The wild attractions of Peru’s Islas Ballestas


The boat looked small for the number of people they wanted to board; small and fast. After we had climbed down and taken our seats, it didn’t seem so bad. Two seats to each side of a middle passage on a boat that held about 40 people, all told. There was plenty of room for me to use my camera. We strapped on out life-vests and the captain pulled the vessel away from the dock. A slow, no wake zone took us out of the anchoring area and into the open ocean.

The sun shined bold and hot in a cloudless blue sky. The Pacific was calm, with small swells and a soft breeze. As the boat broke free, the Captain floored it and off we went, skipping across the small waves like a well tossed stone on a small pond.

The Islas Ballestas, off the coast of Paracas Peru, awaited us. A nature preserve with multiple species of birds, seals, and other sea life, it was the reason we had come. But first, we passed the huge trident symbol called “the Candelabra of the Andes.” Carved out of a tall sand dune and protected from the wind, the symbol has been dated by archaeologists to around 200 B.C. No one knows for certain created it or why.

The myths surrounding it go from the candelabra being the symbol for the lightning trident of the god Viracocha to a marker placed by pirates to show where a treasure is located. It’s beautiful, regardless of the reason. While the boat idled close to the shore and the guide explained the symbol, the other passengers and I snapped multiple photos before we headed out to see the islands and the wildlife.

The bellows of the bull seals guarding their territory echoed in our ears and our nostrils were assailed by the fifty meters of guano, bird excrement, that covered the islands. Arriving was a truly breathtaking experience, no pun intended. Two large islands and one smaller one made up the grouping.

Large piers had been constructed on the two larger islands to allow ships to dock. The guano, an excellent fertilizer, is harvested on the islands every few years. Large caves and arches graced the edges of the islands, lending them an aura of mystery. Pillars of stone would jut out of the ocean, each a resting place for the large assortment of marine wildlife.

Captain Joe maneuvered the craft with season expertise until it was almost within reaching distance of the rocky outcrops. At times I feared the small boat would crash onto the large rocks, the swells growing larger the farther the sun dropped from the mid-day sky. Individual sea lions and Humboldt penguins languished on large boulders, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun. Inca terns and boobies squawked and screeched their displeasure at being disturbed while red-legged cormorants stood in stately pose for photographs.

Rodney has been living in Peru and writing about travel, archaeology and more. He is a true Lima enthusiast. He chronicles many of his experiences in Lima on his blog. He is also the co-author, with Larry Pitman, of the book Sacrfice: The Prince Charming Murders, which takes place in Peru. Click on the title to take you to Amazon where it can be purchased for your Kindle or Kindle Reader.

Hold your nose and open your eyes when you visit this natural reserve teeming with wildlife.