Paracas: The Poor Man’s Galapagos, But Really So Much More

Paracas
Fred. Olsen Cruise Line’s Black Watch in the port of Paracas

For the next port of call on our world cruise on board Fred. Olsen Cruise Line’s Black Watch, we’re headed to Paracas, Peru and an adventurous day out to Ballestas Islands. 



Paracas
Distance from Lima to Paracas

Located 262 km from Lima, we sailed straight from Callao to Paracas. When we woke up and looked outside, all we could see was sand and water all around us. Paracas means raining sand or sand rain in Quechua, which seems appropriate as the air currents here carry sand just about everywhere.

From Black Watch to Paracas

Paracas
Sandy Paracas

We were able to depart the ship and either take the shuttle from the ship into Paracas or arrange our own transportation. Our new friends from the ship, Filomeni and Stelios, Danielle, and myself all decided to go out to Ballestas Islands together. Filomeni negotiated a trip for all of us with a cab driver in the port. It included the cab ride in and the tour of the islands by boat for $20 plus the $5 national park fee per person.

Paracas
Sandy Paracas

Soon we were on our way to Paracas and I couldn’t believe my eyes.  As we drove along, it looked like we were on another planet. There were sand dunes surrounding us at every turn. The driver drove fast, like race car fast so I was loving it. In no time flat we were in the center of Paracas.

The Boat to Ballestas Islands

Paracas
Waiting for the boat to Ballestas Islands

The driver guided us inside the building to pay the fees and then we were escorted on foot to the waterfront. Here we were organized into a group along with the masses and waited until it was our time to board our boat.

Paracas
Our ride out to Ballestas Islands

The long boats fit a few dozen people on them and each seat had its very own life vest for users to wear.

Paracas
Headed out to Ballestas Islands

The commentary was supposed to be in Spanish and English, but the English information was quite limited.

Paracas
Passing Black Watch on the way to Ballestas Islands

Then the boat driver prepared the boat and once again, we were off into the unknown on our two hour tour of Ballestas Islands. We even passed Black Watch on our way out.

El Candelabro

Paracas
El Candelabro

But first we stop to take in El Candelabro, a massive large scale geoglyph sitting on the side of a mountain. It can be seen for miles from the open water and could’ve served as a beacon to mariners, although no one can say for sure. The design of El Candelabro is cut two feet into the sail, with stones possibly from a later date placed around it. It stands 595 feet in height and can be seen 12 miles at sea.

Ballestas Islands Wildlife

Paracas
Ballestas Islands

Sometimes referred to as the poor man’s Galapagos Islands, The 0.12 km² Ballestas Islands is home to thousands of birds and mammals including Humboldt penguins, sea lions and fur seals, pelicans, and dolphins. The lesser known, but equally important guanay guano and the blue-footed booby also live here. You won’t be able to walk around the rocky islands, but you can enjoy spectacular views from the comfort of your boat.  

As our boat slowed down, only then were we able to take in all that is Ballestas Islands. By that I mean the smell and let me just say it was extremely overwhelming.Click To Tweet
Paracas
Ballestas Islands Wildlife

As our boat slowed down, only then were we able to take in all that is Ballestas Islands. By that I mean the smell and let me just say it was extremely overwhelming. I’m talking thousands upon thousands of birds and other wildlife just enjoying the convenience of going anywhere and everywhere they could possible ever want to go. I was convinced I would smell like bird poo for the rest of the day year.

TSG Tip: The people on the dock before you board will push hard for you to buy a hat as “protection.” Little did I know that this would be the best purchase possible otherwise you’re just target practice for the birds. Cheap investment with a huge payoff.

Penguins, Sea Lions, And Birds, Oh My

Paracas
Ballestas Islands

Once I got past the smell, I could relax a little and take in the view of all of the amazing wildlife on Ballestas Islands.

Paracas
Sea lions at Ballestas Islands
Paracas
Sea lions at Ballestas Islands
Paracas
Sea lions
Paracas
Sea lions at Ballestas Islands

From the sea lions lounging, to birds flying in mass above our heads, to a few isolated penguins.

Paracas
Reserva Nacional Islas Ballestas

If you love wildlife and can visit Ballestas Islands, then you must visit.

TSG Tip: It’s advised not to to take the boat out to Ballestas Islands if it’s cloudy or in the afternoon. We were on the 10 am trip and although it was hot as hell when we left, I was wearing a tank top and wished I had more clothes on. The wind from the boat ride made it so I was absolutely freezing.

Back to Paracas for Food and Shopping

Paracas
Sailing back to Paracas

After circling the islands, our boat then made the trip back to Paracas. Once off, we decided to go grab something to drink and try to catch some free WiFi.

Paracas
Maracuya (passion fruit) juice in Paracas

I enjoyed a maracuya (passion fruit) juice and just listened to the water not so far off in the distance.

Paracas
Shopping and walking in Paracas

Danielle and I walked the down the boardwalk type area and checked out the many little shops to see if we could find anything of interest, which for us almost means everything.

Paracas
Salad time!

Many, if not all of the restaurants in this area are seafood restaurants. If you like seafood, you’ll be in absolute heaven here. Since I don’t, we settled on a restaurant where Danielle could get an authentic Peruvian pizza (joking here — she just likes pizza). Plus I could get a salad. I have to say I was a little worried about how it would taste, but it was a really fresh salad. It had some interesting ingredients like peaches and walnuts in addition to the lettuce and tomato.

Paracas
Pinguino (Penguin) sculpture in Paracas

After eating, we went back to our favorite past time of shopping and trying to find an incredible bargain.

Paracas
Shopping in Paracas

I found a pair of pants I’ll use for beach days as they are lightweight pull on pants with a drawstring. I also found a few little pieces of jewelry for gifts. Danielle went big on her shopping and bought a wooden Peruvian tumi to take home with her. Yes, that girl does love to shop. We were able to use both Peruvian soles as well as US dollars and negotiate a price with the vendors. Those kind of shopping days are the best days ever. 

Final Thoughts

Our day in Paracas was filled with lots of animals, shopping, and loads of sun. It was definitely a different kind of day, but still one that was filled with memories of faraway lands. Many of these ports are destinations I might never see again so each one is definitely special. This was an easy, kind of lazy day, but an incredibly enjoyable one in Paracas. While it’s not the Galapagos Islands, if you’re visiting Peru, this should be on your travel list, especially if you love animals or photographing them.

Have you visited Paracas? Can you suggest other destinations in Peru that you found equally exciting? Leave your comments below. Discover some other great destinations and travel ideas here on the Travel Shop Girl website .

On my new SPONTANEOUS TRAVEL SCALE of 1-5, with 1 being super easy and spontaneous and 5 being you better plan far in advance, Paracas scores a 1 for super easy spontaneous travel as we didn’t have any plans for our arrival and we were able to figure something out right on the spot.

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