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Islas Ballestas, Peru: A Budget Version of the Galapagos Islands

Islas Ballestas, Peru: A Budget Version of the Galapagos Islands

We thought long and hard about whether we should visit the Galapagos Islands while sitting in a tourist agency in Quito, Ecuador. We eventually decided that we couldn’t afford it. A month later we were on a boat headed to Islas Ballestas (Ballestas Islands), a great option for those of us without the funds to visit the Galapagos Islands. We saw lots of birds and seals and some rugged coastal scenery. It might not compare to the Galapagos but it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours and will only cost you around $12.

Pelican Beach

Hundreds of pelicans took over this small beach on the way to the Ballestas islands — they also commandeered several boats in the area.

Pelicans on the Islas Ballestas tour, Paracas, Peru

The Candelabra Geoglyph

There are two main theories for the creation of this sand art. The first is that the local indigenous groups created it and the other is that it was made by pirates as a signal. My default theory for this sort of thing is aliens — I just really want to believe! The boat stopped at the geoglyph for 5 minutes, and from there it was a short ride to the islands.

The Candelabra Geoglyph, Ballestas Islands tour, Paracas, Peru

The birds

Have you heard of Ornithophobia? It’s the technical name for the fear of birds. There are two things you shouldn’t do if you have it: watch Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and visit the Ballestas Islands. I’ve never seen so many birds in one place. We saw whole rocks and small islands covered in them. There were seagulls, boobies and turkey vultures, not to mention penguins. Penguins are cuter than most other birds and you don’t get to see them often, so they earn their own heading in this article.

Further reading: Interested in Peru’s diverse range of birds? Check out this list and see how many you can find.

Birds on the Ballestas tour, Paracas , PeruBallestas islands tour, Paracas, Peru


We saw a group of penguins standing around on a rocky island just metres from a baby sea lion. It looked like they wanted to pass and the sea lion was acting as security. Maybe this was training for the small sea lion; I’m sure bigger challenges lay ahead him.

Penguin vs seal lion Ballestas islands, PeruPenguins pn the Ballestas islands tour, Paracas, Peru

Sea lions

We saw so many sea lions during the Ballestas Islands tour. They were mostly seen sleeping on rocks,  but we saw some who were swimming in the water and one even growled at us. We saw a few baby ones and not all of them were on guard duty.

Sea lion Isla Ballestas, Paracas, Peru

The Ballestas Islands

The Ballestas Islands aren’t just good for wildlife spotting — the islands themselves are also something special. The red rocks, massive arches and rugged beaches make for a great backdrop to the animal action. To get the best view of the islands, and the wildlife, make sure you sit on the left-hand side of the boat.

Isla Ballestas, Paracas, PeruBallestas Islands tour in Paracas, Peru

Paracas Natural Reserve

If you’re doing the Ballestas Islands tour make sure you also check out Paracas Natural Reserve. You can explore it on a quad bike or on a bus tour – it was included in our Peru Hop pass which we’ve been using to explore southern Peru (it’s a great way see this area, especially if you’re short on time). The highlight of Paracas Natural Reserve is Playa Roja, otherwise known as the red beach. The red beach is sandwiched between the yellow sand of the desert and the blue water of the Pacific Ocean. It’s definitely one of the most unique beaches I’ve been to.

Playa Roja, the red beach, in Paracas Natural Reserve, Peru

Paracas Town

Paracas isn’t my favourite town in Peru but it’s fine for a night or two. The food is pretty good (especially the ceviche) and there are lots of hostels and hotels. Paracas is around 4 hours south of Lima and is definitely worth stopping off at for the night if you’re travelling through Southern Peru towards Cusco. It’s easy to organise a tour to the islands in town but make sure to bargain; we paid 38 soles each (around $12), including the entrance fee and port tax.

Have you been to Islas Ballestas or the Galapagos Islands? Let me know!

I worked with Peruhop during my trip around southern Peru. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.


Friday 2nd of October 2015

The goal isn't always to see the most visited place, it's to have a truly amazing experience, where ever you go. It looks like you more than accomplished that! The pelicans are so awesome.

Jon Algie

Friday 2nd of October 2015

Definitely! Thanks for the comment Laura

Lucy Smith

Thursday 1st of October 2015

Look at these photos! Great job! I love penguins so much so this would be the dream

Jon Algie

Thursday 1st of October 2015

Thanks Lucy - the penguins were cool, hoping to see some more in Patagonia soon.