Islas Ballestas + Llacas, Peru – Poor man’s Galapagos

Five million guano producing birds live here, sit enthroned on rocks and islands, the pebble beaches are occupied by not less stinky sea lions, and below the surface of water dolphins romp and billions of anchovies or at least as many as the fishing fleets of the fishmeal factories leave. Once there was way more birds, but the world’s fishmeal hunger to use the cheap animal product to fast and effectively raise herbivores is unbroken.

It is not permitted to enter the islands, they can only be visited with a boat trip. The speedboats get very close to the animals anyway. Among the feathered inhabitants are Peruvian pelican, Peruvian booby, Guanay cormorant, and Humboldt penguin. In the middle of the 19th century the Islas Ballestas, very close to Reserva Nacionál de Paracas, granted Peru considerable earnings. The birds’ muck rich in minerals was regarded as the world’s most precious fertilizer. Today guano is suppressed by artificial manure besides a small percentage.

The Ballestas Islands are jocularly called poor man’s Galapagos. We don’t know if they can really withstand a comparison with the Ecuadorian islands but they make for a rewarding trip. Tours start daily at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., the morning trip is better due to calm sea and clearer visibility. Make sure to book one day ahead, better directly in Paracas than in Pisco. The speedboat trips are recommended, take two hours, and range between 30 and 50 PEN per person. First stop is the candelabra Geoglyphe on the north side of Paracas peninsula. A 170 m high, 45 m wide and 50 cm deep figure was carved into the sand. It was discovered only in 1902, origin and originator are unknown. It reminds of three-armed candelabra, other theories talk about a cactus or a navigational aid for sailors. Then an hour is spent around the islands before the launch heads back.

Another road trip into the Peruvian mountains brings us back to Pisco and then east into the Andes. The Inca ruin Tambo Colorado seems less interesting. We take a paved side road to Santa Inés. To avoid altitude sickness we park on the sports field of the hamlet Lllactas at 3,150 m: S 13°23’19.9’’ W 75°21’57.0’’.

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