Think Peru and you almost immediately think Inca too, along with precipitous lookouts and plunging valleys. In fact, there’s so much to do in Peru’s interior that its coastline – over 1,400 miles of it – is often completely overlooked. Given this superabundance of silica, the beaches of Peru are also comparatively underdeveloped – perfect for surf pioneers if not yet for dedicated resort-hoppers.
The bone-dry, lunar-looking desert strip of northern Peru is inundated with the country’s best beaches. With the mercury firmly encamped in the mid-to-high 20s year-round, the water always at least tolerably warm, and the Pacific Ocean sending raking pulses of wave energy along the coast, this is boardrider territory. And surfer central is Mancora, once a fishing village and now a resort, but still fairly chilled. The town is effectively a sandwich, with ocean on the one side and desert on the other – the meat being a string of bars, restaurants and hotels along the strip. Zorritos, tucked further up the coast just a few miles from Tumbes, is still the sort of rustic place Mancora once was.
Other beaches in the area feature less in the way of breaks and barrels and are more popular with sunbathers. Punta Sal has a beautiful beach and calmer waters and is popular with families and divers; Los Organos is a nice spot to get a fill of seafood; Vichayito is less developed but a favourite amongst swimmers and kitesurfers; and Los Pocitas is perhaps the best bet for those looking for more style in their coastal bolt-hole. A little further south, Cabo Blanco is a fisherman’s village blessed with pipeline waves and great sportfishing but blighted somewhat by oilrigs visible from the shore; Colán has a long, clean beach, supports board- and boat-sports offshore and boasts the colonial church of San Lucas onshore; and Bahía de Nonura offers a beautiful beach and the chance to see dolphins and turtles.
Further south again, the beach resorts of Pimental and Santa Rosa are accessible from the city of Chiclayo, and Huanchaco, near the city of Trujillo, is renowned for its traditional, chili-pepper shaped reed boats (caballito de totora) and is close to the ruined city of Chan Chan as well as Chicama with its epic left-handers.
Halfway between Trujillo and Lima is Tuquillo, an area scalloped by bays and washed with clear waters. Camping, fishing and diving are all popular in these parts. Lima, the capital, has several popular beaches within the city limits, but El Paraiso, with its emptier beach, and Chepeconde, with its white-sand beach and camping spots, are well worth heading out of the city for.
The southern coast of Peru is cooler then the northern reaches of the country and therefore less popular with beachgoers. At Paracas, in the province of Pisco, the landscape of rock and sand may be relentless, but boardsports and diving here come with the added incentive of sightings of sea lions and penguins. Further south, in the department of Arequipa, are the ruins of Puerto Inca – the main port used by the Inca. On this occasion, the stonework has to play second fiddle to the two small bays and the diving and fishing out in the deep. The final stops for sand-seekers are Bahía Honoratos, which is 75 miles from the city of Arequipa and where cliffs cup a fine beach of white sand, and the undeveloped surf beaches of La Cruz, Gentilares and Piedras Negras near the town of Ilo.