Surfing Peru, and what aside from waves you shouldn’t miss
Peru is Machu Picchu, Peru is the country of the endless lefts, Peru is…? What else is there?
Peru is located on the West Coast of South America, just South of Ecuador and North of Chile. As the Andes mountain range runs parallel to the coast through the whole country, it has the same climate zones as Ecuador. Big parts are a jungle with the kind of weather you’d expect. Within the highlands, it can get very cold, which is not that much of a surprise with peaks as high as 6,768 m (Huascaran). However, the coastal region here is a bit different than you would expect. Because of the Humboldt Current (coming from Antarctica), the water is much colder than you imagine in a country so close to the Equator. It’s interesting: On some days, you stand on the beach and it’s a bit fresh. But as soon as you walk a couple of meters away or a wall blocks the cold ocean breeze, it feels tropical. This coastline is also one of the driest places on earth. It rains around once a month, and a couple of raindrops are what they call rain! BUT it is foggy most of the time.
The far North of this coastline is much different, as the Humboldt drifts away from the coast with warmer water coming from the North.
Peru is one of those countries I reckon to visit with enough time. It’s so big and there is so much to miss if you’re in a hurry!
The waves here are quite something and you can find everything from beginner waves, to perfect Longboarder point breaks, you can get some of the longest waves in the world, high-performance waves, hard-fought barrel perfection or empty beach breaks. But there is more than just that.
Machu Picchu is definitely not what it used to be for traveling generations before us. But it’s still there and still amazing. If you are interested in such things, one way or another, I reckon it’s better to see it now than later. So if you come here and you don’t have a few days or weeks you can spend doing something other than hunting waves, you miss out.
I was in Peru for two months, and there is still so much more to see. I have to go back one day, not only because of the waves, but for everything else I have missed. (And this is actually a pretty good excuse to go and surf here again).
I’ve been back in late 2014 for another month and to compete at the World Surfing Games, but that’s still not enough.
Cusco/ Machu Picchu
Cusco is where you have to go if you want to go to Machu Picchu. There are a hand full of flights from Lima every day, and even more busses. The flight takes around one hour and sometimes doesn’t cost much more than the luxury bus, which takes almost a day. But with that said, the busses here are good and cheap. There are a couple of different classes and even the cheapest one is much better than I’ve seen in other countries. Spend a few extra $, and you’re traveling in the luxury class which is still reasonably priced. I guess it’s like a first class flight; the only difference is, you can afford it. The best ones have seats that can go down 180° like a bed, and of course Wi-Fi and those things!
Arriving in Cusco, you can take a bus or a cab to the “PlazArmasarmas”, the city centre. It’s a place full of life and very impressive with churches and old buildings around. From here, everything you need is close to find. Accommodation of every kind exists; from cheap and basic to expensive and fancy. This is also the same for food, bars, nightclubs or tour operators.
If you plan a big night out, go to one of the bars around here to start the night, or pre-drink in your Hostel-bar. There are some good ones. Once you hit the clubs, you usually get a free drink when you enter, so it can be an economically good strategy to enter a club, have a drink and then go to the next one. By the time you have gone to five different clubs, and have had a free drink in each and every one, your smile and your walking has probably changed enough to start it all over without getting recognized 😉 But better don’t do it on your first night here, if you’re straight from Lima. Cusco is at an altitude of around 3400 meters and you’ll feel that when walking up some stairs. You would even feel it more with a hangover that is usually disastrous if you’re not acclimatized to the altitude.
It’s a good idea to spend a few days here and have a look at the many things to do in and around Cusco. It’s easy to find a good deal here to go to Machu Picchu. Most of the time, it’s much cheaper here than online. But if you come in high season, they might be all booked!
People usually tell you to book the “ Inka Trail” three months ahead. When I was here in December (wet season), they had last minute deals on the Inka Trail everywhere, and you could start the next morning!
But things are different in other months (keep in mind that Machu Picchu is closed in February because of too much rain and in August big parts of South Americans go on there vacation and it is unbelievably crowded).
There is a train going all the way from Cusco to “Aguas Caliente”, the town on the foot of Machu Picchu, but you pay a lot for that. It’s much cheaper to take a bus to Ollantayambo and then the train from there. You can also take a bus all the way to Aguas Caliente, which is probably cheaper but takes much longer. I reckon the best way to go is to do a trek there that takes a couple of days. Imagine, the Inkas built the so-called Inka Trails all over their country (some of them are even found in the Ecuador of today). And they used them to walk to where ever they had to go. Machu Picchu is where the King lived and walking there makes you feel like you deserve to be there, instead of just paying and consuming. Once you’re in front the main gate with hundreds of tourists and electronic tickets to get in, you’ve got more than enough Disney World around you. (Even so, it’s still worth it!)
