San Martin, Peru – 07:00 to 17:00
Today we booked a scenic cruise to Islas Ballestas, an off-shore marine wildlife sanctuary, with amazing rock formations that is known locally as the Galapagos of Peru. We were looking forward to seeing an abundance of birds, seals, fish and possibly even a bonus of some whales, but alas it was not to be. Sitting in the Princess Theatre, waiting for our tour and bus to be called, we received the news that the tour operator cancelled the tour for safety reasons, due to high waves. Rather than send us all packing, with a refund, the Shore-Ex Manager quickly arranged an alternative tour – a visit to Paracas National Park. Sounded interesting, so we accepted the offer.
With the offer of an alternative tour or a full refund, we graciously accepted the alternative tour, so we departed the Theatre on the appropriate side. At the desk they simply wrote the new tour number on our tickets, recorded our bus number, and off to the gangway. While I heard considerable grumping and groaning in the theatre, especially considering the late notification, it didn’t bother us. We appreciated the efforts to provide us a similar tour at very short notice. On departing the gangway, I avoided the extremely annoying photographers and spotted Ewa, the Shore-Ex Manager, so I went and congratulated her for her efforts in arranging an alternative tour at short notice. The Sea Princess tour department yet again excels with their customer service.
Paracas National Park Logo
The alternative tour was billed as a half day tour through the massive Paracas National Park, and include scenic nature walks, photo stops and a visit to a new museum. It is the oldest National Park in Peru and is home to over 215 species of migratory birds, which may include eagles, pelicans, flamingos, cormorants and Inca terns. Within the nutritive waters can be found over 160 species of fish. Expecting to see an abundance of birds and fish, we eagerly departed the port aboard our 1/2 full bus.
On departing the port we immediately entered a desert landscape, comprising of underlying rock with a very thin covering of sand. Very different from any previous desert we have experienced.
Reasonably flat desert outside the port. The ship is berthed in San Martin, which is located on Paracas Peninsula, an almost anvil shaped chunk of land sticking out from the coast. The peninsula has the Pacific Ocean on the outer shore and two bays on either side, with a narrow strip of desert, as seen above, between the 2 bays.
Further away from the port the landscape became more rugged, with more bare rock showing through the sand.
We drove around the bay towards the town of Paracas for about 20 minutes, before reaching the new National Park Museum.
National Park Museum. On arrival we were shown into a small room where we watched a 10 – 15 minute film about the National Park and the conservation work being completed, then we headed to the museum for a self guided tour. All information is well presented on printed board containing photographs, sketches, etc. with all text in both Spanish and English. As is usual for ship’s tours, time is limited, as we only were assigned 20 minutes at the museum. I could easily have spent at least a couple of hours to read and digest all the information provided.
At the rear of the museum, this marked path led down to the water, but we had insufficient time to explore. Andre, one of the other Canadians did a quick trip through the museum and headed down to the water. On returning he advised we didn’t miss much, as the few birds that were visible were too far away to see clearly or photograph.
The museum is almost entirely surrounded by desert, so this lonely palm tree is a welcome sight.
On departing the museum we traveled a short distance on the highway before turning off onto a side road through the desert. No more than a single track through the desert, it was a rather bone jarring and slow ride over the less than pristine desert track. Our next stop was at a Red Sand Beach, a scenic viewpoint on the opposite side of the peninsula from the ship’s berth.
Our 2nd stop at the red sand beach, which facing SW get more seas than the sheltered bay that houses the port. Actually accessing the beach was not recommended.
Andy and Judi at the red sand beach.
Andy, Judi, Bob and Christine at the red sand beach
Smaller bay and fishing port opposite the red sand beach.
With the wind and spray it’s best not to turn your back to the ocean, lest you get soaked by spray. The inshore wind quickly blew the spray across the rocks.
Rolling waves building up as the water shoals and then pounds ashore on the rocks. After about 20 minutes we returned to the bus and retraced our route across the desert, returning to the main highway. Once on the highway we continued for about 5 minutes, before yet again heading into the desert. This track was consistent with the previous one, resulting in a rather bone jarring ride. Next stop was billed as another photo-op at cathedral rock, which has 2 viewing platforms.
Cathedral rock, adorned with hundreds of seagulls.
Looking along the Paracas Peninsula. Around the first headland is the bay that we stopped at to view the red sand beach.
A couple of photos of us at the Cathedral Rock lookout.
View from the 2nd lookout looking down the peninsula at the coastline heading south towards Chile.
In summary, we actually enjoyed the tour, although we didn’t see any wildlife other than seagulls, although from the bus we did see a few flamingos, but only at a considerable distance and we didn’t stop. No penguins, seals or whales to be seen. Since this is their winter season, we obviously arrived at the wrong time of year.