Our first stop in Peru, after landing in Lima, was Paracas (pronounced Par-ac-as). The main reason people come to Paracas is for the Ballestas Islands, touted as the poor man's Galapagos, a must see for those unable to afford or travel to the real thing. At around $15 (USD) per person for a 2.5 hour boat tour of the islands many find this a much more affordable option than traveling to Ecuador and paying $50 just to enter the national reserve. Paracas is a mere 6 hour bus ride from Peru's capital, Lima, and the small town is full of cheap backpacker options complete with a pool and nearby beach. In fact the hostel we stayed in, Los Frayles, cost us $9 a night each and came with 2 pools, breakfast, and sun lounges. Any option you select in this town is going to be in the city centre - it would take you around 30 mins to walk through the entire place.
Once you arrive you will normally head out to the islands on a speedboat with around 20-30 other tourists. First stop will be the Candelabro, an enormous geoglyph of mysterious origins that is hypothesised to have once served as a symbol to seafarers in the area.
From there it is a further 20 minutes out to the main event. Once you arrive the first thing you are likely to notice is the overwhelming smell of 'guano' or bird droppings. The white excrement cover most of the island and interestingly, and rather unfortunately for the people employed to do so, is harvested every 5-8 years to be used as fertiliser.
In terms of wildlife the list of possible sightings are quite impressive and include; Humboldt penguins, sea lions, blue footed boobies, Inca terns, and a variety of crabs and other birds. Sightseers will know that what you can see and what you will see are two very different things and will depend on the conditions. We were lucky enough to see 5 penguins, somewhat off in the distance, a few sea lions quite close up and a myriad of terns, but sadly none of the much coveted blue footed boobies.
In reality I doubt that this small island stacks up to the catalyst for Darwin's evolution theory it is much better for it to be viewed in it's own right. Environmentally speaking the Ballestas Islands are the marker for the beginning of the waters that have helped create the optimal conditions that enable the Galapagos Islands to exist. As a relatively low cost, and therefore low risk of disappointment, a trip to the Ballestas Islands is worthwhile even if it's just to laugh at all the people who get seasick.