Monday 18 December 2023

Where the desert meets the sea

Next stop: Reserva Nacional de Paracas, Peru's largest piece of protected coastline, where towering cliffs border beaches swarming with wildlife. And where there is sea, of course there are islands. The Islas Ballestas are covered in wildlife and apparently are dubbed the 'Poor Man's Galapagos islands' because the arches and caves of these islets shelter more than 160 species of marine birds and other sea animals.

Which is why waking up early in the morning, we rose in high spirits and rushed to board a boat that would take us to visit the islands! Within minutes of leaving the port, Ismene spotted a sea lion! Our first ever sea lion and suddenly, as if out of nowhere, they were appearing one here, another there...they were everywhere! 

We were speeding along, getting used to the appearance of the sea lions, when yet another surprise met our eyes: penguins! Actual penguins up here in north Peru! Was I seeing things or could this possibly be real? According to our captain these were humboldt penguins, named after the freezing current they live in (the humboldt current). Apparently, they are medium-sized but they looked very small to us. 

But if that wasn't extraordinary enough, listen to this: seconds after the penguins had dived in the sea, a squadron of dolphins skimmed into view jumping along and diving down to get another fish!

All the islands were dotted with pelicans and Peruvian boobies and a lot (and I really mean A LOT) of guanco (bird poo). Our guide told us that every few years, the bird poo is collected to be used as fertilizer. That sounded bizarre but apparently is very good.

But the guanco (bird poo)-filled islands had not finished their show yet. Just around the corner lying on a big rocky island on their own, three sea lions were lying and dosing the day lazily away. At one point, there was a fight between two of the sea lions - maybe because there was not enough space on the rock for all of them or maybe because one of them was getting the best sun. Who knows? 

But there were more surprises, and this time, not down at sea level but higher up the island cliffs: El Candelabro de Paracas is an 180 meters long geoglyph on the actual sand! How amazing it is that it's still there despite the high and unmerciful pacific wind. Like the Nazca lines, noone really knows what its purpose is. Some claim it is a pirate's sign, others that it's from the old Paracas civilization. Whatever it is, I still can't get my head around how it is still there after hundreds and hundreds of years. 

As we turned for home and came out from behind the islands, the most remarkable thing happened in just one instant: I saw the tail of a humpback whale slapdown hard on the sea! WOW! Seconds later we saw both this one and a smaller whale, it must have been its' young! Double WOW!

As we sped on towards the harbour, we were overtaken by a group of speeding pelicans flying low...It was very very cool!


  1. Wow wOw WOW! Great big wows all the way!! What a thrilling adventure continues. So excited to hear that you've been seeing so much epic wildlife. Sea Lions can make quite a racket when they're fighting it out. Please bring some Guano back to Brook Cottage? Wonderful for the garden...we could set up a business?@!! Lots of Merry Christmas love ❤️

    1. We've already passed through and it might stink a bit to much

  2. Your trip just gets better and better. Deeply envious of you seeing all that wildlife. Absolutely glorious. The El Candelabro de Paracas geolyph is mind boggling. How can it still be there? It just cannot be possible but ... phew! Lots of reading up to do for me now. Love to you all. Margl xxxx

    1. Thanks Margl. I've got lots of catching up to do on comments too! If only my sandcastles lasted that long, they're always gone by the next morning :(