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25 October 2012 / leggypeggy

Ballestas Islands—where bird poop reigns supreme

Peruvian pelicans

Peruvian pelicans on Ballestas Islands

It’s amazing how many places we go on this overland journey that I’ve never heard of before. The Ballestas Islands and Paracas Candelabra are good examples.

Located on the south coast of Peru, these two landmarks are near the town of Paracas in the Pisco Province of the Ica Region.

The small group of Ballestras Islands are about an hour’s boat ride from Paracas and home to a great variety of wildlife. With more than 160 species of marine birds, including Humboldt penguins, cormorants, and Peruvian boobies and pelicans, the Ballestas almost qualify as a mini Galapagos. The seas around the islands are rich in creel and provide safe breeding and/or feeding grounds for sea lions, fur seals, dolphins and whales.

But it’s the birds that made Ballestras famous and profitable. Probably for centuries, they’ve pooped to their hearts’ content and created mountains of guano, which can be gathered for fertiliser. Our guide said that when the islands were first discovered, the guano was 20 metres thick. It became Peru’s main industry of the time. Even now there are a few guano factories on the island. Tourists, however, may not come ashore.

On the way to the islands (and the only way to get to them is by boat), we saw the gigantic Paracas Candelabra on the Paracas Peninsula.

At first I thought it was some sort of promotional gimmick dug in the sand. But the guide set us straight. It’s a 595-foot tall geoglyph that is visible from 12 miles out to sea. Geoglyphs are works of art that were made by moving or arranging stones, soil or other objects within a landscape.

Paracas Candelabra

Paracas Candelabra

This one is made of 2-foot deep trenches carved into the hillside. Stones have been used to mark its edges.

No one knows the exact age or reason for the Paracas Candelabra, but archaeologists have found pottery around the site dating back to around 200 BC.

Local tradition says it represents a lightning rod or the staff of the god Viracocha, who was worshipped throughout South America.

After we returned to Paracas, we popped in to a beachside restaurant and asked about the price of a beer. A shocking 12 soles, or almost $5. ‘How come so much?’ we asked. ‘Because we serve such great food.’ ‘But we’re not eating.’

It was an exchange made in good humour, but we went round the corner (one street back from the main drag) where beers were just 3 soles. It pays to shop around.

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Leave a Comment
  1. Mary O'Toole / Oct 26 2012 3:51 am

    Hi Great Photos and very interesting reading , you make it come alive i feel im on the tour !!


  2. Gary Behnke / Aug 11 2015 4:03 am

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    • leggypeggy / Aug 12 2015 3:02 pm

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you like this post.


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