When we think of must-see destinations in Peru, images of Machu Picchu or the Nazca Lines often come to mind. However, along the southern coast of Peru lie the Ballestas Islands, an archipelago that never fails to amaze visitors with its incredible biodiversity and unique landscapes.

The Ballestas Islands and the Paracas National Reserve offer a stunning mix of wildlife in Peru, wildlife, unique natural landscapes, and outdoor adventures. This destination is perfect for nature lovers and those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and witness an environment where nature reigns supreme. In this guide, I'll take you through everything you need to know to plan your visit to the Ballestas Islands. Let's get started!

What are the Ballestas Islands?

Known as "the little Galapagos of Peru," the Ballestas Islands are a group of rocky islands home to an impressive variety of wildlife. Here, you can closely observe sea lions, Humboldt penguins, and a variety of seabirds, including stunning pelicans. The fauna is complemented by the rich marine biodiversity found beneath the turquoise waves surrounding the islands.

In addition to their natural richness, the Ballestas Islands in Peru also feature fascinating geological formations, a product of marine erosion on volcanic rock. These formations provide not only a visual spectacle but also an essential refuge and habitat for the species that live there.

Ballestas Islands | TreXperience
Ballestas Islands

How to get to the Ballestas Island?

The Ballestas Islands are accessible only by water. Tours mainly leave from the port of Paracas. You can reach Paracas by bus from Lima, a journey that takes about 4 hours. Once in Paracas, you'll find numerous boat tour options that will take you to the islands. These tours generally last around two hours and are the only way to get close to the islands, as landings are not allowed to protect the ecosystem.

Ballestas Islands from Lima

To get to the Ballestas Islands from Lima, you have several options depending on your budget and travel preferences:

By Bus

  • Duration: Approximately 3 to 4 hours.
  • Bus companies: Cruz del Sur, Oltursa, and others offer direct services to Paracas.
  • Cost: Varies depending on the company and type of service but generally ranges between 40 and 70 Peruvian soles per trip.

Once in Paracas, you can take a boat tour to the Ballestas Islands from the local port. Tours usually depart in the morning, and booking is recommended, especially during the high season.

By private or rented car

  • Duration: About 3 and a half hours, depending on traffic.
  • Route: Take the Pan-American Highway South directly to Paracas.
  • Tip: Make sure you have an updated map or GPS, as signage in some parts can be confusing.

By organized tour

Several agencies in Lima offer organized tours that include round-trip transportation, a guide, and a boat tour to the Ballestas Islands.

Advantage | You don't need to worry about the details of planning, and it's a good option if you prefer not to drive.

Ballestas Islands tour | TreXperience
Ballestas Islands tour

What to see and do in the Ballestas Islands?

Here's what you can't miss on your visit to the Ballestas Islands:

Ballestas Islands tour:

Without a doubt, the main and most essential activity in the Ballestas Islands is the boat tour. These tours depart from the port of Paracas and take you on an exciting journey through the sea, where you can closely observe the impressive marine life of Peru. During the trip, not only will you enjoy the views of the mysterious geoglyph "The Candelabro," engraved on the side of a mountain, but you will also have the opportunity to see sea lions, Humboldt penguins, and a variety of seabirds such as cormorants and pelicans.

Wildlife watching:

The Ballestas Islands are a wildlife sanctuary. As you tour the islands by boat, you'll see communities of playful sea lions and hear their calls resonate in the air. The endangered Humboldt penguins are also a unique attraction, offering visitors a rare opportunity to see these animals in their natural habitat. Additionally, the islands are a paradise for bird watchers, as they are home to thousands of migratory and native birds.

Extra fact | The Ballestas Islands serve as an important sanctuary for both migratory and resident birds, with records of over 150 species in total.

Wilflife in Peru | TreXperience
Wilflife in Peru

Learn about conservation:

Take the opportunity to learn more about the conservation efforts underway on the Ballestas Islands. Experts lead many of the tours and provide valuable information on the protection of local wildlife and marine ecosystems. This knowledge can enrich your experience and deepen your appreciation of the importance of preserving these fragile natural environments.

Combine with a visit to the Paracas National Reserve:

If you have time, consider combining your trip to the Ballestas Islands with a visit to the nearby Paracas National Reserve. This protected area not only offers stunning views of nature and birdwatching opportunities but also features beautiful beaches where you can relax and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of the place.

Nature photography:

With breathtaking marine landscapes and an abundance of wildlife, the Ballestas Islands are the perfect setting for photography enthusiasts. The natural lighting, especially during the early morning hours, along with the rich contrast of the dark rocks and the blue ocean, create an idyllic setting for capturing stunning images.

