South America is big and trying to see everything in 4 months is impossible – particularly when you look at the speed at which Chris and I like to travel. So, when we were planning (I use this in the loosest sense) our 4 month holiday in South America, I made sure I had a list of “Em’s must sees” so we didn’t accidently get to the end of the 4 months having missed out something crucial. My top 4 items (in no particular order) were:
1. Iguazu Falls
2. Bolivian Salt Flats
3. Amazon Jungle
4. Galapagos Islands
A little bit of research told me that the Amazon and the Galapagos were going to be a very expensive part of our holiday and I soon realised that if I wanted to ensure that we saw one, I would need to choose. So, we visited Iguazu, saw the salt flats on our Uyuni tour and spent our first wedding anniversary in the Amazon jungle but the Galapagos Islands fell off my list (at least for this holiday).
With this background in mind, you can imagine my excitement when I was doing some research on places to stop between Cusco and Lima and discovered that the Ballestas Islands – affectionately known as the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’.
Paracas is a strange little town halfway between Nazca and Lima. We booked 3 nights here but ended up only staying 2 – it feels like this really is a place you come to see the islands and then move on. The area is actually a desert so it was quite strange seeing desert and coastline directly alongside each other (but that might be because I am definitely a greenery girl).
Our island tour was cancelled the first morning because of stormy seas which gave us a chance to explore the coastal reserve and then spend an afternoon eating cerviche (no complaints from Chris). Luckily (because we had already booked our bus tickets out of Paracas) the tour went ahead on day 2. Needless to say, I had set myself up to be disappointed. All the tours offered in town were identical and I resigned myself to the fact that I was simply being pushed through a tourist factory on a boat of 30 people to islands that probably wouldn’t be amazing. Anyway, we made our way to the port bright and early and boarded a boat in glorious sunshine. I took the advice of some tripadvisor reviews and made sure Chris and I were sitting on the left hand side of the boat (excellent advice by the way).
Our first stop was the candelabra – a strange marking on the side of the hill with unknown origins – like the Nasca lines. Sadly, within the 10 minute journey to the Candelabra a heavy mist had descended and it was really hard to actually make out the Candelabra. Never mind though, I was here for the birds.
We left the Candelabra and headed off for another 20 minutes in increasingly thick mist. The skipper seemed to have no GPS system or even a compass and we seemed to be navigating by simply following the co-skipper’s pointed finger. We come to a sudden stop directly in front of the islands. I was immediately excited – there were thousands and thousands of birds. Everywhere we looked (or peered through the mist) we could see them.
I was particularly taken by the pelicans – while they had looked foolish begging for food on the tourist beach, they looked majestic and historic in their flocks around the island.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sea lion. Initially we had seen a few dotted around on rocks or playing in the water next to the boat and then we stumbled on a little beach where they were all lounging and grunting and frolicking (as much as a sea lion can frolic) in the waves.
My only complaint was that the actual time around the island was way too short. In fact, as the mist cleared and the sun came out, our boat turned to leave. At least our photos have a nice eerie quality to them. I am sure the Galapagos islands are absolutely incredible, but for now I am happy we got a taste in Paracas.