There are different treks to go there. Talk to a couple of operators, find out which one you want to do and which operator you trust.
The price you pay is a simple equation:
Cost of the trip (entrance fee, accommodation, food, guide, transport, extras)
+ the office fee
+ seasonal demand
+ eventual scam
– your bargain skills
= the price you pay.
You pay x-times more to go there and see it than Peruvians, don’t complain about this! This is their heritage and they can’t afford it. So with the high tourist prices, you support the locals in going there in a way. You can still bring your own drink and sandwich up (prices up here are ridiculous, and even if you’re told that you’re not allowed to bring in your own food, you can do it. Just don’t eat it in front of people/ places you shouldn’t. As always, common sense.) It’s overrun, but if you stay up here longer than other people, it gets empty more or less and it’s worth it either way. Just make sure to sleep one night in Aguas Calientes to have enough time up here. It’s not a place where you want to stress around, and it’s worth it to pay an extra 10$ to go up Huayna Picchu. Just do it.
Iquitos is in the North East of Peru and right in the heart of Peru’s Amazon jungle. It has more than four hundred thousand inhabitants and is probably much bigger than you’d expect. Iquitos is for most people a gateway to the jungle, and with countless tour operators and jungle lodges, it’s not difficult to find one It’s only difficult to choose the right one. Another thing that brings a lot of people from all over the world to this place is Ayahuasca. If Ayahuasca is simply a natural produced drug or a possibility to open your mind and change your life for the better is your decision.
Iquitos is a beautiful city, built right on the river bed, and you can feel the interesting mixture of people and culture. The Indio influence is by far the strongest, but the Spaniards left there marks as well. And with so many people from around the world, who choose this place to live, or to hide from life, it has definitely something unique. And once it gets dark (and it does get dark fast), all the bars and discos open, and you realize how many people come here for nothing more than party!
I came to Iquitos to see another part of Peru, and it was a good opportunity to see a bit of the Amazon in little time. As iIsaid, there are a lot of tour operators who try to sell you something. They try to book you a few nights in their lodge somewhere along the Amazon river, or one of the smaller rivers aside. You don’t have to stay on the “real” Amazon river, as it is so wide, you won’t see much. It’s nicer to be in a little lodge somewhere you’ve never heard of.
As much as all those lodges are made for tourist, and cater to their need, it’s still the real jungle and you will come close to spiders and other insects. So don’t be surprised if something crawls around in your fancy room.
I’ve been here for three days, and it was a full on program with around three excursions each day. On one hand, it was great, because I saw a lot in little time. But on the other, I would prefer to spend more time and come closer to the people who really live in the jungle. However, this is extremely difficult, and you better be a tourist here and just soak it all in and enjoy nature.
Lima, the capital city with more than 7.5 million inhabitants is worth a couple of days. It’s huge, packed, and diverse. Most tourists stay somewhere close to the ocean in neighborhoods such as Miraflores or Barranco. The waves here are gentle most the time and perfect for learning or SUP, but the water is pretty cold. This cools down the air that gets pressed against the cliffs just behind the beach and makes it a great spot for paragliding. (That’s just half the truth, but here is not the place to expand on the whole high/low pressure, wind patterns blablabla stuff).If you want to give it a try, just walk along the Malecon (the walkway on top of the cliff) and you’ll find from where they start and land again. You can book a tandem flight for a couple of minutes and see it all from above, but it’s pricey. This area is expensive, and the people who live here, usually have money. Many of them like to mingle with the foreign tourists and parties can be found most of the nights. From Fancy clubs in Larcomar to cheap Bars and Beer gardens in Barranco or beach parties in the summertime.
There are many things to do in Lima. One of them is to go to the city center and china town to try Chifa. Chifa is Chinese-Peruvian food and is one of the cheapest possibilities to fill up your belly all over the country. Lucky enough, I really love that food, and you can find Chifa restaurants on every corner.
Once you’re in the city center, you’ll notice all the minibusses going to “San Cristobal”. San Cristobal is a hill in Lima, from where you’ve got a great view over the city. At least if you are lucky enough and the weather is clear.
South of Lima
Less than one hour south of Lima is an area with countless waves relatively close to each other. Playa Hermosa, Playa Caballeros, Senoritas, La Isla, Punta Rocas…
There are not a lot of Hostels and such places to stay, it’s mostly private owned houses and apartments. But you can rent them, and they are relatively cheap during offseason. And this is when the waves are firing all the time. It gets crowded after working hours and on the weekends. But you’ll surf here without too much of a hustle during office hours every day. The most crowded time is of course during summer and holidays (especially Christmas time and Semana Santa, the Easter week). In those crowded days and weeks, the surf can be annoying with so many people floating around. But on the other hand, there are nightclubs with are closed most of the year, but packed during these nights.
