Poor Man’s Galapagos Peru (Islas Ballestas, Paracas)

Don’t have the time or money to visit Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands? Then you’ll definitely want to hear all about the Poor Man’s Galapagos Peru.

The Islas Ballestas in Paracas, Peru are like the Galapagos Islands. But on a much, much smaller scale.

In fact, you can visit with a 2-hour Ballestas Islands tour from Paracas. While the real Galapagos generally needs at least a few days.

But, it’s not just time. A tour of the islands in Peru can cost as little as 12 USD. While you’ll need at least a few hundred bucks to visit the Galapagos.

Find out more about this budget-friendly, wildlife-filled paradise. Including how to get the cheapest tours, what you’ll see and top tips to really make your time special…

Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a qualifying purchase.

Humboldt penguins stood on the cliff edge of the Islas Ballestas Peru

What is the Poor Man’s Galapagos?

As the name suggests, the Poor Man’s Galapagos are areas where that have similarities to the real Galapagos Islands. But that you can visit for a fraction of the price.

With the Galapagos Islands located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and in a heavily protected natural reserve, they’re not cheap to visit. You’ll need round-trip flights, entrance permits and then a cruise or multiple one-day trips to see the islands. And, being a remote island, everything is more expensive as it has to be brought by sea or air.

For many people, this just simply isn’t in their budget. Instead, they opt for one of two cheaper versions.

The first option is Isla de la Plata in Ecuador. It’s located just a few miles off the coast and has wildlife spotting tours more suited to a low budget.

The second option is the Ballestas Islands off the coast of Paracas, Peru. Although much smaller, you can visit here in just half a day, perfect for those on an action-packed Peru trip.

Looking through the rocky cliffs of the Poor Man's Galapagos Peru towards the mainland

What is the Peru Version of the Galapagos?

The Poor Man’s Galapagos Peru is the nickname for the Islas Ballestas (Ballestas Islands in English).

These small islands are a short distance from the mainland, with the nearest town being Paracas. From which, all tours to the island leave from.

On the completely uninhabited islands, you’ll find many different wild animals living on the rocky cliffs and in the choppy sea.

The Islas Ballestas Paracas are much smaller than the real Galapagos Islands. And, all tours to the islands only last a couple of hours.

As such, you can visit quickly and still get the full experience without feeling rushed. That means you can visit other nearby top attractions such as Pisco or Huacachina the same day even.

Two sleeping sea lions with one resting its head on the other in the Poor Man's Galapagos Peru

What you’ll see on the Isla Ballestas

The abundant wildlife is what draws everyone to the Ballestas Islands Peru. But, you’ll also see an ancient ground carving as well as the dramatic landscapes of the islands themselves.

Paracas’ Candelabro

The Candelabro is a unique sight and is often visited first. It’s a prehistoric geoglyph. Meaning, it’s a drawing in the ground – of a candelabra.

But this isn’t just plain artwork, the two-foot-deep marking is carved into the ground. Which is why it’s still visible after all these years.

What’s more, the whole thing is almost 200 metres tall. And it’s best viewed from at sea, the same way the Nazca lines are best viewed from the sky.

Aside from the ancient artwork, wildlife makes up the rest of what you’ll see on the Ballestas Islands tour from Paracas.

The candelabra geoglyph viewed from sea, carved into the stone ground of the hillside

Wildlife in the Poor Man’s Galapagos Peru

Humboldt penguins are one species that people are normally pretty keen to see. Especially since this is one of the most northern places in the world to see penguins in the wild.

Another type of bird is the Guanay (see the last picture in this post). They’re recognisable by their red feet and red around their eyes.

Peruvian pelicans are also spotted pretty regularly, with their long and brightly coloured beaks. Sadly, this species is considered under threat of extinction.

In fact, there are too many types of birds to list. Many are hard to recognise and are there in great numbers. In fact, you’ll often smell the birds (well more their poo) before you see them!

Sea lions are pretty easy to spot. As they’re usually laying in the sun on the rocks. And sometimes even having a cuddle.

Finally, sometimes it’s possible to see humpback whales near the Islas Ballestas Peru. This is only a possibility between August and October when they’re moving north.

I visited Paracas in October but didn’t see any. But, I did spot a lot off the coast of Mancora in the north of Peru in mid-September.

The El Chacho jetty in Paracas where tours to the Poor Man's Galapagos Peru leave from

How do you get to the Ballestas Islands Peru?

The only way to get to the Poor Man’s Galapagos Peru is on a boat tour. This is because it’s not permitted to visit the islands themselves for conservation reasons.

There’s also a limit to the size of the boats and their engines. As such, only relatively small boats are allowed and these all leave from Paracas.

To get to Paracas, you can either take a direct bus from Lima. Services with reputable companies like Cruz del Sur and Peru Bus run throughout the day. You can book bus tickets from Lima to Paracas online.

Or take a more frequent bus to nearby Pisco and then take a taxi the rest of the way.

