Crystal offers many exciting shore excursions around the world. Here is a 4-hour gem to a place you’ve probably never heard of that you’ll never forget.
By Joe Kita
Over the years, I’ve embarked on more than a hundred Crystal Adventures, including kayaking in Namibia, golfing in the Arctic Circle, and riding camels in Morocco. But one of my all-time favorites, and one that I repeat whenever I’m in South America (as Crystal Serenity is now on its Southern Celebración World Cruise) is to the Ballestas Islands.
Never heard of them?
Few people have.
The trio of islands is located off the coast of Paracas, Peru, a leisurely day’s cruise south from Callao and Lima. While lounging in a beach café enjoying ceviche and sipping a pisco sour (the potent national drink that supposedly originated in these parts), you can just make out the islands in the distance.
Or can you?
They appear hazy, ephemeral, and even mystical – their barren white caps seeming to float above the Pacific.
The Ballestas have been designated as a National Park, but one so highly protected that you can’t even set foot there. The islands are known as the
Galapagos of Peru, and they’re the private estate of an estimated 150 species of marine birds, plus a rollicking mix of Peruvian pelicans, Chilean flamingos, Humboldt penguins, Inca terns, spy dolphins, sea lions, orange crabs, starfish, vultures, sea turtles, and the infamous blue-footed boobies. The preferred way to reach the islands is by 400-horsepower speedboat, a 30-minute one-way ride that only adds to the exhilaration of what you see.
The reason these rock outcroppings have become a year-round spring break for so many creatures is twofold. First, the rich Humboldt Current sweeps right by here bringing the equivalent of a Crystal Grand Gala Buffet to island residents. On a previous visit, a school of anchovy triggered a feeding frenzy worthy of the Hitchcock thriller The Birds. My boat was right in the middle of it.
The other reason for the islands’ popularity is the multitude of caves and crannies that wind and waves have carved into the rocks over time. These provide shelter during the various mating seasons.
Most recently, I visited during sea lion breeding season, which runs from January through March. There are huge colonies of these guys on the islands – so many you actually hear them before seeing them. Some are draped precariously over rocks, baking in the sun. Others are lumped together on the beach – the big-headed males sparring for territory while the females nose their uncertain pups along. Their collective noise, amplified by the caves, is a cross between very bad indigestion and an orchestra warming up. The effect is an endlessly entertaining circus that you get to enjoy as your boat slowly motors by.
Once in a while you will see a human or two on the island. According to our guide, they are there by special government permit to harvest the guano or bird droppings that give the islands their “snow” caps. They chip and scrape amidst the squawks and squeaks, filling bags of guano that will be sold as high-quality fertilizer. (Any witness to their labor will have their own jobs put in new perspective.)
Finally, as if all this wasn’t enough to run down your camera battery, on the ride out and back you also get to see the “Candelabro,” a huge geoglyph in the shape of a candelabra or cactus carved into the hillside centuries ago for reasons unknown.
Next time you’re in this part of the world, don’t miss this trip.