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Touring the Poor Man’s Galapagos in Peru

I’m in Paracas, Peru right now, which is not exactly the prettiest place in the world. A red tide swept through recently, leaving a beach already the color of concrete covered with a carpet of dead crabs. The water is the color of algae, big ships are anchored offshore past the fishing boat fleet. A sign on the beach by the hotel where I’m staying has a sign that says “Swim at your own risk. Stingray zone.” That’s a first.

But people don’t come here to admire the pretty buildings, most of them either brand new or in tatters after a devastating earthquake four years ago that leveled nearby Pisco. They come here to get up close to the sea wildlife hanging out around the Ballestra Islands about a half hour offshore. This area is often nicknamed “the poor man’s Galapagos” because instead of paying three grand or more per person for a week, you spend $15 or so for a few hours’ boat tour.

It’s well worth it, especially if you’re heading down to Arequipa, Nazca, or Puno anyway. This is three hours south of Lima on the way.

I’ll let the photos do the talking for what you see, but the scenery here is dramatic on its own, with lots of eroded arches and caves. Then every available surface is covered with Peruvian boobies, sea lions, Humbolt Penguins, and crabs. Swarms of birds the likes I’ve never seen before are a constant—so many that some hillsides look like they’re heads with hair moving in the breeze. Wear a hat in case a  flock of them decides to fly over your boat!

Naturally there’s a lot of guano coming out of these birds’ butts and it gets collected several times a year to use as fertilizer, making the desert bloom nearby. Most of it goes on top the asparagus crop: Peru is supposedly the #1 exporter of asparagus. Wash well before eating!

And by the way, we didn’t see any stingrays, but a group of dolphins swam right by the boat at the end. Nice topper to the tour.

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