Peru is not necessarily a place you would choose for its marvellous beaches. Greece, Croatia, Bali, Gili, Thailand, The Philippines, Polynesia, the Caribbean, Japan or Australia are more likely to attract your attention as a beach life lover. However, the renowned Máncora district up in the North of Peru does have its charm which might draw you in, be it the whale watching, swimming with sea turtles, hot springs, wild little foxes or mangroves.
Piura and Sullana – the Coconut Paradise
If you take your way up to the North in a car, you might want to stop in Piura, known as the City of eternal heat. Pima cotton is grown in the area and oil is mined offshore throughout the region. Piura is also famous for its food industry (coconuts, plantains, mangoes, carob and much more can be found here), arts and crafts and tourism as there are numerous beaches in the area suitable for swimming and surfing. The importance of fishing is reflected in the local cuisine, which specializes in ceviche.
I enjoyed food shopping in the town of Sullana, where you can get young coconuts (to drink their water) for two soles, mature coconuts (which can be used for milk, oil, coconut shreds, ice creams etc.) for three soles and very good honey and carob. Virgin coconut oil can be bought as well as various coconut delicatessens, all alongside the Panamerica Norte. In the vicinity of the town you can admire the greenery of rice fields and palm groves.
Cabo Blanco, Ñuro, Los Organos – Hemingway, Turtles and Whales
Two hours away from Sullana you find the legendary fishermen village of Cabo Blanco, where the adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea was filmed in 1956. Many famous people spent some time in this place, including Hemingway himself who stayed for more than a month at the famous “Cabo Blanco Fishing Club” and caught a 700 pound marlin while filming the motion picture. The village takes its name from the light coloured nearby mountains and today is a noted surf break.
A fifteen-minute drive further up north and you make your way to Ñuro, where they have a special sea turtle reserve located near the pier. For 5 soles you can enter the pier (from which you can observe the turtles) and for another 10 get an-hour boat ride and swim in the ocean with the giant turtles who tend to group together since they take advantage of the discard fish that fall into the sea during the arrival of the boats.
Just ten more minutes of your further road tripping and you find yourself in Los Organos, a place not so interesting on its own, but renowned for its whale watching tours. The whale watching season in the whole district begins in mid-July and ends in late October. It is in this period that humpback whales come to the coasts of Peru and Ecuador from the cold waters of the Antarctica, making a long journey of several thousand kilometres, thus giving birth to their young to reproduce. In late October the whales, many of them with two to three babies, undertake the journey back south again in search of food in the polar waters.
The tours usually set sail in the morning (7 to 8 a.m. approx.) and last 2 to 4 hours. In addition to the sighting, some tours include a visit to the oil platforms at the sea (where you can spot sea lions), plus a visit to the Ñuro pier.
I was lucky enough to get to observe the whales right from the hotel room where I was staying in Punta Sal (another place which offers tours too)! I was told I am pretty lucky – and so it might be…
Máncora Town and the Trouble with Peruvian Breakfasts
From Los Organos you get to the centre of Máncora town in twenty minutes. The whole district is pricy when it comes to hotels and restaurants and the lodging and gastro service often lag significantly behind in their quality at the required price… Sadly, it is not an exception that you feel there is no balance in between the money spent and the service received.
And to warn all of you who have an experience with the amazing hotels in Arabic countries (Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, UAE etc.) or e.g. in Bali, Polynesia etc. – you simply cannot expect any of that service in Peru. Like those breakfasts in Bali including yoghurts, granolas, fresh fruits, sandwiches, delicious pancakes etc. – forget about it here! There is no variety in general in the Peruvian hotel breakfasts; it is practically always the same, wherever you go, whatever money you pay. They call it “continental breakfast” and it includes two pieces of white bread, eggs (most commonly scrambled in heaps of oil), industrial marmalade and butter, a fresh juice (the best part of the breakfast, usually papaya or pineapple) and coffee (sometimes instant, generally without milk). If you want tea, you usually have to ask for it and the quality is miserable. No fruits. No yoghurt. No honey. No sandwiches. Only in several hotels in Huaraz there was a variety in breakfast when you could choose between sandwiches, pancakes, or eggs (porridge was usually present). But to get all of it at once – out of question!
The sea in Máncora is no wonder, it is much nicer in Ñuro or Punta Sal. Due to the Covid pandemic, certain places closing down and many rich Peruvians moving up to the North to avoid the overcrowded cities the prices have gone up even more significantly. I thoroughly recommend you to give a good search and a good read to the reviews of the restaurants and hotels you want to choose for your holidays so that you avoid disappointments.
My greatest disappointment in Máncora was the Makakos Restobar. The burgers are overprized (20 soles is the cheapest basic one, while in other places we got good ones for 8 soles) and of mediocre quality. Moreover, we were waiting for our burgers for more than an hour (and nobody apologized for that) and then another ten minutes for the bill! Nobody told us beforehand that the burgers would take so long. Certainly, rather give a go to Smokin Brothers!