And Peruvians in general like foreigners. If you are respectful and nice, you will meet a lot of great local people and become friends with them in no time.
All the spots around here need slightly different swells and directions, so talk to the locals, and you’ll figure it out quick enough. The most famous surf spot here is Punta Roca, which picks up the all the swell. It’s rarely flat here and can handle a lot of size. So bring a board for the bigger days. You might don’t need it in summer, but during the rest of the year, it gets big.
Trujillo is called the capital of everlasting spring, and this is where you’ll be heading if you go north from Lima. Of course, there are other interesting places in between and other places to surf. And with 2400km of coastline and so few surfers, most waves are empty all the time. Lets keep it like that for the ones who go there exploring on their own.
Trujillo has a couple of fairly cheap places to stay, but most people who travel on a budget or especially the ones who come here to surf, don’t stay in the city. They stay in the beach town of Huanchaco.
Huanchaco is a small town so close to a big city that the beach can get packed with people coming from the city, not only on weekends but also after work. It has an incredible long lefthander point which is great for longboarding but really sectioning. However, it picks up more swell than most of the other spots around here and it’s great to wait for a big swell. There are also some more places where you can find waves, just a short walk up or down the beach, but be careful where to enter and where to get out the water, especially on a lower tide as there are millions of sea urchins!
Huanchaco has a couple of hostels, surf schools, and surf rentals, plus many Spanish schools and it’s a great place to find some volunteer work. It is possible to live on a really tight budget here, with many cheap places to eat and a good food market. Thanks to all the backpackers and language students in Huanchaco, parties can be found sometimes. And if you’re really in need of a night out, Trujillo is a cab ride away and can be great fun too.
Of course, there is a lot more to see, like Chan Chan or the pyramids, and you can easily book a tour or go there by yourself with the local bus. Just come here and you’ll find out.
Chicama, the worlds longest left, or as it is called here: “The worlds longest perfect left”.
It’s quite something, and even if there is not much else around here, it’s well worth seeing. Chicama is what made surfing Peru famous. It needs a good swell to start working properly but is surfable on smaller days too. Stick around somewhere else until the swell hits around 6 feet or more (the more the better) but be here before the swell actually arrives to make sure you have a place to sleep. It’s not really a nice place but a unique one.
You’re on top of the cliff, behind you is dessert and not far away is a little fisher village. In front of you is a pretty long wave, pealing towards the village and it makes you wonder if you have ever seen a longer wave? As you walk to the left (South) you realize how special this place is. As soon as you see all the bays behind, you realize how far away the wave starts breaking! I’ve seen many beaches all over the world, but this one is truly different! One more thing… Size does matter, even if you’ve heard otherwise before. But almost more important here is the period of the swell. Try to come here for a good groundswell.
Another crazy thing about this place is, that it’s always offshore! All day long! So if you are too tired from your marathon session the day before, just stay in bed for another hour or two, as it won’t change!
A few years ago there was only one hostel on top of that cliff and everyone here had to live simple. Everyone here came because of the wave. By now, there are a couple of other hotels right next to it. They are more expensive and they bring another clientele. One of them even has a nice Jacuzzi for the rich who want to surf while their girlfriends sip champagne on the sundeck. No surprises, people who can afford this, have much more money than time. Those people often don’t have the time to surf much and to be fit enough to deal with the current here. So they rather pay for a boat that drives them up the point and drops them in just before a set comes. I DO understand them, if you have so little time and so much money, you want to make the most of it. But I guess they don’t understand how much they destroy things for everyone else! I mean if you do this on a huge day, it’s one thing. But I had guys dropped in front of my nose, just the moment a set came and this was after I paddled against the current for ten or so minutes to stay in perfect position. This has nothing to do with etiquette, respect for other people, the ocean or the sport. And even in a selfish environment as surfing is, this is over the top selfish. And worst of all, this was on a day where the waves were hip high!
The way it used to be, was that you walk along the waterline and after 20 minutes or half an hour, you would dress up, jump in and catch a wave until you fall, you get too tired or the wave was not really surfable anymore. The current would take you down the point, and as soon as you reach a spot where you can take off again, you would repeat what you did before. With a wave as long as here, it could easily handle 150 people surfing, as 2/3 would be walking up the point while the other 50 have as much space as they want. But with noisy, smelly and smoky zodiacs on the water, things look a bit different.
On the other hand, you have to understand the locals, and this is a great business idea for them, so of course they do it.
Pacasmayo is the big brother of Chicama that you have never heard of!
