Day 13: Las Islas Ballestas

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January 24, 2013 by jiejie768

After a rather underwhelming trip to the Nazca Lines, our visit and adventures with Meg’s family were wrapping up. We had only one planned activity left: A trip to the Islas Ballestas off the coast of Paracas, Peru. As always, to read what came before on our holiday vacation, follow the links at the bottom of this post.

The Islas Ballestas — about 23 kilometers off the Peruvian shore — are combine majestic geological formations with a dazzling array of wildlife.

The Islas Ballestas — about 23 kilometers off the Peruvian shore — combine majestic geological formations with a dazzling array of wildlife.

Day 13: Las Islas Ballestas

The Islas Ballestas are known as “the poor man’s Galapagos Islands.” They do not feature near the array of wildlife as Darwin’s playground, but they are only 23 kilometers off the coast, and getting there costs a fraction of the price. And they do have something the Galapagos do not: penguins.

Lolo is thrilled to be on our way to the Islas Ballestas. While there, I'm prety sure she addes some penguins and a couple sea lions to the imaginary pilfered menagerie she was collecting during her trip to Peru.

Lolo is thrilled to be on our way to the Islas Ballestas. While there, I’m prety sure she added some penguins and a couple sea lions to the imaginary pilfered menagerie she was collecting during her trip to Peru.

After an early morning (5 a.m.) the day before to get to the Nazca Lines, Ty, Meg and I were strongly considering bailing on the trip to the Ballestas. We were tired and wanted to simply relax on what amounted to our last real day of vacation. But once the arrangements were made, and we learned we would not have to leave until 9 a.m. on Jan. 3, we decided we didn’t want to miss it, and joined in. We ended up being very glad that we did.

The islands are about a 30 minute boat ride from shore and feature a dazzling array of avian wildlife in addition to a very large, and noisy, sea lion population. The gallant pelicans, playful Peruvian boobies and vibrant red-legged cormorants are joined on their island home by hundreds of tiny penguins.

A red-legged cormorant hangs out with a flock of penguins.

A red-legged cormorant hangs out with a flock of penguins.

To my knowledge, this is the furthest north that penguins exist in the wild (it’s only a few hundred miles south of the Equator). I learned during this outing that air temperature (which was fairly mild on our trip) is far less important to a penguin’s livelihood than the water temperature. So it is that a series of cold currents flowing around the Islas Ballestas allow the penguins to thrive. In fact, a few years back during an El Niño year, the water temperature rose significantly and nearly destroyed the penguin population. Our guide told us that only in the past couple of years have the birds started to recover in full.

This guy was among the biggest sea lions we saw on our outing to the Islas Ballestas.

This guy was among the biggest sea lions we saw on our outing to the Islas Ballestas.

A young sea lion cries out in search of his mother at the Islas Ballestas.

A young sea lion cries out in search of his mother at the Islas Ballestas.

It was pretty amazing to see so many birds and sea lions occupy such a relatively small space. There must of been 100,000 or more birds in very tight quarters. It didn’t result in the greatest smell I’ve ever encountered (the guano harvested on the island fertilizes nearly all of the Peruvian desert and is also exported internationally), but after a few minutes you don’t notice it as much.

Beyond simply admiring the wildlife, I found myself enthralled by the islands themselves. The rock and cave formations were amazing in their own right, and, by the end of the day, Tom and I had combined to snap somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 photos. Sometimes I can’t help myself. With that, I’ll turn this post over to a photo gallery of the islands and animals.

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After returning to shore, we grabbed a delicious seafood lunch (well, I had lomo saltado — stir-fry beef) and headed back to the hotel. We returned around 2 and had plenty of time to relax on our final day before returning to Lima for a night before Meg’s family left us once and for all on the morning of Jan. 5.

Catch up on a our holiday vacation with the following links:

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