Sand Dune Buggies & Surfing in Huacachina / Ballestas Island Tour Review

Who knew there was a sand oasis only 4 hours south of Miraflores in Peru? I had no idea. Huacachina is an oasis located just a few hours south of the Pacific Ocean and it looks as if you traveled to the Sahara Desert. It also feels like you are in the desert. Such a drastic change in climate from the chilly beach weather in September and wearing jackets and aplhaca seaters to 80 degrees in the heat and getting sunburned. So we decided to take a day trip and see another part of Peru while we were here for the month. Plus it would be nice to get out of the chilly weather for a day. The excursion was on TripAdvisor and you actually visit two different areas. It was a very long day. We had to get up at 3:30 AM because the small transfer van picked us from our airbnb at 4:30 in the morning, but they said be ready earlier just in case they arrive before hand. So I basically only took a nap because I was afraid I wasn’t going to wake up in time. I went to sleep at 9pm woke up at midnight, fell back asleep at til 1am and then was basically up. So I was already awake by the time my alarm went off at 3:30. I made some toast because the reviews I read said they didn’t really feed you. Now this trip is like 16 hours. Most of it however you are sitting on a bus. Because it’s so much driving to get to the destinations. It’s more like 11 hours on the bus and maybe 5 hours of actually doing activities. So we actually didn’t get picked up until 4:45AM then we didn’t get dropped back off at our place until 11:30PM. So if you do this trip, be prepared for a LONG day.

So a small transfer van picked us up and another couple from our building. Yet didn’t tell us what was going on. It’s dark we are tired. We climb in and off we go. We are in the van with two other couples now, not knowing what is happening. Just driving and I’m thinking this better not be the van we are in for 3 hours. Because we are smashed in here. But nobody is talking. So we drive for about 10 minutes or so. Arrive at another location and in Spanish an a gesturing motion tells us to exit the van. So we all get out. It’s still pitch black outside. There’s a couple other people standing in a hallway. A man opens a door to a small coffee shop that is pitch black inside. The two men speak in Spanish to each other then the say in Spanish to us to go inside the dark coffee shop. We all just stand there not moving because we don’t speak Spanish. Then they say it louder. And gesture to us to move inside. So we do. They gesture to us to sit down in this pitch black store, no lights on. And I’m like WTF is going on. Nobody is telling us anything. I’m like Jeff, he’s the one who signed us up for this so I had no details, what is happening? Are you sure this is the tour and we are not being sold into sex slavery or something?

Waiting for our trip to the sand dunes in Peru Nomad Publisher
Pic of us waiting in the dark cafe

After five minutes of sitting in pitch black one of the men turn on the small light in the background that you can see here in the photo above. I guess that makes me feel a little better? Not really. We are still sitting there with no explanation as to what is going on. At least there is two of us. If I was alone I would be freaking out even more. Finally someone comes in who is our tour guide and and tells us in English our bus has arrived. And we can go get on it now. However, they don’t say it’s going to be a three hour drive so why we were waiting in darkness we could have used the bathroom. I mean that would have been nice. Just from the reviews from other trips on TripAdvisor I got some tips prior and kinda went in with low expectations. But little things like hey you cant pee for three hours is a nice heads up, right? So I went to the bathroom twice at our place and didn’t drink coffee before we left in preparation of it.

So they shuffled us onto a big bus. Thank goodness. A big bus for the long ride. There was already other people on this bus. So we get on and then we are waiting for someone else. About another 10 minutes. That guy must have slept in past his alarm clock. Which is understandable at that hour. He finally hops on and the bus is moving. Wohoo! We are on our way! Nope, we stop again. Pick up more people. Ok now we are on our way.. nope stop get more people. And more people. Like thats cool but why don’t you tell us? Isn’t that the point of being the tour guide? To guide us through what we are doing? I mean thats what I thought it was. Let’s look it up in the dictionary for fun. What is the definition of a tour guide hmmmm.

Tour Guide Definitions from Oxford Languages:

  1. a person employed to show tourists around places of interest.”our tour guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining”

Well they were nice, but not entertaining and I would have to argue about knowledge. We didn’t get any information about the areas we visited at all. And literally every-time she said what we were going to stop and do X we literally did Y instead. So it was really confusing because we never knew exactly why we were getting off the bus & what we were going to do and for how long and when we were coming back. I packed a bag for all day. I had snacks, water, and extra pair of shoes, socks, a hat, Kleenex I was prepared but when I don’t have all the information at hand and then the bus leaves for hours I’m screwed.

During the three hour ride I did sleep since it was pitch black so that was nice. So I got like 6 hours of sleep before the adventures began. This tour did include another stop which was in Paracas. It’s a little fishing town south of Lima. They have boat tours here to see the Ballestas Islands. The Ballestas Islands are a group of rocky islands located off the Pacific coast near the town of Paracas, and are famous for their abundant wildlife. They are a must-see for all wildlife lovers, as they’re home to thousands of birds and mammals, including penguins, sea lions, and pelicans. The islands are protected, meaning you cannot swim with the animals or walk on the islands themselves, but you will get very close to them by speedboat.

