A Goofy-Footer's Paradise
Words by Michael Kew
Photos by Damea Dorsey
Where: Peru is in South America between Chile and Ecuador, facing the South Pacific Ocean.
What: No other country has such a high concentration of left points—not Angola, not Chile, not even New Zealand. But strangely, most of Peru's north coast is lightly surfed. Granted, the waves are generally not top-to-bottom barrels in clear, 85-degree water, there is no surf industry or five-star surf resorts, and media coverage is scarce. But the waves are long and the water is warmer here than the rest of the country; the coastline is rural and lunar, an ancient, rainless, slow-paced landscape full of surf, sunshine, and fascinating Indian culture.
When: North Pacific swells are favored in the Mancora region, and they are the primary swell source from October to March. Prevailing winds are light from the south, the air is dry, and the water temperature is at its warmest, generally in the high 60s to low 70s. Best for the Chicama area, autumn (March–June) is when the South Pacific begins to light up with southwest swell, an ideal angle for many of the points. Winter (June–September) is prime time for southwesterlies, with cooler water temperatures and prevailing south wind, often blocked by the headlands of the left points.
Why: For one thing, Chicama is the world's longest wave (two-plus miles). The coast is a long, narrow strip of desert that is drier than the Sahara, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the highlands, which contort into the western foothills of the mystical Andes Mountains. There are enough accessible pointbreaks, beachbreaks, reefbreaks, long waves, short waves, hollow waves, mushy waves, etc., to satisfy anyone. If a compelling surf history, an ancient culture, friendly locals, year-round swell, cheap costs, and a large selection of high-quality surf spots can serve as any indication, then yes, north Peru is one of the world's finest surf destinations.
How: First you have to land at Lima's Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM), which is serviced by several international airlines. It's Peru's international gateway, but a considerable distance south, so unless you plan to fly to Lima and do the long drive north, it's most practical if you catch a connecting domestic flight from LIM up to either Talara/Tumbes (TYL) or Trujillo (TRU) airports. Flights are with LAN Perú (lan.com). Once there, rent a car and off you go.
Places To Stay: Of the many beachfront hotels, the Huanchaco Hostel is a bitchin' little place in which to lay your saltwater-crusted head. In Mancora there are several cheap, good places to sleep, many right on the beach in front of the point. The Sol y Mar is a great place (with a good restaurant), same with aptly named Las Olas Hotel. There is nothing at Puemape, a ghost-town fishing village; although Chicama is desolate, there are a few surfer-friendly hostels to stay in like the new Chicama Surf Resort (chicamasurf.com). The colorful city of Pacasmayo is only a few minutes up the road, though—here there are two good hotels named Pakatnamu and La Estación. Trujillo offers good accommodation for all budgets.
Places To Eat: Plenty of cheap food is available in Pacasmayo; the city of Trujillo has everything under the sun; Huanchaco village has some snack stalls and good, cheap restaurants specializing in fresh seafood. Mancora is a tourist town, so there are a lot of cheap, good places to eat. Try some ceviche at one of the little beachside snack stalls, washed down with an ice-cold Cristal beer. Also, check the Bar Rojo or Turismo Restaurant Espada.
Babes And Bros: If you like Latin flavor, you'll be stoked here. Usually there's a bit of good nightlife in Mancora, but Trujillo is really the best place to be single and ready to mingle. There are several discos, bars, and casinos around the city featuring good-looking Peruvians who love to shake their booties and party all night long. But Peruvians are Catholic and therefore pretty conservative, so don't go expecting anything except good, clean fun. Some lively clubs include Las Tinajas, La Canana, and Luna Rota.
Crowd Factor: The marquee waves get relatively crowded, with Cabo Blanco being the worst in terms of competitiveness in the water. Since Peru is not one of the surf-tourism industry's chosen sites, there isn't a seasonal influx of Americans out to surf as much as possible during their annual two-week vacation. Surfers here are almost all Peruvian, so when/if there is ever a crowd, utmost respect must be given.
Stuff To Bring: There are no surf shops, so bring all your gear—3/2 fullsuit, trunks, and a springsuit; your everyday boards (pintail for Cabo Blanco); warm- and cool-water wax; and mild-weather clothing. No need for a raincoat. Lima does have shops and shapers, so you could stock up there before heading north. Booties certainly come in handy when surfing reefs (lots of urchins). You also might want to pack a Spanish guidebook if usted no habla español.
If The Surf Is Flat: The fishing is exceptional. There are some interesting thermal baths near Mancora. Tour the Cabo Blanco lighthouse, which nearby is where Ernest Hemingway found inspiration to write The Old Man And The Sea. Check out Chan Chan, the largest clay city in the world, built by the Mochican many centuries before the Incan empire. Pacasmayo is a very beautiful, quiet town featuring many interesting things to see and do. Trujillo is a major city and has all sorts of happenings.
More Information: Grab a copy of Lonely Planet's Peru (6th edition, shop.lonelyplanet.com) or Moon Peru (2nd edition, moon.com) by Moon Handbooks. Online, have a look-see at visitperu.com, peru.info, go2peru.com, olasperusurftravel.com, and perusurfguides.com.