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Paracas: Romance of the Sea

The Poor Man's Galapagos
Most people dream of visiting the Islas Galápagos when travelling to the west coast of South America. The majority of these people, however, never reach that goal. Instead they end up taking a trip to Peru's Islas Ballestas, another marine fauna sanctuary and a place that few people have heard of before travelling to South America.
The reason for this is simple:
While the Galápagos are located nearly 1.000km west of continental Ecuador, the Ballestas are only a stone's throw away from Paracas, a little town in the Ica region on the Peruvian coast. Reaching the Galápagos is really expensive, but it is rather cheap to get to the Ballestas. That's why they are often called the “poor man's Galápagos”.
Located roughly 250km South of Lima, the Ica region is one oftwo typical stopovers on the way to Cusco, the second being Nazca with its famous geoglyphs.
After spending the first two weeks of their journey in and around Lima, the trip to the Islas Ballestas was the Travelling Monkeys’ first time getting in touch with the real Peru.
Too afraid of hitchhiking in South America they decided to take a bus to Pisco, a city world famous for the drink of the same name. From there they wanted to take a taxi in the direction of Paracas. The monkeys were joined by Paris, a US-American friend of Bimbino who actually lived in Berlin. Paris had just arrived in Peru, so they decided to spend some time together.
Bimbino and Bambina didn’t hope to find a free sofa to sleep on as there are not many Couchsurfers in the region. However it was low season, which was lucky for them. Silvio, the most experienced host in the area, happened to have time and space to accommodate not only the monkeys but also their friend.
Home by the Sea
When the taxi driver left the monkeys and Paris at Silvio’s address they thought at first that they were in the wrong place. All they saw was desert and industrial plants with huge tanks outside. Those complexes obviously belonged to the fish industry – at least that’s what their noses told them.
OilTanks That's a lot of fish oil.
However, after a few looks around they discovered a row of seven small red houses in the shadow of a single dying palm tree. This was the place they had been looking for: Playa Santa Elena.
RedHouses Home by the sea.
The house was a massive contrast to the noisy and over-crowded Lima, located in the middle of nowhere, directly on the beach, and with a terrace offering an open view over the Pacific Ocean. Quiet and peaceful like the perfect retreat on a lonely island.
SilvioMonkey Our host Silvio.
Silvio welcomed his guests with a huge smile on his face and introduced them to Olga, a talented painter who appeared to be not only his housemate but also his mother.
OldMama 92 years old Olga, Silvio's mother.
What followed in the next days was an outstanding example of Peruvian hospitality.
Paracas and the Islas Ballestas
Paracas used to be a little fishing town a on the Peruvian coast. Its harbour is still predominated by a cluster of fishing boats, but the high number of modern hotel resorts, travel agencies, restaurants and souvenir shops indicate that times have changed. The new economical focus of the town clearly lays on tourism.
Boats Fishing boats.
BoatsBoats ...and more fishing boats.
After having spent ages in the shadow of neighbouring Pisco, Paracas has taken over the role as the most common starting point for excursions to the Islas Ballestas. Pisco was hit by a severe 8.0 magnitude earthquake on August 15, 2007, destroying 85 % of the city. This was a catastrophe from which the city has yet not been able to fully recover.
As Silvio was a tourist guide and a captain for excursions to the Islas Ballestas, he invited Bimbino, Paris and Bambina to join him on a boat trip to the islands.
CaptainSilvio Silvio, our host, tourist guide and captain.
BoatPassengers Visiting Islas Ballestas with our lovely host and forty "excited" people.
Despite all the tourists on the boat the journey became a magical adventure. The first sight on the journey was a geoglyph called El Candelabro, a carving linked to the Paracas culture dating back to 200 B.C. Only moments later some seagulls gliding over the ocean were the first heralds of what was awaiting them.
Petroglif El Candelabro de Paracas. It is as big as it looks in comparison with birds on the picture.
BirdsReflection Seagulls.
All the photos and documentaries Bimbino and Bambina had seen about maritime wildlife where quickly forgotten. No camera had ever been able to frame what they were witnessing with their own eyes. At first sight the archipelago looked like a normal group of rocks in the sea. Only after they drew closer did they realize that these rocks seemed to be moving. Quickly they realized that these movements were not the result of the pisco they had been drinking the night before. The cause of these movements was the uncountable number of sea lions, penguins and bird colonies living on the rocks. The whole archipelago seemed to be one huge living organism.
