Machu Picchu Travel

Ballestas Islands

Ballestas Islands

Also known as the Peruvian Small Galapagos, they are a group of rock formations and small islands located in front of the Paracas National Reserve, home to Humboldt penguins, exotic birds, and hundreds of sea lions.

This natural wonder offers the perfect ecosystem for all these beautiful creatures, making it the main tourist attraction in Paracas. You can easily visit them on a 2-hour boat tour and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll also get to see dolphins on the way there!

The Guano Islands, Islets, and Capes National Reserve System is one of the most important natural treasures of Peru since it encompasses an extensive biodiversity, where several species of flora and fauna are currently protected. 

The otherworldly sceneries of the Peruvian desert perfectly merge with the Pacific Ocean, allowing you to experience the best of the Peruvian coastside in just one place. Continue reading and learn everything about this magical place.

About the Ballestas Islands

The Ballestas Islands are certainly famous for holding one of the largest sea lion colonies in the region, as well as migratory and endemic birds. Likewise, these islands add up a special touch to the overall maritime scenery thanks to their intriguing rock formations.

For that reason, the outstanding Peruvian Small Galapagos are one of the most visited attractions near Lima. The place offers the perfect setting to experience a full immersion in nature, a journey to a world unknown to many but as beautiful as you can imagine.

Wildlife in the Ballestas Islands

If you’d like to know what to expect during your Ballestas Islands Boat Tour, here’s everything you need to know. The Ballestas Islands hold 18 bird and 3 mammal species that made their home out of these astonishing rock formations and islands.

1. Humboldt Penguin
If you didn’t know, there is a colony of penguins living on the rocky shores of Peru. The Humboldt Penguin is the only one of its kind that lives permanently in Peru. Like most of its brothers, it is a maritime bird that can’t fly, it has wings shaped like flings that allow it to reach a high-speed swim.

Sardines and anchovies are part of their daily diet. They are usually extremely shy to humans, which is why you’ll be lucky if you get to see them from afar. The Humboldt Penguin can stay up to 2 hours underwater. They have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years.

2. Peruvian Pelican - Alcatraz
It is one of the largest birds in the Peruvian coast, the Peruvian Pelican’s widespan can reach up to 2.2 meters and has a length of 1.5 meters. You can see them all year round in the Ballestas Islands, they inhabit across the vast Peruvian and Chilean coasts.

The Peruvian Pelican is the third most important ‘guanera’ bird of the region. They fly in groups, usually in a straight-diagonal line. This bird is one of the easiest to identify thanks to its extremely long beak and the bluish sack beneath it.

3. Red-footed Guanay Cormorant
It is the principal producer of Guano in the region. This bird species is easy to recognize and differentiate from other Guanay Cormorants since it’s the only one with a white chest and belly, and red feet and eyes.

They usually nest in the flat surfaces of the Peruvian islands and have a mainly anchovies diet. About 22 million of red-footed guanay cormorants were registered in 1954 though now its population has been reduced to less than 900,000 due to the Guano mining.

4. Marine Otter
Also known as Gato de Mar in Spanish, it is an otter species that inhabits the South American pacific coast. They are largely found along the Chilean coast until the northern Peruvian coast.

The Marine Otter lives in the rocky shores of the pacific ocean and it’s distinguished as one of the best swimmers in the region. They have a length between 70-80 centimeters and are usually scared of people, so spotting one of these animals is a total privilege.

5. South American Sea Lion
The first animal that comes to mind whenever you think about the Ballestas Islands is the sea lion, and how not to since thousands of them come to these beautiful rock formations to procreate or just sun-bathing. 

The South American Sea Lion is recognized for its giant squared head and short nose, as well for its particular brown or chocolate color. They can weigh up to 300 kg and usually live along the South American coasts, between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

6. Bottlenose Dolphin
These are one of the shiest species that loom around the Ballestas Islands. The Bottlenose Dolphin is one of the most common among the 30 dolphin species in the world, they feed on fishes, squids and crustaceans.

These dolphins have an average swimming speed of 5-11 km/h though they can reach up to 35 km/h in short distance swims. These animals have to come out of water every 5-8 minutes to breathe, so this could be your lucky chance to spot one during your trip to the islands.

These are just a few of the many animal species that inhabit around the Ballestas Islands. If you’re eager to know maritime wildlife during your adventure to Peru, this is the way to go!

- Fun Fact -

If you’ve been following our Paracas travel guide, you must surely know about a giant carving in the Paracas Peninsula, a mystery that couldn’t be traced back to any known pre-columbian civilization. 

On the way to the Ballestas Islands you’ll be able to appreciate the Candelabro, a presumably Nazca line in the pacific coastside.

A fight over the ecosystem...

As we mentioned earlier, the ‘Islas Ballestas’ are located just in front of the Paracas Peninsula, that’s about 270 kilometers away south of Lima. These rock formations and isles are recognized for housing a great variety of marine fauna, but also for being one of the most important guano reserves in the coast of Peru.

For those who didn’t know, Guano is basically bird poop, an important resource used as fertilizer since Inca times. 

The material became a valuable global commodity and was mined extensively to the point that it damaged the seabird ecosystem between the mid 1800s and early 1900s.

For that reason, the Guano Administration Company was created to help preserve the guano bird population but also to control the extraction without causing damage to the environment. However, Guano mining decreased significantly thanks to the use of synthetic fertilizers.

Nowadays, the Guano Islands, Islets, and Capes National Reserve System looks to protect the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem belonging to the Humboldt current since 2009. The reserve comprises 33 isles, islands and guano capes along the coast.

How to Visit the Ballestas Islands?

As you already know, the Ballestas Islands are located near the town of Paracas, a few kilometers away from Lima. For that reason, it is an easy day trip from the so-called City of Kings since it only takes a 4-hour drive to get to this magical place.

Although you could get a boat ride to this natural wonder already being in Paracas, keep in mind that there’s a high demand of local and foreign tourists looking to do the same thing and queues can take ages. 

Therefore, we highly recommend you to plan ahead before getting to this destination so you can have a set time to sail across the ocean and explore the magical setting of the Ballestas Islands. 

Luckily for you, we have a special Tour of the Ballestas Islands where you’ll be able to appreciate this outstanding scenery and more!

Would you like to know more about Peru? Here you’ll find all the information you need for your trip. Our local expert team has prepared the most complete informative guides for you! 

Also, if you’re eager to know Peru at its fullest, check our travel packages and live an authentic experience with Viagens Machu Picchu.