Or, from Huacachina you can get a local bus to Paracas or take a shuttle. The shuttles are slightly more expensive but more direct and convenient, as otherwise you have to get the bus from Ica.

Paracas is conveniently located just a few hours south of Lima. This makes it a perfect stop for those taking an overland route from Lima to Machu Picchu.

A boat tour of the Ballestas Islands with an arch through the rocky island

Isla Ballestas Boat Tour

Importantly, the tours run weather permitting. If the sea is rough, there’s lots of rain or there are high winds, then they will most likely be cancelled for the day.

Because of this, it’s best to give yourself time in your itinerary for this. But for people travelling quickly, it may mean you miss out.

The good thing is the Ballestas Island tour is not long, so you can easily do it in the morning before travelling somewhere else.

Generally, the tours are 2 hours long. This includes the journey out to the islands via the candelabro, about 45 minutes around the islands and then the return journey.

Each agency and tour operator will have a different meeting spot. But from there you’ll pay your taxes at a small hut on the main street before walking to the jetty.

Here, you’ll join the queue in your tour group for the next available boat. The tour guide will make sure you all get on together and then the journey begins…

A mountain of birds in the Islas Ballestas Paracas with a perfect blue sky in the background

How to book the Ballestas Islands Boat Tour

The easiest way to book a tour is in Paracas at one of the many agencies along the main street. You’ll get the best deal this way too.

Booking the day before is best as the tours mostly leave in the morning. But, you can also book on the day – particularly on days when it’s not too busy.

Paracas is a popular spot for Peruvians looking for a beach getaway. And on weekends and public holidays, it does get busy as many people visit for a day or two from Lima.

Alternatively, booking online is a convenient option. Especially if you know in advance what day you’re planning on doing the tour.

This 16 USD Islas Ballestas Boat Tour from Paracas is great value. It includes a bilingual (Spanish and English) guide and all taxes.

Another popular option is to take a tour from Lima. This way you’ll combine a visit to Paracas with other nearby attractions like Huacachina.

This full-day outing to Paracas, Ica and Huacachina visits the top must-do activities around. You’ll start with the Paracas boat tour, then lunch in Ica and finally a sand buggy ride in Huacachina.

Birds sat on a wooden structure on the Islas Ballestas Paracas
A sleeping sea lion on the Ballestas Islands Peru

Isla Ballestas Tour Prices

When booked direct with an agency or tour operator in Paracas, the tour costs 30 soles per person (8 USD).

In addition, you’ll need to pay a port tax of 5 soles each. As well as the Isla Ballestas National Reserve entrance fee of 11 soles (adult price).

The total cost for an adult visitor is 46 soles (12 USD).

The national reserve entrance fee is 3 soles for children aged 5 to 16. And is free for those under 5 or over 65.

What’s more, if you’re visiting the Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve on the same day, you can get a ticket for both for 17 soles (saving 5 soles).

If you book this tour online or through an agency outside of Paracas, expect to pay slightly more. However, these tours are more likely to include the extra fees in the price but do double check.

A sea lion looks back towards the camera

Top Tips for Your Paracas Boat Tour

  • The tours run weather permitting. If this is high on your must-do list for Peru, consider staying for a couple of days to avoid missing out.
  • The sea can be rough on the outward journey and it’s choppy as the boat gets near the islands. If you’re prone to seasickness, take tablets or use wristbands.
  • Be prepared for the boats to be pretty packed. Probably with more people on than you’d like. But don’t worry, you’ll have a great view, as you’re mostly looking slightly up once you get to the Ballestas Islands Peru. And the drivers turn the boats so people on both sides get a good view.
  • Have your camera at the ready! It’s not going to be easy to get those shots from a boat that’s bobbing about in the waves. But there’s so much wildlife to photograph.
  • Make sure you wear sun cream and wear layers. As the boat is moving it’ll be cold in the wind, but the sun is strong nevertheless. A waterproof jacket is handy for spray and light showers.
A guanay bird on the Ballestas Islands with distinctive red feet

Are the Ballestas Islands worth it?

Yes, the Poor Man’s Galapagos Peru is cheap and easy to visit with a lot to see. This makes it well worth visiting and tours are great value for money.

While a trip to the real Galapagos Islands generally requires at least 7 days. The Islas Ballestas Paracas can be seen in just a couple of hours at a fraction of the price.

And even for those not big into wildlife, it’s still an enjoyable and worthwhile trip.

I’m not big into nature but had a great time spotting the animals and trying to get photos of them. It wasn’t easy trying to get snaps on 25x zoom from a rocking boat, but I think they turned out pretty great.

Finally, Paracas – as well as Huacachina – is a great stopping place between Lima and Machu Picchu. It’s the last chance to enjoy the beach before heading into the mountains and is just a really laid-back place.

If you have any questions or want any more information drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Prices and offerings mentioned are correct to the best of my knowledge as of April 2023 but are subject to change in future.


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Peru's budget-friendly alternative to the Galapagos Islands: Islas Ballestas Paracas

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