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Surf's up, people! The Tumbes to Piura stretch is like a magnet for wave wanderlust, with wide expanses of pristine oceanfront and to-die-for sunsets, and the best ceviche you'll find anywhere!

Once you get over the border from Huaquillas or Mancora, Ecuador, Tumbes is the first major town just 30 minutes down the road and the beginning point of all Peruvian coastal journeys going south. If you're like me and love colorful architecture, make sure and check out one of my favorite cathedrals anywhere here in Tumbes I lovingly call "the clown's cathedral" for its happy painted lady face.

To the northwest of Tumbes right on the ocean border of Ecuador is Puerto Pizarro, which is the where you can take boat trips out to see the amazing manglares (coastal swamps), as well as visit a hatchery for the only species of Peruvian crocodiles, nearly extinct.

Then, get your board or beach sandals and off we go. The first beach town on the road south from Tumbes is La Cruz, bright, white, and sandy with a laid-back working class style, devoid of foo-fah. Good for swimming. For a little hiking diversion, visit Rica Playa, a beautiful hilly region that is the entrance to the Cerros de Amotape national park.

Often overlooked on the way to Mancora is Zorritos, a much quieter and often cleaner beach town that the locals love. Just to south of it is Bocapan, where you can find Hervideros, a thermal hot springs with medicinal mud baths to take the sting away from your sunburn.

Punta Sal is a major destination for higher-end tourism and resorts, but it does have a very nice beach and tennis courts, water parks, good restaurants, and such.

Then you come to Mancora, the quintessential destination of northern Peru where the beach life is king. There are actual several beaches in Mancora: Calm Pocitas Beach is for more sun bathing and gentle swimming; Vichayito Beach is great for diving and kitesurfing; and the South Beach is where you go for shopping and partying.

But the best beach of all for sheer beauty is just south of Mancora, in the town of Los Organos, the south end of which is a stunning cliff known as Punta Velero (pictured here). Los Organos has scads of hotels and hostals of its own, and in time they say will overcome Mancora as the number one destination in northern Peru.

For the most serious of surfers, head further south to Cabo Blanco, which has the best waves in the area. To get there you need to get off in El Alto and then take a taxi the extra distance to out to the beach as it's not accessible from the main highway. which you can get to by

The road then turns inland where you see some of the desert interior on the way to Talara, a larger industrial port city with lots of services. More importantly, when I really want to get away from gringos, from materialism and souvenir shops, it's here from Talara that I get on a microbus ("combi") and head a little north up to Lobitos, and let time be forgotten.

The Panamericana highway now really goes into the desert interior until you arrive in Sullana, an important transporation hub not just for connecting to other parts of Peru, but also to eastern Ecuador. The modern interior of the Sullana cathedral is very different than others and really captures the calming character of the northern coast; it's a bit of an interior beach within itself in a sort of way, very relaxing.

The end of this route is Piura, just an hour further south from Sullana, and the largest city of the trip. Here you can continue to other points in Peru, but before you do visit Casa Grau, a naval museum that was also the birthplace of a Peruvian admiral by the same name who fought against Chile in the late nineteenth century and whose ship, Huascar, is modeled in the museum. Another museum worth visiting in town is the Vicus museum, which gives you a good look at the area Vicus culture, including a room of gold artifacts in the basement.


Sunset over Punta Velero
  • On this route:
  • Puerto Pizarro |
  • Corrales |
  • La Cruz |
  • Zorritos |
  • Bocapan |
  • Canoas |
  • Punta Sal |
  • Mancora |
  • Vichayito |
  • Los Organos |
  • Nuro |
  • El Alto |
  • Cabo Blanco |
  • Jabonillal |
  • Talara |
  • Lobitos |
  • Marcavelica |
  • Sullana |
  • Piura!