Peru’s Northern Coast, from Trujillo to the Ecuador border, is lined with delightful beach resorts. This region is famous for its world-class surfing, though other marvels await visitors to this landscape that changes from desert scrub forest to mangrove swamp. After a day of kite boarding, deep-sea fishing or zip-lining, head to the thermal baths to relax your muscles. Birdwatching and hiking are also excellent adventures. The seafood cuisine is superb.
The most famous of these are Huanchaco and Máncora. V!VA Travel Guides also takes you to some that are not so well-known to international travelers. Many make easy day trips from the major cities. But all have lodging, if you want to spend a night watching the moonlight slithering across the waves.
Huanchaco's famed caballitos de totora.
Just 14 kilometers (8.5 miles) north of Trujillo is Huanchaco, which according to Chimú mythology was the landing-spot of Takaynamo, who ordered the construction of the famous ancient city of Chan Chan. Huanchaco is famous not only for its surfing, but also the fishermen who still use caballitos de totora for their daily outings. Ask to use one of these reed rafts to ride the waves.
Pimentel. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
Pimentel, only 11 kilometers (6.5 miles) from Chiclayo, has a broad, pale-grey peach. The seaside malecón is lined with beautiful gardens and mansions dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is another good surfing spot. Archaeology buffs can check out Huaca Agujereada and Huaca Blanca. Pimentel is another village where fishermen still use caballitos de totora.
Paddling a balsillo in Yacila. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
Piura’s port is historic Paita, birthplace of Almirante Miguel Grau (hero of the War of the Pacific against Chile) and where Generala Manuela Sáenz (Simón Bolívar’s confidante) lived her last days. Seventeen kilometers (10 miles) to the south of Paita is Yacila, is a fishing village on a small, rocky cove. Here men here still use balsillos, traditional rafts made of five logs. To the south of Yacila are other beaches, like Los Cangrejos, La Islilla, La Laguna, Hermosa, Gramitas, Té para Dos and Las Gaviotas.
A glorious sunset at Colán. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
Colán, 15 kilometers (9 miles) to the north of Paita, has long been one of northern Peru’s great beach resorts. Oystercatchers, several species of gull, whimbrels, pelicans, frigate birds and blue-footed boobies are frequent visitors to the five-kilometer (three-mile) long Playa Esmeraldas. At the southern end of the beach, fossil-rich bluffs meet the sea. The sunsets are absolutely stunning here.
Cabo Blanco. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
Cabo Blanco’s earned its fame many decades ago with its world-record catches of marlin and albacore. It drew Hollywood stars, sport greats and industrial barons. The old Fishing Club closed several decades back, but slip a few soles to the caretaker to let you see the fishing trophies and Room 5, where Ernest Hemingway stayed when The Old Man and the Sea was filmed here. Cabo Blanco is still renowned for its fishing, as well as kite boarding and a world surfing championship. While in town, drop into Restaurant Cabo Blanco to chat with Pablo Córdova, Hemingway’s bartender, while enjoying an absolutely delectable chicharrón de mariscos.
Los Órganos is a relaxed, little-touristed beachside resort that is the jumping off point for deep-sea fishing and other boating excursions. If you happen by between August and November, hop aboard for a ride out to see the migrating whales. Another popular activity kite surfing.
Las Pocitas and Vichayito
These two towns just south of Máncora offer a more peaceful scene. The long, broad beach is edged with lush vegetation. Enjoy days soaking up the sun and sunset strolls along the strand. These are perfect places to rent a bungalow and do a maximum chill. They are especially good for families.
Máncora's raison d'être: Surfing. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
Máncora is the perennial favorite for national and international tourists. This once-upon-a-time fishing village has grown tremendously in the past three years, drawing not only backpackers, but also travelers with deeper pockets. Máncora’s surfing is famous globally, and many of Peru’s greats have set up schools here. The scene is diversifying, with kite boarding, wind surfing, zip lining in the inland desert forests and mud baths.
Sunset at Zorritos. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
Between Máncora and the Ecuador border is Zorritos. This mellow town has over 30 kilometers (18 miles) of broad beach to stroll along and a sea that is warm year-round. Near town are several national parks protecting desert forests and mangroves. Take a day trip into Puerto Pizarro to boat around islands full of nesting frigate birds and to a crocodile breeding center. Head into the hills to soak in your choice of hot springs or thermal mud baths.
The sea is cold up to the Máncora area, where the Humboldt Current veers westward to the Galápagos Islands. Surfers will need to use a wetsuit.
Another warning to travelers: These beaches are a popular get-away for Peruvians and Ecuadorians during holiday seasons, when prices rise steeply. In a few weeks, it’ll be Semana Santa, or Easter Week — one of the biggest vacation times. If you’re looking for relaxation and tranquility, you may want to head elsewhere April 1-8 this year.
Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.