I did enjoy the food and service as well as ocean views in Cevicheria Los Delfines, which is located right by the main beach in Máncora.
Take a walk to Las Pocitas beach and enjoy shopping for artisanal products at the High Street to strengthen the vacation vibes.
Punta Sal – A Peaceful Village of Good Vibes
A twenty-minute ride from Máncora and a turn left off the highway and you are in Punta Sal, my favourite destination in the area. Calm, with street cats and dogs well taken care off by the rich families who live here, safe and relaxed, a place you are bound to remember well.
Choose well which end of Punta Sal you want to be staying at, as the right side (facing the sea) might be offering more luxurious stays but the bay is calm with no rocks in the sea, while the left side generally offers some less expensive option (excluding the last hotel in the row called The Smiling Crab but then the rooms are nice, especially the most expensive top ones with private terraces where a night is worth 220 soles) but there are rocks in the sea and with the waves coming in you can easily get scratches (but on the other hand can encounter various interesting organisms such as e.g. goose barnacles).
Due to the pandemic, many lodgements are closed yet so you want to check beforehand if they are available and opened otherwise you might end up with a need to choose something way over your budget.
We risked no booking in advance and for some nights ended up in the left end of Punta Sal in a three-star hotel called Perú Hosting where a night in a double room facing the ocean costs from 160 to 180 soles. The best thing about this hotel is the ocean view and the direct access to the beach, though it is a rocky one (but you can take a pleasant eight-minute walk along the ocean to get to a non-rocky stretch). In the rooms, you find all that could be needed, an AC, a TV, a fridge, comfy beds, enough furniture, hot water in the shower. However, the Wi-Fi connection is not very good. The staff is helpful and kind, they stored my bike well, remembered to give me tea, not coffee, at breakfast, and stationed our car for free. The hotel shows features of aging but for a budget-travel and a condition of a direct access to the beach it is a good value option.
HUA Punta Sal Hotel Restaurante (which also offers lodging) is currently the only restaurant opened in Punta Sal. It has nice atmosphere and is located right by the ocean. The food is alright, but overprized and the portions are extremely small. 8 soles for a tiny weeny pancake without fruits, just with honey or manjar, 35 soles for four small bits of grilled octopus which carried no side (e.g. a salza or a bit of salad) yet was meant to be a main dish, the tiniest pizza I have seen in my life for 25 soles (a diameter of barely 20 cm). My partner and I were always leaving hungry though we spent about 120 soles on three dishes we shared and a drink. Luckily, La Piramide del Mar (a more renowned restaurant) shall be reopening soon. An atmosphere similar to that of Punta Sal has the village of Vichayicito.
The Mangroves of Puerto Pizarro
I tend to say that the more you travel the less likely you are to be impressed by certain repeating experiences. Though they say “compare to nothing” we generally tend to do so and thus sometimes end up feeling disappointed.
Such was my experience in Puerto Pizzaro, a village located in the vicinity of the city of Tumbes (situated just half an hour away from the Ecuadorian border) which gave name to the whole province. The National Reserve of Tumbes is closed due to the pandemic so we made our way to Puerto Pizzaro and went on a boat trip with two local fishermen to the mangroves. I have an experience exploring the mangroves in Cambodia, on the Tonle Sap lake, where the fishermen took me and my friend right into the bushes, with the engine turned off, so we were literally touching the branches and observing the various animals living deep in the mangroves. In Puerto Pizzaro, on the other hand, the tour for two people costs thrice as much as in Cambodia (50 soles) and in less than an hour we were taken just along the edges of the mangroves, plus paused for a while on the Island of Love (where there is nothing interesting there really).
The crocodile reserve was closed. The only highlight of the trip was when one of the fishermen showed us how to get shells from the mud and ate them right away, just like an oyster, but with no lemon; however, we did not see how the priced black shells (70 soles per 100 pieces, while the common ones are 5 soles per 100 pieces) are gotten from the space down by the roots of the mangroves as only some collectors do that because it is dangerous due to the kind of piranha fish that have their habitat there.
The Hot Springs of Hervideros
Passing through the town of Zorritos, on the way back to Punta Sal, we digressed for the Hot springs of Hervideros which turned out to be a rather fun experience. The place is open and without guards currently and several half-tamed zorritos (little foxes) live there. We did not plunge into the various pools which are said to have various healing effects as the green colour did not generate a lot of confidence in us, but the scenery around is quite amazing. Definitely recommended to make a stop there and bring dog granules with you as the zorritos love them…
Overall, if you are already in Peru and having time on your hands or starving for beaches, it is a yes to visiting the North. But of course, there are more magical places in this country, such as the Amazon jungle or the Andes of Huaraz and Caraz, certain parts of the Sacred Valley or the Nazca Lines.