Las islas ballestas – wildlife and the desert

This weekend we ventured south with Steven’s friend from work, Abel. It was really great to escape the city, get some fresh air and sun, and see a different part of Peru.

We drove along the Pan-American Highway, which according to Guinness Records is the longest “motorable road” in the world, starting in Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, and stretching all the way down to Ushuaia, Argentina. (That is, I should say, if you conveniently ignore the enigmatic Darién Gap.) Because of the maniac Peruvian drivers swerving around the heavy laden long-haul truckers, I’m thankful that we were only on it for about 3 hours. #heartfailure

The highlight of the weekend was visiting the Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Wildlife Reserve.

When you look at the area on Google Maps, you see lots of green dotted along the Peruvian coast, including the Paracas National Reserve, so I assumed it was a lush area of vegetation. Wrong! It’s desert… all desert. But stunningly beautiful desert with glistening red sand – the vast nothingness is simply incredible, and the contrast of the desert meeting the Pacific Ocean is breath-taking. This is one happy Caribbean chica after an afternoon at the beach 🙂

On Sunday we woke up really early to catch the boat tour to the islands. Tours leave from Paracas, a small seaside fishing town geared up to make the most of the tourists tricking through on a daily basis. The seafront is lined with vendors selling hats and souvenirs and hustlers trying to get you on ‘the best boat tour’ for a commission. Even the pelicans are out to get a quick buck (or bite) out of the tourists 🙂

Las Islas Ballestas are part of the national park, so you can’t actually step foot onto the islands without a special permit, usually reserved for researchers. Access for visitors is via a two-hour speedboat tour twice a day, with about 30 people on board.

What an incredible place. Dubbed ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’, it far exceeded my expectations. Within minutes we were watching humbolt penguins diving into the sea, sea lions basking in the sun and giant red starfish and crabs at the water’s edge.

Steven and I had fun trying out our camera’s new zoom lens (should have practised before!), which I’m really glad we have for places like this. The trade-off is it’s nearly impossible to take photos with people in the foreground, and it’s not easy to swap lenses in a choppy boat just for a selfie with a sea lion. Photos defo say it better than words, so see below:

There were birds everywhere! I really thought of my Grandma who was an avid bird-watcher and would have loved it. I imagined her sitting next to me with her binoculars, excitedly pointing out the different species, and urging the Captain to slow down!

Also, I now understand why so many vendors were selling hats in Paracas – yes I got a sprinkling of ‘good luck’ that day… yuck. The islands are still used at certain times of the year to harvest guano (bird poop) – an important source of fertilizer that was once Peru’s most important export. The whole place looked a bit like Jurassic Park, covered in exotic wildlife, with ghostly abandoned structures, protruding into the sea.

This is defo on my list of places to take friends and family to (hint, hint, come visit) – especially because of its proximity to Lima. I’ve also read that you can scuba dive with the sea lions, so that’s on the to-do list.

Right, I’m off to meet Steven to buy a backpack for our next adventure – we’re off to Argentina on Christmas night, so will end here for now.

Merry Christmas to all – it will be a strange one for us, my first time away from my family and I’m already feeling homesick. 🙁 But right now we’re making the most of our South American adventure and loving every minute of it – bring on 2016!

Love from Lima xxx

One thought on “Las islas ballestas – wildlife and the desert

  1. Can I please buy a back pack too? I am a good traveller and a supportive team member. Happy to do whatever odd jobs and menial tasks are required 🙂
    Great job Danielle …. keep the words flowing and the camera shooting …. it is a great way to hear your news and get an inside-track view of Peru.
    Thank you!

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