A Taste of Peru: Discover Lima, Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu Day 3

Friday, October 7th, 2022

This morning we were down in the lobby of our hotel by 4:45 AM for our pick-up for our tour of Ballestas Islands and a visit to the Paracas National Reserve. It turned out to be a private tour with our guide, Junior, and our driver Antonio. Antonio did not speak much English but Junior spoke English very well.

Junior, our guide for the day

We’ve been looking forward to this tour because we will see Humboldt penguins. It would be our 11th out of 18 penguin species that we’ve seen in their natural habitat!

Our driver headed south for our first stop which was our boat ride out to the Ballestas Islands. It was about a four hour car ride. We traveled on the Pan American Highway for quite awhile. This road stretches and connects over 19,000 miles from Ushuaia, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The road was interesting in places because when we passed through a town, there would be “speed bumps” and crosswalks for people to cross the four lanes. It seemed very dangerous to us but the locals seemed to be used to it.

This is an example of the “speed bump” and crosswalk!

We arrived in Paracas where we would catch our boat that would take us to the uninhabited Ballestas Islands. It was comprised of rocky islands and the Humboldt current was great for the marine life to thrive there. Its cold current pulls up water from the ocean floor, also nutrients and lower temperatures. This made it great feeding for the marine life around there.

Paracas is on the west coast of Peru. We were on one of the first boats over to the Islands. Junior, our guide, made sure we got on the boat, in the middle, and on the left side!

On our ride to the islands, we saw the Paracas Candelabra or it was also called the Candelabra of the Andes. This was a prehistoric geoglyph found in the Pisco Bay. Its origin is still unknown. Carbon dating was done on artifacts found near this giant geoglyph that dated back to 200 BCE but there wasn’t any clue as to why it was made. It was etched two feet into the petrified sand on the hill and stood almost 600 feet from top to bottom.

Our view of the Ballestas Islands as we arrived in our boat.

All the dots you see on the hillside are birds! It was a blanket of birds.

Once we arrived to the islands we saw the South American Sea lions. Of the sea lions we saw there was one LARGE male! The male had a giant, maned head like a lion!

Male Sea lion

Of course, it was incredible to see all of the birds but our favorite was the Humboldt penguin! The Humboldt penguin adult was about 26 inches tall and weighed about 10 pounds. They are classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and in 2010 were granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. You can help the penguins by choosing sustainably harvested fish when you eat seafood!

We saw the Inca Tern. They are near threatened. They are known for their white mustaches which both the males and the females have. The Inca tern was about 16 inches long and its wing span was about 31 inches.

We saw Peruvian Boobies which were endemic to Peru. They had a white head and neck. There was some white scaling on its darker back.

The Guanays cormorant was also found in the islands. There was a red patch around the eye and its body was black and white. The Guanays were the main producer of guano. For many years the guano found on the Ballestas Islands was used as a fertilizer for plants.


Peruvian Pelicans were abundant around the islands. They are “near threatened”. They had a colorful bill and a big whitish upperwing area. Its size was about twice that of a brown pelican.

Some of the Red-legged Cormorants that we saw were nesting. They are “Near threatened”. They had a distinctive white neck patch, a brightly colored bill, and red legs.

We saw a lot of the Kelp Gulls. These gulls were native to the coastlines of the Southern Hemisphere and this gull was one of 55 seagulls! They had a mostly white head and body with dark wings, and a red-tipped bill.

Of course the Peruvian Turkey Vultures were hanging around. Their red necks were visible as they scavenged for fish, eggs, and dead birds/animals!

Peruvian Turkey Vultures

We were out viewing the wildlife around the islands for a little over two hours. When we returned to the docks our guide Junior was there to meet us. He told us that while we were out there on the water a Tsunami warning went off and it freaked him out for a few minutes until he found out that it went off by accident. We were really glad that we had no idea!

Junior walked us to where our driver and the car was located. He suggested we do lunch and our wine tasting experience before we visited the National Reserve. The winery and restaurant were located another hour south of Caracus. Nietto was where we stopped and it was located in the region of Ica. Nietto has been in operation since 1856. It was one of the most visited wineries in the city of Ika. We had a wonderful lunch with our guide and our driver.

After lunch we had a private tour of the winery and its wine making process. After the tour we sampled their wine and pisco, the national drink in Peru. For each of the 7 different wines that we tried, our host had us repeat a Spanish saying before we tried them. Pisco was the last spirit we tried and its alcohol proof was 41%! It was potent. It’s a good thing we had lunch first! The favorite drink with Pisco is the Pisco sour which we tried later in our trip!

After our wine tasting we went to Paracas National Reserve. It was a protected area and there were many archaeological sites in the reserve. It had a dramatic shore line with sculpted rocks from the constant wind and wave action. The Reserve had the desert, the Pacific ocean, and islands.

Entering Paracas National Reserve

The Yacimiento fossil area had many cone-shaped marine fossils. These snails were from about 36 million years ago! It was prohibited to take any of the fossils.

The area was desolate looking and we only saw a few people the entire time we were in the Reserve. The road was hard-packed dirt and very bumpy!

La Catedral was once a sea arch but it was destroyed in the 2007 earthquake. Just parts of the rock were left.

Playa Roja or Red Beach had maroon colored sand that got its color from the erosion of porphyry rocks that were igneous rocks composed of coarse-grained crystals.

We stopped and walked part of the beach at Playa Yumaque. During the hot summer days, this beach is popular when La Mina is crowded.

La Mina Beach Area

We saw these “Shantytowns” as we drove along the highway. They basically were made from any materials they could find to use. Some don’t have water or electricity. These had popped up everywhere.

Peru has a large poverty rate. The country was making progress and then the COVID-19 pandemic hurt their progress. Peru had one of the highest death rates due to COVID-19 and due to the lockdowns the country has nearly a third of the total population suffering from monetary poverty. Our guide discussed the impacts on the country.

Our day began in the dark and ended being dropped off at our hotel in the dark. We spent over 15 hours exploring together and we were exhausted at the end of the tour but had a fantastic day learning and seeing more of Peru on our own!

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