Poor man’s Galapagos 


  • Huacachina – Paracas
  • Ballestas Islands
  • Paracas National Reserve
  • Chincha slave tunnels

I was sticking to the Peruvian coastline for another day, heading just two hours north to the little town of Paracas. We arrived at 8pm and I checked in to Kokopelli hostel, in to a 14-bed dorm with lots of little pod beds. It’s a cool idea having pods with curtains for your own privacy. So far, Kokopelli was delivering for me.

Deirdre and Cormick were also in my hostel and were meeting friends to spend the Easter weekend in this little coastal town. They invited me down for drinks in the bar that evening and so after freshening up, down I went to meet them. The bar was lively with it being the start of Santa Semana (Easter), a big holiday in Peru during which the population of Lima escape to the coast. I met Jakob, a Danish guy, and then Sam and Samantha (Sam and Sam), their friends, down there.

The evening was in full flow, happy hour was two hours long, and various games of dare jenga and giant jenga were going on around us. At midnight, Cormick and Deirdre left us for bed and that is when Sam squared and I decided it was our time to shine in the jenga world. We attempted to make friends and join in with a game going on next to us but our slightly drunk shakes meant the tower fell down pretty shortly after the game started! Much to the disapproval of our opponents, who then left the bar. Alas, we had the giant jenga to ourselves, making a much better attempt at tower building this second time around. Our tower reached almost my height, with some questionable tactics from male Sam, before it eventually tumbled at 2am, signalling our bed times!

Due to Santa Semana, I couldn’t book more than one night in Paracas but absolutely had to get out on the boat and see the islands whilst there. As such, my boat tour was at 7.45am the following morning and very much bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (or bleary-eyed and tail between my legs) made it up at 7am for breakfast and then to meet the group. I can’t say I was feeling funky fresh, but I was excited. That was until I stepped foot on a boat which slowly bobbed up and down in the waves, excelling my hangover to XXL status. 

The Ballestas Islands are a 30 minute speedboat from the Paracas peninsular and a hot spot for wildlife due to the meeting of two seas and the El Niño weather. The islands were once one of the world’s main sources of Guano and now are ferociously protected by the Peruvian government and environmental bodies.

Our boat made a stop first at ‘The Candelabra’. Similar to the Nazca lines, it’s unknown exactly it’s purpose, but some suppose it to have naval directional use as there’s a marine arrow (or something) at the bottom, whilst others think it’s aliens again. This time though, the drawing is up to 1m deep in places and 100m tall, so pretty impressive!

Following the candelabra, we stopped the boat at the main arch of the Ballestas Islands. From there we could see so many different kinds of birds, a very underrated animal as I’ve found during my Peruvian adventures. We also spotted penguins (yes, really, due to the Antarctic current of water) from here. I can’t say I enjoyed bobbing around and had to result in breathing through my mouth to contain my nauseas feeling, but the animals were incredible.

As we came around our first turn it was eventually sea lion time! They were massive and so pretty, but with not such an elegant way of communicating. Kind of growling and huffing and puffing like a fat man taking a stroll. There were babies and many who had become territorial and so showing signs of aggression towards other sea lions as we passed. After 30 minutes of sailing around, we passed the sea lion beach. This beach has the world’s largest colony of sea lions and it was completely surreal to hear how loud and noisy this area was, full of a million fat men! There were sea lions swimming, on the rocks, on the sand, attempting to get out the sea and being washed back in by the waves; just everywhere!

The sea lions marked the end of our tour and although I’d been amazed, I was very ready to get back on to stabled, solid ground. Back at the hostel, I walked by the pool to see Deirdre and Cormick wallowing in the water. I needed to check out but wanted nothing more than to be curing my hangover and soothing my heat rash in a cold pool. You’ve never seen someone pack so fast! I was back down, bikini on and in that water within 5 minutes and 10 minutes later, was feeling so much better. The others laughed at my morning of nausea but I did let them know it was overshadowed by how awesome the tour had actually been.

I spent the rest of the morning sunbathing, swimming and relaxing like a girl on holiday until it was time for lunch. I took a walk along the front promenade in search of some cheap seafood. Cheap wasn’t an option but seafood certainly was and there I sat, with a large plate of calamari, yuca and sweet potato fries, tartare sauce, chilli sauce and salad, watching the world go by!

At 2pm, I had a Peru Hop tour around the National Reserve of Paracas. I had expected greenery when someone says “Reserve” but instead we drove through endless desert. It kind of made sense since we’d been in the desert for a few days now, but somehow hadn’t clicked for me! I wasn’t the only one and my two new friends, Ben and Jenny, also thought the same thing.

The first stop was a lookout point over the ocean where we learnt about the rich mineral content of the ocean and the reason that such a barren landscape was also protected, in order to conserve the waters. After, we head down to the Red Beach, formed from volcanic minerals and magma to give the red colour of the “sands” (technically not sand). There was a museum stop which turned out to be incredibly interesting, informing about the climatic eras of the area, fossils and animals from those times, the future under climate change, and everything else that appeals to my studies. And then we finished the trip by walking out to see lots of flamingos basking in some incredibly blew waters, finishing off the incredibly picturesque views of the day.

Back at my hostel and after picking up some bus snacks, it was time to leave Paracas. I hopped on the bus and we drove out to the 5 star hotel of Hacienda San José. Sadly this wasn’t for a night of luxury accommodation but instead to learn about the history of the previous owners and slave trade/trafficking in Peru.

We wondered in awe around this beautiful hotel and then Shirley, our guide, took us down in to the hidden slave tunnels. These were only discovered in 2007 but were made back in the 15th century. The tunnels span 14km, all the way from the coast and between the large houses and churches in the vicinity. Honestly, it was a wonder how anyone, slave or other, could find their way around. The place was a maze! There were punishment rooms with human bone remains inside, tight little rooms full of black candle burns on the walls, dust that penetrated so deep in to your lungs you spluttered everywhere. It was a crazy place.

We eventually found our way back and all thanked God for the fresh air! Shirley then took us to the beautiful church that was built as part of the estate and briefed us on Peruvian slave trade and the abolishment of it. Interestingly, the abolishment of slaves in Peru led to a large respect for black people in the country, even creating a baby black Jesus to worship! And that was it, we hopped on the bus again and head to Lima, my last stop in Peru. 

So, 167 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and I’ve had my thorough share of animals in Peru, am loving the sunshine again and am generally still basking in the beauty of this country and it’s culture!

Gabby x


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