Northern Peru, known for its endless deserts, ghost towns, epic waves, and shady characters; the legend of this place has been growing immensely over the years. People say northern Peru is still wild and remote and one of the few places left where you can find empty perfect waves. It is also growing in popularity for kitesurfing as the wind compliments the waves perfectly for kiters looking for wave riding. This region is also known for the town of Chicama, which claims to have the longest rideable left breaking wave in the world (nearly 4 minute and over a mile long rides – we had visited Pavones, Costa Rica only a few months early which claims to be the 2nd longest left after Chicama).
Peru also has a reputation for having some of the best food in South America. After pretty so/so local food in Ecuador and Colombia, we were excited to try our first proper Peruvian ceviche.
After crossing the border into Peru, we were greeted by the endless eerie deserts we have heard about. It is just like being in Death Valley, except that you are right next to the ocean. There is hardly any development here and we could really feel the adventure of the place.
Mancora and Surrounding Beaches
One of my goals for the trip was to log 50 days kitesurfing. I’m more than half way through my goal, and the fact that it is a big “El Nino” year has meant that the wind in a lot of the places we’ve been to has been very finicky and its been hard to score many days in a row of good conditions. I was hoping Mancora Peru, our first stop, would deliver the great wind this area is famous for.
Mancora is a party surf town. However, the surf here is actually pretty poor and the partying consists of several beach bars that blast music all night so deafening that nobody can actually be inside the bars. So instead of turning down the music, the bars move all of their tables and chairs way out in front of the bar, almost to the shore line, so their patrons can hear themselves talk. I never saw anyone actually step inside one of these bars, as you would lose your hearing almost instantly from the barely ascertainable latin pop.
We, luckily, worked out a deal to camp in the back of a lovely hotel, Punta Ballena, a good distance way from the madness, and it was perfect. There were small waves to surf in the morning and by afternoon, the wind was perfect for kiting, just like I hoped. Mancora also has awesome restaurants like “La Sirena de Juan” and our first cerviche experience was divine.
It was also a great place to learn about and plan for the rest of surfing in Peru. The owner of the local KiteSurfing Shop Alex from “WildK” – was extremely helpful, and I recommend these guys. We decided to spend the next two weeks exploring the following renowned surfing spots: Lobitos, Pacasmayo and Chicama. There wasn’t any real swell when we were in Mancora, but a very big one was coming, and it looked like we were going to score.
Lobitos: Best wave in a Peruvian oil drilling town
Literally, there are surf hostels next to large oil wells that pump black gold out of the ground all day. The backdrop of the surf line up are oil rigs in the ocean. The place is so remote, yet there are many surf hotels, and it can get pretty crowded with surfers. We camped on the beach and met some awesome travelers from Argentina and Brazil, but we were too early to see any good waves come through. I went kitesurfing here one day, but even the wind was light. I’ve heard this is supposed to be the best wave in Peru, but unfortunately we never saw it on. I bet it also gets pretty crowded here given all the surf hotels, and the fact so many people were surfing the tiny waves that I did see. I saw a surf movie about Peru called “Peel” from 2006, and the movie claimed that this place was hardly ever surfed, it looks like things have changed quite a bit in the last 10 years!
Pacasmayo: Big brother to Chicama
We needed to keep on moving if I wanted try to hit the incoming big swell in Chicama and Pacasmayo, to try get some of the longest waves of my life at these famous longest lefts.
We drove through the endless deserts, some littered with trash and wild dogs scavenging. I would not want to break down here (it could be a while for help), but we made it easily to Pacasmayo (thanks Titus for not breaking down on us yet). We didn’t have a place to stay, but on the drive out to the explore the surf, we saw a gorgeous little resort called El Faro Adventure Resort. The place looked amazing, and we prayed that they would let us camp on their grounds. Turns out the manager was more than happy to let us camp, as she likes to welcome overlanders from around the world. She knows that we are likely to tell other people and ultimately bring more hotel business.
Pacasmayo will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was here that I first rode waves for close to a minute and when the swell hit, they were some of the largest and longest waves I’ve been in. Although the waves at Chicama, would soon provide even longer rides.
The main event Chicama: Longest left wave in the world! We are here!!
It was hard to leave the resort life and the great waves of Pacasamayo, but the swell was getting too big for me there, and the dream of impossibly long rides at Chicama were calling. We didn’t know anything about the town of Chicama, besides that it was pretty tiny, and we had arranged to camp in front of a surf hostel there. I had just randomly emailed one that showed up on Google maps called Surf House Chicama. It would turn out to be one of our favorite places we camped – they were so wonderful to us.
Rapha and Katia of the Surf House Chicama welcomed us as we rolled into town right before sunset. Chicama that afternoon was so incredible beautiful with the cliffs and the late day sun and the friendly surf vibe. We knew this was going to be an amazing week. I immediately grabbed my board and headed off down the cliffs to the fairly crowded sunset lineup.
The swell really hit over the next 4 days. The little town of Chicama also filled up with surfers as the week progressed to the weekend (which was also a holiday weekend), however the vibe stayed fun and friendly. I figured out that if I surfed very early before 6am or during lunch from 11am – 3pm, I could find the waves pretty empty despite the hundreds of surfers here. The waves are so long, that many people hire boats that shuttle surfers from the end of their waves back to the point take off zone. That really makes things difficult for those who do not hire boats, so one day I also paid the $20 to get shuttled back and forth. It was a pretty amazing experience to end a wave and have a boat immediately shuttle you back to where you started.
However, most of the time, I didn’t hire a boat and I tried instead surfing when the boats where out of the water taking a break. It was a really fun experience, surfing a minute long wave and then getting out of the water and walking 10 minutes back to the point and chatting with other happy surfers. I really wish that boats weren’t allowed here, so everyone could take the time after their waves to relax and let others get their waves. No need to be greedy.
We also met such wonderful people who were staying in the surf camp and in town, and all in all it was the perfect week. Additionally, we celebrated Jenine’s birthday with one of the best Ceviche lunches we ever had. This was really a special place. We left Chicama to head into the mountains, but I hope that we will return to the Northern Peru coast and Chicama again. I miss it already.