Mancora – Peru’s Surfers Paradise?
After the madness of Lima, high altitude life in Cusco and our exhausting Machu Picchu adventure we were ready for our first taste of backpacker beach life – so off we went to Mancora, on the northern tip of Peru’s coast.
Our journey north was typically crazy; we flew out of Cusco (via Lima, again) to Piura on a bumpy cross-Andes-and-Amazon flight – inevitably our best laid plans fell apart as our connection was delayed. Even so we were glad to arrive in Piura, despite it now being well after dark and having no transport sorted for the final 3hr drive leg to Mancora.
The tiny one-room airport was pretty easy to navigate so soon we had to face up to the fact that it was now well after 10pm, pitch black and we were 3hrs drive from our destination. Having been prepared and done our research we knew that our late flight had caused us to miss the last bus of the day so (wincing at how much it might be) we decided to search for a taxi to take us.
After doing a little scout around the terminal we realised there were no taxis, nevertheless we cracked out our broken Spanish to chat with the lady running the cash exchange to ask her advice. Before we knew it she was calling up her friend and telling us that if we slept in his truck overnight he would take us in the morning… Somehow we decided this didn’t feel quite right so not really sure what to do next we headed back out into the warm evening air.
At that moment we bumped into a lady wearing an I ❤ Mancora t-shirt, she told us she was offering rides to Mancora (and for pretty cheap). Inevitably we were hesitant but, along with an Argentinian couple who were on our flight, we took up her offer.
She showed us around the corner to her ride – an old Range Rover Sport! Spirits lifted, we handed over about £10 each and started to load up. Suddenly the spacey car seemed pretty tight as 3 more travellers joined us, thankful for the ride all 8 of us squeezed in, backpacks and all!
The ‘short’ drive up the coast felt more like a never ending journey with 4 of us sharing 3 seats and our bags on our laps – well after midnight we finally pulled into town and began dropping everyone off at their hostels.
We had booked in advance as the town seemed super busy, but the usual 1 or 2 days notice wasn’t long enough so we had settled for one night at a dingy, back alley hotel before moving to somewhere else. Rio Hotel was really, really rough but after travelling all day from high in the Andes to the Pacific coast anywhere to sleep would do.
With a bit of rest we were soon packed up, ready to move on to Kon Tiki Bungalows and start adventure in Mancora. With the sun already scorching we grabbed a tuk-tuk to take us and our bags across town – we expected a five minute ride (as we could see the place just back up the hill behind the main street) so were a little surprised when the guy had no idea how to get there.
Here’s the thing about Mancora – it’s a fairly big town but it literally only has 1 street – all the rest of the town feeds of the main street following tiny sand-covered alleyways. So, from the tuk-tuk, on the main street we showed the driver where it was but he still didn’t know how to get there. Eventually we helped him to find the right little alley which took us close to the entrance, by now the tuk-tuk guy was our best friend cracking jokes and fist pumping us.
We left our happy tuk-tuk and, with our bags, began the short, near vertical, climb up the sandy cliff to where Kon Tiki stood. The cute, simple little bungalows perched right on the edge of the cliff were a welcome break from the madness of downtown Mancora. After a few quick introductions to the Dutch owner, his Peruvian father-in-law and their dogs we had time to sit and enjoy the view.
The beautiful Pacific Ocean looked beyond inviting so soon enough we were making our way back down the hill, through the alley, across the main road and onto the beach.
Mancora, we thought, is a bit of a funny old place; incredible natural beauty, ramshackle Peruvian town, endless backpacker-based businesses – all with an uncanny similarity for Magaluf or Kavos…
The town was packed, mostly with Brazilians, who I am imagine were doing exactly what hundreds of young Brits do every summer and descend on sunny party towns across the continent.
Even so, it was easy to kick back and enjoy a couple of days here (largely thanks to Kon Tiki and the beach), however it is very much a place to make the most of cheap, inebriating cocktails and stock up on fake Ray-bans.
The most confusing thing of all though was the fact Mancora had been marketed left, right and centre as a ‘Surfer’s Paradise’, when, if I’m honest, I have seen bigger waves in the bath! Nevertheless there are plenty of surf and body board rentals which, if you fancy learning, would be a great (and cheap) place to do it.
How to get there and away;
Fly – we flew from Cusco (via Lima) to Piura. Using Avianca we managed to secure pretty cheap flights (about £120) which saved us 2 whole days (and nights) of travelling by bus! I know our journey from the airport sounded pretty crazy but the lady who drove us told us that she does it nearly every day because there are always backpackers in need of a ride!
Bus – you could get any number of buses overnight (18hrs) from Lima for around $50. In Mancora itself there are lots of bus companies offering trips across Peru or up into Ecuador or Colombia. The most luxury, Cruz del Sur didn’t offer a route to Guayquil, Ecuador overnight so instead we went with CIFA. For around $30 the 8hr ride left at 9pm, took you through the border no problem and arrived at 5am –not the lap of luxury but it had fairly good seats which reclined a bit!
Where to stay (and where not to…):
Kon Tiki Bungalows – a great little spot, just away from the main hustle and bustle of the main street. We had our own little ensuite hut with mosquito net and two deck chairs for £16/night. Listen to the owner though when he tells you which way to walk at night, Mancora is infamous for its tourist-targeting crime and even though the little alley between the houses can be terrifying (especially when there is an old, homeless man and stray dogs living there) but it is the quickest and safest route onto the main street. We never had a problem.
Rio Hotels – I think I would rather stay up all night in a busy bar with my backpack than repeat our stay here.
The Point – whilst we didn’t actually stay at this hostel as it appeared to only have huge dorms we heard it was great, a friend we later met said this place made his stay in Mancora. It’s a mega hostel which seems super sociable and has its own bar and swimming pool.
What to eat and drink;
BBQ – there are so many little pavement restaurants with a BBQ out front, pick any as they all seem to serve the same, we had swordfish and tuna with the obligatory gallo pinto (rice and beans), salad and chips. It was super cheap, nothing special, but pretty tasty!
Although it seems tempting I would really recommend avoiding the beachfront restaurants – they are pretty dirty, hounded by street sellers and all sell the same overpriced below par food!
Supermarkets – be careful what you get when shopping as your attempt to save money my come back to bite you – the prices varied massively and inexplicably e.g. a 2l bottle of coke about 80p whereas a can of coke zero was about £1.50…
Look out for the mojito cart on the main street – unfortunately we couldn’t sample them as it was never open whilst we were there but I hope they are back up and running now because the cart looked incredible!
Stay tuned to check out what we got up to in Ecuador!