Peru’s Northern Coast

Our inaugural visit to Peru consisted of vast deserts, the Andes mountains and ancient Incan cities. Our second visit two months later couldn’t have been more different as we ditched the alpaca sweaters for sun, sea and surf.

Getting to our first beach town was a bit of an ordeal. In order to keep costs down we’d decided to “sleep” on the marble floor at Santiago airport the night before our 6am flight. After four hours in the air we inhaled a cup of coffee at Lima airport before pressing on to the bus station and boarding a coach to Huanchaco. By this point we were smelly, grumpy and shattered so it was probably quite fortunate that we both fell into a coma for the majority of the nine hour journey.

Arriving in Trujillo around 9pm we attempted to google some hostels while fending off the ticket touts and taxi drivers. We’d forgotten how irritating they are in Peru. There was only one hostel appearing on Alison’s GPS map so we asked a taxi driver to take us there. It was pretty dark by this point and eerily quiet but the hostel looked ok. Excited at the prospect of sleeping in an actual bed we were too sleepy to kick up a fuss about the swarm of ants we found crawling around our bottom bunks. We opted for the top bunks instead, carrying out a thorough inspection before wrapping up tightly in our hammocks and hoping not to be eaten alive in the night. We knew we had to leave the following morning when we headed downstairs to make breakfast and found the kitchen. It was just revolting; not a clean dish in site, eggshells lying around the worktop, flies buzzing overhead and the vomit inducing stench of warm meat and used oil surrounding us. I’d rather sleep on the beach than spend another minute in this dump!

Stopping for breakfast at Surf Hostel Meri we got chatting to the Australian volunteer working there. She told us they had rooms available for S/.15 and if they were anything like the food we’d just enjoyed they’d be bloody spectacular. Our new dorm
was clean, quiet and most importantly, it was ant free. The place even had its own skate ramp and surf rental. Perfect!

So having overcome two long days of travel and the grottiest hostel yet we could now relax and enjoy the beach. It’s thought that Huanchaco could be the birthplace of surfing. The local fishermen here have used “Caballitos de totora” as boats for hundreds of years, rowing out to catch their dinner and then surfing back to shore. They’re still in use today and if you’re brave enough you can ask a local to take you out in one.

Huanchaco Fisherman
A local fisherman heading out to sea in his caballitos de totora

We opted for the modern version of a surfboard, renting wetsuits and a rather large board between us. Alison is a decent surfer as I found out earlier this year in Wales. Then there’s me, a complete beginner who’s scared of the water!

We carried our monstrosity of a board across the road and down onto the beach. Alison spent 5 or 10 minutes on the sand explaining the basics to me and showing me how to pop up and keep my balance. Sounded easy enough, I’m good with the theory though. Getting into the water was tricky, the “beach” is strewn with sharp rocks, shells and seaweed making it almost impossible to walk but too shallow to swim. So it took us a while to get out to a decent depth. Alison had a couple of goes first so I could watch and take mental notes. As with snowboarding she made it look easy and effortlessly cool. Then it was my turn, I missed the first couple of waves because I was too busy getting hair off my face or spitting out sea water. I managed to get onto my knees the next couple of times and then had one foot planted on the board before I tumbled over. Effortlessly cool I was not, but I was having fun. The fun didn’t last much longer though. As I was dragging the board back into my grip Alison shouted “watch out” as I turned to see a massive (ok it was average sized) wave heading my way. I had the board facing the wrong way, the wave smashed into me and the board, sent me tumbling and my shoulder popped out its socket. Alison grabbed the board as I shimmied back to the beach clasping my stupid shoulder. Fortunately my subluxed shoulder always pops back in itself so I sulked on the beach for a bit while Alison tried to catch a few more waves. It’s not the best of beaches for beginner surf, our feet were ripped apart trying to get in and out and the waves were pretty weak. Later that day while sipping a beer just before sunset we watched on enviously as the experts hit some huge waves on the other side of the bay.

The view from Surf Hostel Meri

We enjoyed a healthy dinner at our hostel and another lazy day by the beach but knew we needed to press on with our journey north towards the border with Ecuador. We were intent on night bussing it to a town called Piura. Instead we befriended two drunk Belgians and decided to follow them to Mancora instead.

Kon Tiki View
Another cracking view, this time from Kon Tiki Bungalows in Mancora

Mancora is another beach town further up the coast frequented by surfers and partygoers. We opted to stay at Kon Tiki Bungalows perched high above the town and therefore far enough away that we’d not be kept up all night by the fiestas. The night bus was reasonable, we arrived just before 6am and were amazed to find our room was ready. After watching the sunrise we headed in for a much needed siesta. We spent a couple of days sunbathing by the beach and reading from the comfort of a hammock outside our bungalow. The waves looked pretty good here but we opted to spectate only and let my shoulder recover. The windsurfing was awesome, as was the ceviche, it’d been a while since we’d enjoyed seafood and we chose to eat in the same restaurant twice. We also found a great breakfast joint which served decent coffee, something that is quite hard to come by in Peru!

It felt like we’d only just arrived but then it was time to don the backpacks once again and brace ourselves for the next night bus and our next country….Ecuador!


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