Four hours from Lima, Peru and right on the Pacific Ocean is the small town of Paracas. My girlfriend Kate and I had never heard of it before; however, at the recommendation of a previous hostel-mate, we agreed to check it out. It quickly became one of our favorite stops on our South American backpacking trip and we highly recommend that you visit, too!
As a lesser-known travel destination, we expected Paracas to have a remote, low-key feel. We were completely surprised to learn, upon our arrival, that the town is actually one of the biggest up-and-coming tourist destinations in all of Peru and has a ton of activities to offer.
We asked the staff at our hostel for recommendations on where to start, and they suggested an $11 boat tour to Isla Ballestas, also known as “the poor man’s Galapagos Islands”.
“As a lesser-known travel destination, we expected Paracas to have a remote, low-key feel. We were completely surprised to learn…that the town is actually one of the biggest up-and-coming tourist destinations in all of Peru.”
We set off the next morning, hoping to see a few exotic birds – perhaps blue footed boobies (which were all the rage up the coast in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador) or petrels. It felt amazing to just to be out in the Pacific Ocean surrounded by Peru’s amazing red sand desert. The desert in that part of the world is an incredible sight – it looks and feels like you are in the middle of the Sahara.
After about an hour on the water, we cruised up to a site called The Candelabra. It is a geoglyph (a motif designed in the ground) in the shape of its name dating back approximately two thousand years. Originally carved with stones, it has kept its shape and design because of its location on the backside of a mountain, which typically gets very little wind or rain.
Our boat cruised on and we started to see the outline of giant rock formations in the distance. They jutted out in the middle of the sea, reminding us the south of Thailand. As we got closer, we noticed that the formations were completely covered with birds: pelicans, boobies, and others that we had never seen before. There seemed to be thousands of them!
We pulled up alongside the rock and marveled at the scene. Before long, our eyes started to dart around in search of other animals. It was then that we saw them: a group of fifty penguins! They waddled around and dove into the water, their feet hanging in the air before disappearing below the surface. It was like looking at a black and white cloud moving in unison from the shore to the sea. It was an incredibly special moment.
We were fortunate to spot other animals too. Seals and sea lions covered Isla Ballestas, making loud, funny sounds. The island was a continuous echo of noises.
Our experience on the boat tour was completely unexpected and yet serendipitous; it is one that we will treasure for a lifetime. To see such a diversity of unique animals in their natural habitat was a privilege, and something we thought might only be accessible somewhere else for a larger fee (like on the Galapagos Islands). Although Paracas and Isla Ballestas are becoming top tourist destinations for obvious reasons, they do not boast the same crowds – and do not require the same resources – at the moment. We recommend you get there soon before they become more of a standard stop on the traditional tourist trail.