Las Islas Ballestas, What to Do with More Time in Lima
Las Islas Ballestas are an uninhabited, protected reserve off the western shores of the Peruvian pisco-growing region, Ica. Referred to as the “Baby” or “Poor Man’s” Galapagos, these small islands house an impressive concentration of marine life just off the coast of a tropical desert.
Photos by N. Pallesen
A visit to Las Ballestas is a trip under intricately choreographed seabird formations, through towering rock structures and alongside colonies of South American sea lions. The islands are protected – which means visitors cannot step foot on, or swim around, the cays – and can only be toured by boat. Luckily, boat trips equipped with multi-lingual guides depart regularly from the town of Paracas. Tickets are fairly inexpensive, particularly when compared to other marine reserves around the continent. There is no “best time” to visit per se, but the weather is clearest during the South American summer months (December to February) which also coincides with the birth of sea lion pups (January to March). Semana Santa (Easter) is a popular travel week in Peru where tours and restaurants in the area may be completely booked, or closed, for the holiday.
Interested in swimming with sea lions? See Do Lima in the Lima Mini Guide for where to go.
Multiple companies organize day and multi-day trips from Lima to Las Ballestas. Excursions often include a stop to the nearby desert oasis Huacachina. These full-day tours tend to be fairly standardized between the various companies, most of which can be found online. Given that it takes 4-5 hours (without traffic) to drive from Lima to Paracas it is a long day. If you have more time to spare, consider spending a night (or two) in the city of Ica or Paracas for a leisurely tour and tasting of a pisco vineyard or nature tours through the Reserva Nacional de Paracas, a protected coastal desert.
Looking for a bit of luxury? The Hotel Paracas is a gorgeous seaside resort with stunning views, beautiful grounds and impeccable service. For old-world feel, Hotel Viñas Quierolo is the only hotel situated in the middle of a Peruvian vineyard. Excursions and tours to the main attractions in the Ica region can be organized directly through either hotel.
… And a few more tips
English or Spanish?
Tours from Lima to Paracas catering to Spanish speakers tend to be a fraction of the cost of the English-speaking equivalent. If traveling under a tight budget, consider booking your tour with a Spanish-only company… If you can keep up with the language, of course.
There will be poop
Remember the intricate, overhead seabird formations? Some will result in falling gifts of guano. Since little can be done to avoid these “gifts” carry a few tissues or wet wipes to clean away any droppings.
Don’t underestimate the sun
The sun in Peru is unforgiving during the South American summer months so be sure to pack plenty of protection against the rays. A hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunblock are all musts. Consider also carrying a sarong or other lightweight clothing for protection against the UV (and bird droppings).
Information on transport and tours of Las Ballestas is easy to find online. For additional tips, That Backpacker has more on what to pack.
Photos taken by N. Pallesen while on tour in Las Islas Ballestas.