Ballestas Islands Peru | TreXperience
Nature photography. @famile pinksterbos

Interesting Facts About the Ballestas Islands

Guano in Peru:

An interesting fact about the "little Galapagos" is that they are one of the main points of the guano industry in Peru. Guano, the excrement of seabirds such as the guanay, the booby, and the pelican, has been a highly prized fertilizer since the 19th century. The accumulation of guano in some areas of the Ballestas Islands in Peru can reach several meters in height, making these islands strategic locations for its collection.

The Candelabro:

Another curious and quite fascinating fact about the Ballestas Islands is the presence of the "Candelabro de Paracas," an enigmatic geoglyph located on the Paracas peninsula, visible from the sea as you head towards the islands. This geoglyph is about 150 meters tall, and its origin and meaning are still the subject of debate among historians and archaeologists.

The Paracas Candelabra dates back at least 200 years BC, although some studies suggest it could be much older. There are various theories about its purpose: some suggest it functioned as a beacon for navigators, while others propose it had religious or astronomical meanings. The figure has withstood the passage of time due to a climate that prevents wind erosion in that specific area, keeping it visible after thousands of years.

The Candelabro | TreXperience
The Candelabro

Ballestas Islands weather: The best time to visit

The ideal season to visit the Ballestas Islands is between April and October, during the dry season. In these months, there is less fog, and the weather is generally sunnier and more pleasant, providing better opportunities for wildlife observation and photography.

However, it is essential to remember that although these months offer the best weather, they can also coincide with the high tourist season. Therefore, make tour and accommodation reservations in advance to ensure availability and possibly get better rates.

Read More | Peru weather.

What to bring?

To fully enjoy the Ballestas Islands tour, it's important to bring some essential items that will enhance your experience and keep you comfortable during your visit. Here is a list of what you should consider bringing:

  • Appropriate clothing: The climate on the Ballestas Islands can be windy and sometimes cool, especially during early morning or sunset boat trips. Bring a light jacket or windbreaker.
  • Sun protection: The sun can be powerful, especially on the open sea. To protect your skin, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Comfortable footwear: Wear comfortable shoes with good grip.
  • Camera: The Ballestas Islands offer spectacular views. Be sure to bring your camera or a phone with a good camera to capture unforgettable moments.
  • Water and snacks: Bring water and some light snacks. Staying hydrated and energized is key.
  • Bags to protect your belongings: It's a good idea to bring plastic bags or a waterproof bag to protect your electronic devices and important documents.

Where to stay?

You can find a wide range of accommodation options in the nearby town of Paracas, which is the starting point for excursions to the Ballestas Islands:

Luxury hotels:

  1. Hotel Paracas, a Luxury Collection Resort: This is one of the most luxurious hotels in the area, offering a high-end experience with sea views, spa, pools, and quality restaurants.

  2. La Hacienda Bahía Paracas: Another luxury hotel with beautiful views of the bay, a pool, and entertainment and relaxation options for the whole family.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  1. San Agustín Paracas: Located on the coast, this hotel offers comfortable amenities at reasonable prices, with direct beach access.

  2. DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Paracas: This hotel features spacious suites and is ideal for those seeking the comfort of a well-known international chain.

Budget options:

  1. Bamboo Paracas Eco Bungalows: An eco-friendly choice with bungalows that offer a more integrated experience with nature.

  2. Hostel Kokopelli Paracas: Perfect for young travelers and those on a tight budget, this hostel is known for its lively atmosphere and proximity to the beach.

Home-like accommodations:

Airbnb and vacation rentals: Many houses and apartments are for rent in Paracas, which could be ideal if you are traveling in a group or looking for a longer, more independent stay.

Are the Ballestas Islands worth it?

Yes, visiting the Ballestas Islands is worthwhile, especially if you are interested in marine life in Peru and nature. The islands offer the chance to closely observe various seabirds and sea lions, in addition to seeing the mysterious geoglyph "The Candelabro."

The tours are accessible and educational, perfect for capturing stunning photographs, and combine well with other attractions in the Paracas region.

Ballestas Islands Paracas Peru | TreXperience
The islands offer the chance to observe various seabirds and sea lions closely. @Giulaniano da Zanche

A natural treasure in the heart of Peru

The Ballestas Islands are an excellent destination full of surprises that our planet still holds. For those looking for a unique experience in contact with nature, this destination is undoubtedly a must-stop on any trip to Peru.

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