Following a disappointing (with the exception of the meal I ate at La Romana) overnight stop in the modern metropolis of Chiclayo, we headed 396 kilometres up coast to the beach resort of Máncora. Máncora is famous for its huge quantities of sunshine, long sandy beaches, reliably good surf, fresh seafood, and lively nightlife.
We booked 3 nights at Kokopelli Beachpackers, ample time for Stu to ride some waves whilst I caught up on some writing and uploading/editing photos.
However 3 nights turned into 4, which promptly became 5, and ended up being 6. For someone who doesn’t like ‘beach resorts’, there was something about this one that captivated me.
Máncora is located amidst a stark, barren, end of the world kind of landscape. The Panamerican Highway runs right through this town, and continues up to the Ecuadorian border. Unlike all of the bus journeys we’d take prior to this one, regular glimpses out of the window on our way up to Máncora left us wishing that we’d made the trip overnight. All we could see was miles upon miles of remote desert vistas devoid of vegetation or civilisation.
Máncora only has a population of 10,000 yet it receives over 35 times this number of tourists every year. The town is therefore over-run with tourist accommodation (ranging from 5-star luxury resorts to party hostels promoting affordable dorm rooms and permanent happy hours) and a plethora of restaurants. When I first arrived, it was exactly the kind of place I thought I’d hate.
Fortunately looks can be deceiving.
During our 7 days in Máncora we met some wonderful, interesting, crazy, and inspiring people, enjoyed some of the best food in Peru, swam, surfed, sunbathed, read, partied, slept, and loved every minute of it. Normally I’m not very good at ‘doing nothing’ but here doing nothing had never been so much fun.
Here are a few of my highlights:
Fresh Coconut Every Morning
The coconut vendor would greet us with a smile each day when we showed up to buy “un coco helado.” It had to be iced, and he’d slice the top open with a machete, and stick a couple of straws in the top for our drinking pleasure. Once we’d drank the juice he’d cut it open for us and remove the flesh, which he would then put inside a little plastic bag, that we’d take away with us. Nothing beats the combination of a gentle sea breeze on your face, warm sand between your toes, and the taste of fresh coconut upon your lips.
Feeding the Iguanas
We stumbled upon these completely by accident one afternoon when we decided to check out Máncora’s ‘lagoon.’ Some of the local teenagers had thrown some fresh mango and sweet banana out on to the concrete incline, which had successfully lured the Iguanas away from their normal hiding spot within the bracken and undergrowth surrounding the lagoon.
Following this event, we’d show up every afternoon with some fruit we’d picked up from the local market, and feed the Iguanas. This wasn’t always successful; sometimes they wouldn’t be bothered by the food and would simply perch on top of the bracken, relaxing in the heat of the afternoon sun. Regardless of the outcome however, it was a joy to see these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat, just metres in front of our eyes.
Watching a Master Beatboxer at Work & Building Worthwhile Friendships
On our second night at Kokopelli, we met Marv and Sara at reception as they were checking into the hostel. We’d not met many British people on our travels, so when we discovered they lived in London, we struck up a conversation with them. The topic swiftly moved from travel to music and Marv mentioned that he was doing a beatbox set there at the hostel that evening. How could we possibly miss that?
As well as being an incredibly talented musician and beatboxer, we subsequently discovered that Marv is also a pretty awesome guy too. We spent a large chunk of our time over the following 6 days in the company of Marv and Sara, a genuine, down-to-earth, intelligent, interesting, inspiring, and spiritual couple.
The Unbeatable Vibe of Kokopelli
Yes, I loved this hostel. In spite of the unreliable wifi and the fact that the music at the bar didn’t get switched off until around 3am (later at weekends), which made it difficult to sleep even with earplugs, this was one of my favourite places to stay in the whole of Peru. With an attached pool, bar and numerous chill-out areas, it felt relaxed, friendly, and sociable – without being over the top like I heard its competitor Loki can be.
Kokopelli can be as relaxed or sociable as you want it to, and it is possible to find people here to sit down and have an interesting conversation with, as well as people to simply get drunk with. We met Mike here, a retired gentleman who decided to uproot from the US and bring his pension somewhere it would last longer, and Fay, a girl whose work with Doctors Without Borders has taken her to some far flung corners of the world.
The staff are also constantly positive, friendly and full of life, and even after just 7 days there, we felt like we were treated as though we’d been guests for so much longer.
Mud Bath Fun at Poza de Carro
We’d read about the mud baths in Lonely Planet, and considered making the 17 kilometre trip one day. However, there didn’t seem to be any public transportation heading that direction, other than tuk-tuks, most of whom wanted a lot more than our guide book reckoned it would cost. However we then discovered that Sara and Marv were interested in going as well.
We hatched a plan to strike up a conversation with some locals at the market (after 7 months in Peru, their Spanish was a lot better than ours) to find out what the real cost of taking a tuk-tuk should be, and armed with that knowledge, we went in search of a tuk-tuk driver or two to haggle with. It didn’t take us long to find one who was prepared to take (and bring back) all 4 of us in one tuk-tuk (3 in the back, one outside on the luggage rack) for a cost of 40 soles, including a waiting time of 2 hours.
When we arrived at the mud baths, we couldn’t believe that this was actually a tourist attraction. There was no-one there to take our entry fee, no changing rooms, no showers, no lockers, and no other tourists – just one pool filled with muddy water that was literally in the middle of nowhere.
The water was lovely and warm, and we entertained ourselves by taking it in turns to jump into the pool. We also repeatedly retrieved handfuls of mud from beneath our feet which we subsequently rubbed all over our bodies, waited for it to dry, and then posed for lots of silly photographs.
The Food. Oh the Food!
I don’t think we ate as well anywhere else in Peru. Máncora is literally bursting at the seams with good quality restaurants serving a wide variety of different cuisines from Peruvian fusion to Thai to Japanese. We tried them all!
My favourites were La Sirena d’Juan, Tao, and Ganaha. Sirena d’Juan is the most expensive of the three but our meal there – the food, service, and staff – was perfect. I’ve never seen so many interesting tuna dishes on a menu. We ordered one each and then shared them. Both tuna steaks were cooked to perfection, and the combination of flavours were out of this world. Just go there.
I can’t really fault either of the other two – both Thai dishes I had at Tao were gorgeous, and the Sushi at Ganaha was to die for – but Sirena was truly special.
Ok, so Máncora may not be especially Peruvian. Yes you’ll find the odd Peruvian resident here (seriously out-numbered by tourists though; go to the local market if you want to escape them and chat with the locals), and there is Peruvian food available (try the Ceviche de Conchas Negras, also at the market), but this could just as easily be a beach resort anywhere in the world.
But that’s not why people come here.
Yes, many travellers come to Máncora to party (I must admit that I did wake up on at least one morning wishing I hadn’t drunk so many Mojitos the night before) but for me Máncora wasn’t about partying. It was all about having time to relax and recharge the batteries, about long walks on the beach, making footprints in the sand, and falling asleep to the sound of the crashing waves, and about enjoying good food and building worthwhile friendships.
Even when we travel, sometimes it’s good to take some time out, and appreciate the important things in life.
Where’s your favourite place to recharge your batteries?
This is part of the #SundayTraveler link up, the spot to be to get the lowdown on all things travel.