It’s a city that lays a bit north of Chicama and has a wave almost as long. Pacasmayo is bigger and has more accommodation and food options. I found a place here where they sell dinner on the street for around 1US$! This is the real interaction with the locals. Of course, no one speaks a word of English here and they are shy and don’t really know how to act towards you, but once they realize you like there food and you share a table with them, they begin to unbend and it can become one of those experiences you travel for.
Pacasmayo picks up more swell than Chicama and is usually around one meter bigger. Take a cab from the city to the point and tell him not to wait for you. You can surf back home if it’s big enough, otherwise you surf halfway back and walk the rest. The wave is fat and slow, but perfect to do cutback after cutback until your legs become jelly.
Lobitos has definitely some of the best waves in Peru. It’s a tiny village close to Talara. From Talara you have to take a minibus, a cab or a mototaxi to get there. Just ask from where they leave. The mototaxis are everywhere and they will try to tell you that there are no minibusses to Lobitos or that you can’t put the surfboards on the roof. However, they are slightly more expensive, so it’s your decision if you want to pay or wait. Once you’re in Lobitos, there are a couple of different places to stay. You’ll find some nice hotels on top the main point, or some cheaper options in town, halfway down the point or close to the pier. If you come here, you better come to surf as there really is not much else to do. The atmosphere in the water is usually almost aggressive, as there are so many good surfers and everyone is digging deep against the strong current to stay in position to find a Lobitos nugget for them self. The main wave is fast and barrels for long sections.
It’s an amazing place and an amazing wave. But if fighting for the best spot becomes too intense, put your board under your arm and walk. There are a fair few other surf spots in walking distance, where the atmosphere is usually super relaxed. The first alternative is called “Piscinas”, and got its name because of the “used to be” swimming pool nearby. Just ask someone who has been there a bit longer than you, as everyone knows the spots around here.
Mancora is not only well known because of surfing Peru, it used to have the most beautiful beach in the whole of the country. With so many people coming for that beach, others came and build restaurants, bars, and hotels to cater to everyone’s needs. And with them coming, the beach went away! With high tide, on some points, there is not even a beach anymore! But Mancora made its self a reputation. Not only for Peruvian tourists who want to go and see their most beautiful beach, but also for South America backpackers with the desire to party and taking holidays from traveling. It gets worst (or best) during Christmas and New Years Eve when everything is ridiculously packed and prices skyrocket for a couple of days. The parties are loud, never-ending and every night. I guess it has nothing to do with the salt that goes up peoples nose during surfing, but more with the sugar going up the same way at night! So it’s not a surprise, that there are so many fights. Every time I went for a sunrise surf, I saw people stagger home with bleeding noses and black eyes!
The wave is a short left, for Peruvian standards short. It usually doesn’t get big but is super fun and high performance when it peals down the line around the bend from the rocks under water. I love this wave, and it makes you surf better. But as so often, it’s the masses and the money that comes with it, that destroys it in the end! I could tell you a couple of stories that happened to me personally out there, that made me decide not to surf here anymore, even loving the wave so much.
There are some more places up the coast from here with great waves, so come and find out for yourself, it’s worth it! And the further up you go from Lobitos, the warmer it gets. There are many great places to surf up here and they are best with northern swells (Northern Hemisphere winter). Everything down from Lobitos is better during the other half of the year.
I don’t know what it is and I have tried to talk about it with several locals as well as with people who were living here long enough. I don’t know why, but the Peruvians like to drop in. If it’s because they don’t travel much and don’t know better, or if it’s because they are a folk of warriors or just simply because they are selfish, I don’t know. I’ve heard many different tries of explanations, but they DO drop in. Not only on your wave and not only because you are a Gringo, but simply because they do. They even drop in on their best friends and don’t see it as a bad thing! People who live here long enough do it them self, and don’t even realize it anymore! They maybe even tell you they don’t, and really think this is how it is!
However, there are so many waves in this country no one surfs, and so many places I haven’t told you about. So go, find out, and explore more. And I promise you, you will find!
Peru is an incredible country with a huge diversity in every aspect. Waves, nature, food or the people who are Peruvians and don’t care where they actually come from, as they simply see them self as Peruvians. We would call them “half Japanese”, Mulate, half something or whatever, but they are all just Peruvians. Think about the 2004 Surfing World Champion Sofia Mulanovic. This is definitely much more of a Balkan name than Peruvian. Same goes for the Ex-president: Alberto Fujimori, which sounds Japanese in my ear, but they are Peruvian… that’s it! And I love it!
It is a country that suffered a lot, but instead of complaining, they stay together and made Peru what it is. For me personally, I’ve seen a lot of it and surfed many different places, but there is so much more I want to see and surf, so I could complain about it, or simply go back for what it is. (And by now i DID go back 😉
It is nice to read something so nice about my country from a visitor. You are right, there are millions of things you still haven’t seen…hopefully, you will make it back soon.