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