Islas Ballestas

South Coast

Grandiosely nicknamed the ‘poor man’s Galápagos,’ the Islas Ballestas make for a memorable excursion. The only way to get here is on a boat tour, offered by many tour agencies, touts and hotels. Tours leave at 8am, 10am and noon from the Marina Turística de Paracas. The 8am tour usually has the calmest seas and best wildlife-viewing.

While the two-hour tours do not disembark onto the islands, they do get you startlingly close to an impressive variety of wildlife.

None of the small boats has a cabin, so dress to protect against the wind, spray and sun. The sea can get rough, so sufferers of motion sickness should take medication before boarding. Wear a hat (cheap ones are sold at the harbor), as it’s not unusual to receive a direct hit of guano (droppings) from the seabirds.

On the outward boat journey, which takes about 30 minutes, you will stop just offshore to admire the famous Candelabra Geoglyph, a giant three-pronged figure etched into the sandy hills, which is more than 150m high and 50m wide.

A further hour is spent cruising around the islands’ arches and caves and watching large herds of noisy sea lions sprawl on the rocks. The most common guano-producing birds in this area are the guanay cormorant, the Peruvian booby and the Peruvian pelican, seen in colonies several thousand strong. You'll see some extraction facilities on a couple of islands. The Peruvian government still extracts guano (it's a great natural fertilizer) from the islands, but only does so every eight years.

You’ll also see cormorants, Humboldt penguins and, if you’re lucky, dolphins. Although you can get close enough to the wildlife for a good look, some species, especially the penguins, are more visible with binoculars.

In addition to the park entrance fee, boat tour participants are required to pay a S5 boarding fee.