PinguinsMountain A colony of birds, so big you cannot see the rock anymore.
SeaLians Two sea lions fighting over a rock.
Pinguins Penguin parade.
BirdsHouse Human structures taken over by birds.
Cities can be beautiful, but nothing compares with being out there among millions of birds and animals in the open ocean. You watch them fly, hunt, play, fight, and you understand where real life is. Life is not in the city, it is out in the nature. There, life is alive, incredibly beautiful, and free.
Quatro Ventos
On one of the next days Silvio suggested visiting a hacienda, a place at which the famous Peruvian Paso horses are bred. Knowing the prices for such excursions, Paris and the monkeys politely declined. Not taking no for an answer, Silvio picked up his cell and made some arrangements. Afraid of getting talked into something expensive Bimbino, Paris and Bambina rejected again with the excuse of having no money for a taxi. They had heard enough stories of Couchsurfers in the tourist industry just waiting for a chance to make some extra money by selling tours to their guests.
Silvio’s reaction, however, immediately wiped away all their worries. He had a simple solution: hitchhiking. And so they did.
HitchHiking First hitch-hiking in South America.
Paris Paris pre-paring for the next hitch-hike.
So far most of the locals the monkeys had asked about hitchhiking in Peru had recommended them not to do so. Nearly everybody said it was dangerous, even those people who had been hitchhiking in Peru themselves. What Silvio told the monkeys was the complete opposite. Hitchhiking in Peru was not more dangerous than in Europe and that it was a great and easy way to travel in the country, especially on the Panamericana. To prove this point he held up his thumb and stopped the first car passing by. The ride brought the four of them right to the entrance of the hacienda.
The whole area was protected by a huge fence. Quatro Ventos was written on a sign. Silvio, Paris, and the monkeys were welcomed by Señor Gallardi, an elderly man who introduced himself as the owner of the place. He pointed out that Quatro Ventos was mainly a farm on which he was growing fruits like tangerines for the European market. Breeding horses was only his hobby. His family had been horse-breeding for generations, but due to land reforms and nationalization they had lost everything. Señor Gallardi had made a fortune in the stock exchange and now he was investing that money to fulfil his dream: to build up again what his family had lost.
JesusAndHourses The hacienda
Hourses Beautiful Peruvian Paso horses.
Señor Gallardi took the little group on a tour that lasted for around two hours. All in private, all for free. He showed them horses of outstanding beauty that had won a countless number of awards all over the country.
Galliardi Galliardi.
Paris got very well along with Señor Gallardi. She had been working with horses before and so the two were chatting all the time. As a surprise Paris was given the opportunity to ride one of these graceful animals herself. Understand, these horses are worth a couple thousand euros.
Señor Gallardi was not the only person with an eccentric hobby at this place; his son was the same. Not wanting to copy his father, he pursued falconry. Unfortunately it was not possible to see the raptors in action, but admiring these birds on the ground already gave the visitors a glimpse of their ease and majesty.
Birds Majestic falcons.
Once the tour was over Señor Gallardi showed his guests the easiest way to hitchhike back to Silvio’s place: he gave them a lift.
An Introduction to Peruvian Cuisine
For the evening Silvio suggested an introduction to Peruvian cuisine. What he had planned was a traditional Peruvian fish BBQ in combination with ceviche, the famous local dish made from raw fish marinated with lime juice. To do the shopping they went to a local sea food market in Pisco.
FishMarketWoman A vendor selling mussels.
FishMarketMen Fishermen waiting for customers.
FishPreparation The preparations for the BBQ have started.
FishDish Ready for the grill.
To drink, of course, there was pisco again, and for dessert they were able to taste Mazamorra Morada, a jelly made from purple maize -- not to everyone’s delight.
CornJelly Mazamorra Morada.
The Ruined Cathedral
Paracas has more to offer than only the Islas Ballestas. It is also home to a national reserve, which lies to the north of the town. As the whole region is located within an arid zone, the area’s richness and beauty is not to be found in the flora but in the fauna.
Paris and the monkeys were too lazy to look around for different opportunities to visit the reserve. They did what most tourists do and booked a cheap tour in downtown Paracas. Later they confirmed that booking a cheap tour is generally not the best idea.
