The Poor Man’s Galapagos

Tour the Ballestas Islands in Paracas Peru
I haven't seen this many boobies since high school.

Making my way south on the Peruvian tourist circuit, I grabbed a bus from Lima to Pisco to check out Las Islas Ballestas (the Ballestas Islands) and the Paracas Reserve aka “The Poor Man’s Galapagos”.

I have to say, the bus ride from Lima to Pisco was the most beautiful part of this trip. I left Lima right before sunset and our bus route took us down along the Pacific coast for the majority of the trip. Massive rolling sand dunes sprinkled with tiny tin, brick and mud houses lined the highway as the sun painted the water an amazing shade of red and purple.

I spent the night in Pisco, a small, modest Peruvian town with a classic central plaza and underdeveloped roads and buildings, before shipping out on the tour the next morning.

I struggled getting up the next morning for the Islas Ballestas tour because I felt like I was just going through the motions to say I did it. Truth is I was and I didn’t like the feeling.

The harbor where the tour boats docked was humble and not overbearingly touristy. Tour operators filed in among fishing boats as a sea of blonde hair and blue-eyes over populated the darker background.

Our boat set off across the water until we came to the Islas Ballestas and joined a dozen or so other boats circling the islands.

Tour the Ballestas Islands in Paracas Peru

The islands have over 200 species of marine life and birds, including Humboldt penguins, sea lions and Peruvian boobies (the birds, not the fun kind).  Also, I swore I saw a giant dorsal fin of a shark, whale or dolphin on the way back but I didn’t say anything. The tour guide said there weren’t any sharks but I didn’t believe her… that’s what they said in Cape Cod.

We made our way around the islands (never leaving the boat) admiring the massive amounts of birds and seals, while trying to avoid getting shit on by the heavy traffic above.

Tour the Ballestas Islands in Paracas Peru Boobies

The only thing I didn’t like was that by the end of our tour more and more boats were arriving and you could see all the fuel they were extracting into the water. I asked our tour guide if these boats were good for the environment she told me that the Islas Ballestas had only been deemed a national reserve this past year so regulations still weren’t in place like they are in the real Galapagos. I hope they get that figured out.

Tour the Ballestas Islands in Paracas Peru

Overall, for the money (less than $20) and time (about 2 hours) it was worth it. I haven’t been to the Galapagos yet but I hope it’s a lot more exciting than this. Based on the hype and price tag, I imagine it will be.

I decided to skip the second part of the tour through the Paracas Reserve and catch a bus straight to Ica for some Huacachina sandboarding.

Here’s a few more shots from the Ballestas Islands…

Chilling Sea Lions at Ballestas Islands in Paracas Peru

Penguins at Ballestas Islands in Paracas Peru

The chandelier - a large petroglyph that serves as a beacon to mariners related to the lines and geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana

Bellestas Islands Tour Paracas Peru
I guess some people weren't impressed with the tour.


My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


    1. I’m right there with you Tom. Boobies is just so much fun to say. I even laugh writing it. I’m hoping to make it to the real Galaps in April and plan on touching as many boobies as possible. Boobies.

  1. This looks remarkable. I can’t believe that for less than $20 you experienced all of this, while I’m here stuck. In the snow. In DC. Love the blog btw.

  2. Agree – this is one of the best value tours to do in the whole of Peru. The waters around the islands contain dolphins, so that will definitely be what you saw – some of the tours to the area are known to have seen dolphins follow the boats etc. Also the town of Paracas is a lovely little town. The town of Pisco is still recovering from an earthquake many years ago… which is a shame. Paracas more than makes up for it though.

  3. Very cool to see this. I love how many birds there are there. I am going to to Peru this year and looking for some interesting things to do. There is so much that I hope I can get it all in. Its been a dream of mine to go.

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