Mancora’s reliable swell and perpetual sunshine turned it into a bohemian haven led by a thriving local surf scene who trailblazed the beatnik all the way here. And it seems that it’s no longer such a well-kept secret amongst Peru’s in-the-know, since the last decade has seen several high-end openings, which has caught the attention of the international gypset. Don’t fret though—despite the growing popularity of this dreamy spot, Mancora’s remoteness has allowed it to hang on to its original, non-conformist, rough-around-the-edges character regardless of sudden sprout of new locales.
I grew up in Sitges, a small beach town twenty minutes south of Barcelona. My father was an Olympic sailor who has always felt more at ease at sea than on land, hence, all of my childhood was spent either on the water or aboard some kind of floating device. Ever since relocating to Buenos Aires four years ago, I find myself constantly looking to escape to a place that brings me the peace of the water, and—unconsciously—a sense of home. And while South America is not short of coral-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, there’s something about Mancora that draws me back time and time again.
Located in the northern fringes of Peru’s Pacific coast, Mancora is sleepy fishing village amongst the deserted landscape Piura and Tumbes. I first heard about Mancora in my teenage years, when by chance I welcomed 2006 on top of a surfboard in Montanita, Ecuador. As locals raved about this secret spot in Peru that had attracted the likes of Ernest Hemingway, John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe, I wondered when I would get a chance to go. It wasn’t until years later that a photography assignment took me to Peru for the first time and I jumped at the opportunity to add a few extra days to my trip and make the trek to this often-overlooked pocket of the Peruvian coast.
Although the fishermen had been here all along, it was avid surfers in search of the perfect swell that opened up Mancora and turned it into a bohemian retreat. Long before touching down in Talara airport, it had already become evident we were headed towards a surfer’s paradise; half of the passengers on our flight had that permanent golden tan, salty locks and customary surfer uniform that would allow them to hop off the plane and into the water in a heartbeat.
After accepting a ride from Carlos, a 30-something surfer from Lima, we embarked on a bumpy hour-long drive across a desolate mars-like landscape that rolled all the way into the windy Pacific, the only sign to alert us that we had arrived in Mancora. As Carlos cheerfully briefed us on the way from the airport, all the action takes place along the dusty, sometimes paved, sometimes not, main road that borders the coastline. Though it has grown in the last few years, the town remains relatively small; most people get around on foot, bicycles, motorbikes or tuk tuks, which, for a few soles will take you anywhere you want to go.
Locals take pride in their hometown’s near-perfect record of sunshine, swells and breakpoints. Whether you are a seasoned rider or not, there’s a few people that can make sure you make the most of the waves. We met with two-time surf champion Pilar Irigoyen, at the Wawa Hotel, where she (as the only female surf instructor in town) gives daily lessons to children from a nearby Montessori school, as well as any visitors itching to learn.
A few steps down the beach, a dried, palm tree-covered hut with a shaggy sign reading ‘Surf Point’ is home to the Peruvian version of the 1970s Z-Boys, led by Alan Valdiviezo. Valdiviezo set up the first surf school in town, where his crew and family prove to be great instructors for people of all kinds of ages and levels. We took a lesson with his younger brother Carlos which turned into a an afternoon of chilling by the shack eating fresh ceviche to the sound of local reggae tunes as the sun turned in.
Horseback Riding —
Nobody quite knows how horseback riding on the beach has become a ‘thing’ in Mancora. What’s clear is that due to the small scale of the town, limited paved roads and lack of cars (mostly), horseback is as much a romantic way to experience the surroundings, as it is a pragmatic way to get around between the area’s main pockets of Mancora, Las Pocitas and Los Organos.
As everything else in this shabby, bohemian hideaway, there are no formalities—you won’t find a sign or touristy stand that promotes going horseback riding. After spotting several riders on the beach one morning, we approached one of them and asked if he would take us; in a kind and shy manner he accepted and we met him later in the day. There was no route nor time restraints, we just rode into sunset very much like they do in the best romantic epics!
Cabo Blanco —
They say Ernest Hemingway found his to the Mancora coast chasing marlins—also women?—and settled down in Cabo Blanco for several years, where he found inspiration for his final novel ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. Cabo Blanco’s present nostalgic charm might be a long way from it’s former glamorous heyday in the 50s, when the pacific waters embracing the cape were filled with big game marlins, attracting some international figures who set up the exclusive fishing and social club of ‘Cabo Blanco Fishing Club’.
The drive from Mancora is an experience of stunning, ungroomed scenery, passing through small fishing ports and markets. While the famous Cabo Blanco hotel where Hemingway retreated is now falling apart, this peaceful town has a wonderful restaurant serving up some of the best fresh ceviche and seafood right on the beach. Don’t be fooled by the humble appearance of this eatery though, the food is as good or even better than some of Peru’s best restaurants, and the price certainly reflects this—let’s settle in calling it an haute beach shack.
Slow Down —
The star of Mancora couldn’t be anything other than its wild, wind-swept beaches and perfect breaks. The sheer vastness of the sand strips of Las Pocitas, Vichayito and Los Organos make it difficult to ever feel like it’s crowded, only ever crossing a local walking his dog, a galloping horse, or the odd family coming out of one of the long string of private villas that frame the coastline. In a place where the days are long and the sun is strong (Mancora is a few degrees away from the Equator, sunscreen is a must) time relentlessly slows down and calls for an unhurried and laid-back break where ‘doing nothing’ means enjoying everything.
Located near the sleepy fishing village of Mancora is Kichic, a bohemian beachside retreat that swears by the balance of matter and spirit. Shaded nooks, daily yoga classes and a healthy, energizing cuisine are some of the things that make this hotel one of my go-to hiding spots in South America. A total of 9 rooms and suites connected by lantern-strung paths dot the coconut palm and bougainvillea garden grounds. Each room is unique, though they all have much-needed canopy beds (mosquitoes beware!) and the relaxing sound of the ocean surf at night. The Himalaya suite boasts the best ocean views and has an open-air shower in a private terrace surrounded by flagstone. Between yoga and surf sessions, pick the brain of the executive chef and learn to make some of Peru’s signature dishes during an impromptu cooking class.
Yoga & Wellness —
Since becoming a popular beach retreat amongst the local and international gypset, several Yoga offerings have popped up across town. We didn’t have to venture very far to practice the discipline however, since K!Chic’s daily morning yoga sessions set the bar pretty high. The hotel has its own dedicated open-air yoga studio, and the teacher—an Austrian yogi with an impressive international resume—provided very personal guidance which is difficult to beat in a group setting. K!Chic actively organises intimate yoga retreats that encompass a well-rounded approach to wellness lifestyle, featuring group and one-on-one workshops, meditation and yoga sessions, surf lessons and balanced culinary offerings that are designed to bring forth the ultimate re-energizing experience.
La Sirena d'Juan —
A classic on the dusty Mancora strip, La Sirena’s imaginative dishes and relaxed atmosphere saw us come for dinner more than a few times. It’s one of Mancora’s longest-standing restaurants, favoured by many locals and foreigners alike. The rustic-chic decor of this small upscale eatery makes it the perfect place to enjoy a romantic dinner date on the second-floor terrace, or a more casual sarong-and-flipflops affair if you’re coming straight from the beach just a few streets down.