The first stop of the excursion was made before they even reached the reserve: a huge monument to José de San Martín, the famous liberator who brought independence from the Spanish not only to Peru but also to numerous other South American countries. The location marked the place on which San Martín set foot on Peruvian soil for the first time. According to legend, San Martín landed on the coast of Paracas on September 8, 1820. Tired from the long journey, he fell asleep on the beach. Upon awakening, he was dazzled by the beauty of the flamingos flying past. Their outspread wings in the setting sun were the inspiration for Peru's first red and white flag.
ParacasNationalReserveMonument Monument that marks the position of the landfall of San Martín.
The natural reserve itself was similar to the whole Peruvian coast: sand and desert wherever you looked. However, it was not exactly the same. Most of the coast is full of trash, abandoned ugly buildings, and other traces of civilization. The desert in the national reserve is untouched, except for a few roads, and those seem to be out of place.
In order to have the best desert experience you should go there alone. In order to experience at least part of that feeling the monkeys had to run away from the group, and, of course, everybody was annoyed having to wait for them. But it was worth it. Standing all alone in the middle of nowhere watching the colours of the desert… it was so magnificent and surreal, an unforgettable experience.
There was a guide accompanying the group, who was part of the reason the monkeys decided against booking such a tour again. He gave them some facts about the geological history of the region, and told the story of La Catedral. A few minutes later the monkeys found exactly the same information written down on information boards.
Guide Their professional tour guide.
One of the main attractions of the Paracas National Reserve has always been a beautiful rock formation called La Catedral. Even though it was destroyed by the earthquake in 2007, it still attracts crowds of tourists. In fact, not only La Catedral itself, but also the surrounding coastline make lots of people forget all the issues of the day, and just sit and enjoy the view and the sounds of the nature. Of course, if you have booked a tour, you won't be left alone for a long enough time to fully enjoy the atmosphere.
This is how La Catedral looked until August 15, 2007.
The famous La Catedral nowadays, or better said what is left of it.
Bimbino's travel companion couldn't help taking a photo of himself, even though he was really afraid of the seagulls.
The coastline in the reserve is full of life and colours. The monkeys were envious of the seagulls, who were happily flying around, catching their dinner, trying to break the shells, and being able to see all the beauty of life from the heights. While Paris was jogging along the coast, the monkeys were trying to learn to fly. At some point they realised how dangerous it was to play this game, as one of the pelicans almost caught Bimbino in the air while passing by.
FlyingMonkeys Bimbino and Bambina pretending to be birds.
Pelican "Hello!"
The tour group spent one third of the time in a small coastal village. Why? Because the tour agency has an agreement with the locals to bring all the tourists there for lunch. Of course, they get an extra commission for that. The only buildings to see in the village were the restaurants. People, pelicans, boats, noise...
Paris and the monkeys didn't want to take part in that business, so they just did what they missed in the first part of the tour. Paris went for a run along the coast, while Bimbino and Bambina sat on the beach far away from the rush of the village, enjoying the surrounding atmosphere.
TheBestImageInTheWorld Romance at the Sea
Advice from Bimbino and Bambina
Get to Paracas from Lima:
The bus system of Peru is complicated: dozens of companies, no information about schedules, unclear pricing policy. Some companies still have their stations in different parts of the city. A lot of the busses depart from (arrive to) the huge Northern bus station. The cheapest company we found was PerúBus with schedule available online. However, the prices you can find out only at the station. We paid around 10 € for the trip. The terminal is located at the Metropolitano station Estación Mexico.
Distance: 261 km.
Bus ride duration: 4,5 hours.
Hitch-hiking: easy.
Where to stay:
With Silvio! If Silvio accepts your request, you will be lucky to have the best experience of Paracas and surroundings.
There are a few relatively cheap hostels starting with 5€ per person. In Kokopelli there is a pool, a bar, and parties on weekends. It is perfectly located on the beach. The only disadvantage: it is slightly more expensive. We didn't stay there, but went a couple of times to socialize with other travellers.
What to do:
Visit Islas Ballestas.
Visit the Paracas National Reserve. Easiest is to book a tour, but you better do this adventure yourself on a bicycle, a moped, or even a rental car. There are plenty of bike rentals in Paracas. Take a lot of drinking water and sunscreen.
Go to the fish market in Pisco, buy fresh fish, and cook it yourself!
Follow the adventures of the Travelling Monkeys! More stories to come soon...
Find all photos appeared in this post on Flickr.
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