When the bus stopped she said hurry up, let’s get off quickly the boat is waiting for us. I didn’t really know what to bring, so I stuffed everything I could into my pockets of my jacket. They did say to bring a waterproof jacket for the boat ride. So I brought my jacket and shoved everything I could in my zipper pockets. They said to bring a hat but I’m like hats and boats don’t usually go too well. I’ve been on too many boats in Florida where hats get lost. So I didn’t bring mine. So she rushes us off because the boat is waiting for us, but we instead go to a cafe to eat breakfast. OK. We sit down and I ask Jeff is this included? He’s like I don’t think so. Again glad I brought my sols with me. Again I’m happy we have a stop for breakfast to eat after being up for five hours but knowing I need cash to pay for food would be nice. Maybe it’s the Virgo in me? I like details. Hence the details in my blog and books. I think the more details the better. And I will also state I’m happy we got a decent breakfast even if we had to pay for it, because reviews on other excursions said they only got juice and crackers. So again, my expectations were low going in and I brought trail mix and cookies just in case that was our scenario too.

Breakfast in Paracas Peru Nomad Publisher
Our humble breakfast in Paracas

At least here we did get to use the bano. Then we had some free time to walk around and look at the little shops before getting on the boat. There are a lot of tours going out of here. Lots of people so you have to try to stay with your group because there are many people and groups and it was crowded. So we get together and onto the boat docks. As we are approaching it, Jeff comments, “Are those the boats we are taking?” I reply, “Looks like it.” He’s noticing that they are very small and was hoping it would be a bigger boat and I’m not seeing bigger boats around. They are all speed boats. Jeff comments, “It probably won’t go fast.” LOL I’m glad I didn’t bring my hat because it was a bucket hat and it would just fly off. While we line up I point out the engines. Look there’s two Yamaha’s on the back of that thing. It’s going to go fast.

Speedboats you take on the tour

So we hop onto the speed boat and off we go! Yes, the speedboat goes fast. Hence SPEEDboat lol. And it is cold, bring a jacket. We go about 10 minutes maybe to the first spot from the bay of Paracas and reach El Candelabro, a large-scale geoglyph similar to those of the Nazca Lines. It is super fascinating and looks like something out of an episode of Ancient Aliens. Our boat guide was really good and spoke in English and Spanish. He said the Paracas Candelabra, also called the Candelabra of the Andes, has been radio carbon dated to 200 BCE. They call it a candelabra because it takes the shape of a candlelight. The interesting thing is they have no idea how it got there and because it’s on the side of the cliff and it’s very windy and with the sands and salt erosion never makes it fade. So it’s a total mystery why it’s still visible to this day. It’s like the winds clean it instead of eroding it.

Paracas Candelabra, also called the Candelabra of the Andes

Then we sailed onto the next stop which was to see a group of sea lions on a big ship. There are massive ships out here and I guess they are drilling for natural oil and gas. So they don’t move too often. This was really cool to see the sea lions, They were swimming around us a lot too as we were boating around to the different islands around the area.

Sea lions just hanging out

Apparently these are all females and the big dude in the back is the male. And he was a massive male. I love it when they call me Big Poppa… Then we speed off to the next stop which is White Island. I didn’t know why they called it that. But we soon found out. There was an island far off to the left which looked a lot like an iceberg so I thought maybe that’s why? And they have penguins here too. So to me that made sense, right? NOPE I was very wrong, so wrong. The next island is where all the seagulls and birds live. Thousands of birds live. So can you guess why it’s called White Island? Let me show you a picture and then see if you can guess.

White Islands in Paracas Peru
Can you smell this photo?

Oh no that’s not snow in Antarctica you are seeing there. Oh no, that is tons of bird poop. So much bird poop they named the islands White. Do you have any idea how much bird poop it takes to cover an entire island? Let’s just say Jeff passed out from the smell. And I think my clothes still smell like poop. In fact it’s soooo much poop that the tour guide said the Peruvian people come there and scrape it off and use it as fertilizer for soil back inland to grow crops. The island is also home to Penguins. The Humboldt penguin resides in South America, its range mainly contains most of coastal Peru. We saw a few of them. Not too many. I got some photos but they blend into the rocks so hard to see them really.

The Humboldt penguin
Where’s Waldo? I mean penguins.. three of them in the middle of the rocks

There were also some sea lions over here too and lots of birds and really just beautiful scenery to look at. Too bad the poop smell was so strong. It came and went depending upon which way the wind was blowing.

Sea lion
Sea Lion at the top of the cliff

Then we went on to the last stop which was a sunken boat. The tour guide told us a story about when a tsunami hit Paracas in the past and crashed over the town. I have seen signs for tsunamis around the beaches. They had one just in Jan 2022 that apparently the Navy didn’t give them appropriate warnings for and two women drowned because their bus they were in parked at the beach got dragged into the ocean with the waves. Scary. So this crashed boat houses more big sea lions, turkey vultures and birds.

crashed boat from tsunami
crashed boat from tsunami

That was the end of the boat ride. Then we were headed back to shore. It was really cool. Our guide was very knowledgable and entertaining. I throughly enjoyed it, so I tipped him. Tipping is a so so thing here in Peru. I don’t think it’s necessary or custom for locals. Yet they expect it from tourists and honestly I don’t mind we are used to it. And I usually tip anywhere between five to ten sols which is only $1.30 – $2.50 so really it’s not much so why not?

After the boat ride we were informed by our other guides they we were now going to do a dessert tasting. So they funneled us to this little store and it was literally just one piece of chocolate. It was good but not a tasting. I’m pretty sure in order to call it a tasting you need to taste more than one item. We could go back to the dictionary, but I dot think that’s necessary. I think the goal was to get us to buy something. Before we were off to the next stop. By this time it was almost noontime. It was a very long day, and we were not even half way done. I’m going to finish the rest of the tour in another blog because it’s getting too long even for one blog. I will link it here for you to continue on and read about the rest and the sand dunes. But here are all the photos from the boat ride. I highly recommend it. Definitely do it and maybe stay in Paracas longer and see more of the cute town.

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