Around 250 kilometres south of Lima is the wonderful nature reserve of the Ballestas Islands. Thousands of seabirds fight for their tiny piece of real estate on the off-shore islands. Protected for conservation reasons, visitors cannot disembark on the islands and the only access is an inexpensive and excellent organised boat tour.

On the way is the unusual and perplexing giant rock formation of the Candelabra. More like a cactus in Arizona than a candlestick, this mysterious and unexplained shape has been etched into the hillside and is dated to 200 BC. Almost 200 metres high and visible from 20 kilometres at sea, theories abound to its significance including a giant road sign, a religious symbol and even the efforts of adventurous pirates. Most likely is that it is totally unrelated to the Nazca Lines and is more likely attributable to the ancient Paracas culture.

It is a moody place with sea birds swooping overhead and the ocean pounding into the shoreline of the Candelabra.

The boat speeds on chopping comfortably through the rough and churning sea, water spraying in the gusty winds. After a short time, the reddish rocks of the islands start to appear protruding from the ocean. The violent ocean has scarred and carved these rocky protrusions, gouging arches and sea caves leaving distinctive striped patterns. Indeed, the islands take their name from ballesta meaning the bow of an archer.

Approaching near the islands, the natural red rock is stained with the thick white chalky coating of guano. Years of birds dropping have built the islands up, for many years providing a rich source of fertiliser for the Europeans and a successful industry for the Peruvians. Tiny active Humboldt penguins compete with the dignified red-footed Guanay cormorants and the haphazard Peruvian boobies for valuable nesting and landing sites, every square inch of the island consumed with birds. The squawking noise even downs out the waves beating against the rocky islands and the constant frantic aerial activity makes the busiest of airports seem tame.

The boat moved close to the islands leaving the various birds closely visible. More exciting, the waters are teeming with sealions circling the boat and playfully diving near and under the boat like a kindergarten of excited children. Others rest, sunning themselves on the steep rockfaces of the islands.

For the next hour, the boat wove among the islands and near the rock arches as the birds and sealions put on a wonderful wildlife show. While wild claims of it being the Peruvian Galapagos are well overstated, the Ballestas Islands provide a paradise for wildlife lovers and an excellent couple of hours exploring the southern coastline of Peru.

Other Peru Posts
The Andean Sistine Chapel (Andahuaylillas)
Exploring the Incan Wonderland (Machu Picchu)
Trekking to the Lost City (Inca Trail)
Potatoes with your Guinea Pig, Sir?
Flight of the Condor (Colca Canyon)
Living in Reeds (Lake Titicaca)
Top Ten Travel Wonders of South America



9 Responses to The Wildlife of Ballestas Islands (Paracas, Peru)

  • Donna Hull says:

    Mark, thanks for the reminder of my tour of the Ballestas Islands. At each new site, our guide would say, "ooh-la-la." My husband still smile about that experience. Of course when we see something we like during a trip, you can guess what we say. Ooh-la-la.

  • BarbaraW says:

    The wildlife looks amazing, but I am most fascinated by the mysterious carving. Is it a rock face – hard to tell from the photo, but I assume so or rain would have washed it away long ago. I had hoped to get to Peru on this trip, but Mexico so fascinated me that I won't make it out of Central America, however that just gives me an opportunity to add this place to my Peru wish list. Thanks, Mark!

  • Sherry says:

    Wow, I was in Lima but didn't have time to head south. It's looks much better than Sea World…it's the real thing!

  • Mark H says:

    @Donna: Ooh-la-la

    @BarbaraW: I think it is dug around a metre into the soft rock and hence survived for centuries.

    @sherry: It was simply excellent and such a surprise. I really went there as an afterthought which makes these things so rewarding.

  • Anil says:

    Must be a good alien theory to go with the Candelabra ;)

  • tawassel says:

    Wow, this looks amazing and the carving is very cool. Sigh, another place to add to the list :)

  • Mark H says:

    @anil: I am sure there are lots of alien theories. I think that van Daniken thought it was a pointer to the spacecraft landing fields of Nazca.

    @tawassel: Very cool place indeed. Well worth the sidetrip to visit this great wildlife sanctuary.

  • Heather on her travels says:

    I love the wild rocky coastline – and that carving looks amazing although from a distance it looks as if it's drawn in the sand.

    What I want to know is if the fertiliser is being harvested, how come visitors aren't allowed on the islands?

  • Mark H says:

    @heather: I think it is two different parts of the islands. I think that a decent part is protected for wildlife and they'd like the fertiliser harvesting to stop too but it continues.

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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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