pictures.