Book! Pack! Go Travel! by Robbie Mamo

Headed to Huanchaco!

Headed to Huanchaco!

After Mancora my next destination along the Peruvian coastline was Huanchaco. I had originally planned to visit Lobitos which is slightly further South, Cabo Blanco which has a surf break of the same name as well as Panic Point. All known for big waves on the right swell I didn’t think the conditions would pan out this time around so I opted to bypass them and head straight to Huanchaco.

This meant a nearly 10 hours bus ride to Trujillo first and then a short taxi from there to to Huanchaco. I bought the ticket at the Oltursa bus terminal located on the main street in Mancora. The bus fare was 65Sol/21$ and after loading up on snacks and refreshments I was soon on my way. Another option for buses is Cruz del Sur and they charge 86Sol/28$ for this route.

Once again I took the overnight bus and this also brings with it some level of risk of having your belongings stolen. This being said on earlier blog posts, I always first book a seat in the first class/ejecucutivo(executive) section and in addition to security you also get a seat that reclines almost all the way into a bed.

Sometimes if there is said to be nice scenery or something worth looking at I will take a daytime bus for this reason. Having done this same trip on my previous visit to Peru I knew there was nothing but vast desert and the odd village on the route so I knew I wouldn’t be missing much by taking the night bus. This also gave me a much needed chance to sleep after steady days of eating, drinking and carrying on in Mancora.

I do recall making a few stops along the way. We stopped in Chiclayo which is a little over half way past the mid point of the journey at 5 hours from Mancora. Typically anyone travelling from Mancora to Lima will make a stop in Chiclayo and Trujillo on the way through depending on what bus company you are travelling with and what route you happened to book a ticket on.

I arrived in Trujillo early the next morning and easily found a taxi to Huanchaco. This should cost 15Sol/5$ or less as Huanchaco is only 12 km from Trujillo. Huanchaco is considered a city beach as it is located a short distance from Trujillo which has a population of over 750 000 residents and is Peru’s third largest city.  Haunchaco is home to less than 50 000 people, most of whom make their living from fishing or more recently tourism.

Where to stay…

Going on a suggestion from a friend I decided to stay at My Friend Surf Hostel. This turned out to be a great choice! The location can’t be beat being only half a block from El Helio beach. This was by far the cheapest stay I’ve ever had in all my time backpacking. A bed in a shared dorm was 10Sol/3$ and these all have 4 double beds and no bunk beds. Each room had a door that locked as well as a private bathroom for only the occupants of that particular dorm room. They also had private rooms none of which have AC.

Rooms were kept clean and the shower was scrubbed daily. The sheets and pillow cases were changed daily and it was always cool enough at night that air conditioning wasn’t necessary. Huanchaco is known for having a great climate and is often referred to as “The Spring Capital of Peru” with a temperature that ranges between 12 and 25 all year round. It is also known for having relatively no rain.

In addition, the hostel also has a wonderful restaurant that serves a wide variety of Peruvian and international food options. Breakfast was included for each guest and this consisted of fresh pressed nectar, eggs, toast and fresh fruit. Coffee was also provided and it was quite good. The restaurant was often very busy so it wasn’t uncommon to have a bit of a wait for them to get your order out to you. Due to the quality of the food it was always worth the wait on days when the service seemed a little slower. After my first breakfast there I realized that I wouldn’t have to go far for a good meal at any time of the day.

My Friend Surf Hostel

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The town…

The main industry here is fishing and it is still done in the traditional way using hand made boats constructed of reeds called Caballitos de Totora.  The reeds are harvested from the swamps that are found inland a short way from the beach. The tradition of building reed boats is shown on ancient petroglyphs dating back over 10 000 years. These are sealed with tar and have a limited lifespan.

These are used with nets that are also hand made and you can see the local fisherman making the nets during the day while on the beach. It’s amazing how well these boats can break through the waves while heading out to sea. Sometimes you would also see the boats carrying a female or child passenger on the back of the boat. They would always be sitting sideways and I’m guessing this helped distribute the weight better. The fisherman used a paddle resembling what is used to control and propel a kayak.

Traditional fishing boats line the beach

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A fisherman busy making nets and markers on the beach.

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The main draw here is the beach and the La Ribero Avenue runs along the seaside similar to a small esplanade. This is lined with palm trees and is a great area to hang out. There are many shops, restaurants, cafes and bakeries. This is also a good place to rent surfboards, wetsuits and whatever else you may need to get into the water!

It also has a nice pier which extends far into the water. If you want to walk to the end of the pier there is a small fee but it is minimal and worth paying if even just to support the local economy and see some money go towards preserving this beach.

The road along the beach is very nice for walking and there are many businesses to shop in!

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The pier in Huanchaco.

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You won’t find much in the way of nightlife here but there are enough places to go eat, drink and be merry. If you want to party Trujillo is a short distance away and I noticed billboards and signs advertising world class dj’s when I was in the city.

The beach…

The beach is the main draw for anyone visiting Huanchaco and for good reason! There is a long sandy beach that stretches for miles. It is called El Helio beach and starts at one side of town and stretches all the way throughout.

The beach has been considered a World Surfing Reserve since 2012 by the organization Save the Waves Coalition. This is also home to The Huanchaco Longboard World Championships. There is also a nice park and malecon/gazebo on the beach with benches which is a nice place to sit and chill especially when you need some shade. There are no trees anywhere close to the beach so if you are the type of person that needs shade bring a beach umbrella!

Through the week it is mostly tourists hanging out on the beach but on weekends and holidays it seems all of Trujillo arrives! One thing about the beaches in Peru is that after an influx of people it is obvious that there still needs to be more education in place as far as what is the most responsible way to handle garbage. It is not uncommon for beach picnics and with this brings lots of garbage and waste material.

Unfortunately, lots of this garbage gets left behind on the beach or washed away when the tide comes in. Depending on the time of year it is also common to see garbage wash up on the beach depending on the tides and currents. The most common waste is foam and plastic. Recycling isn’t a standard practice in most of these countries and because infrastructure doesn’t have the same resources as other places in the world with similar population density there is a waste management problem. I like to lead by example and clean up after myself and if I’m walking on the beach I always try to pick up garbage and make sure it gets put in the trash.

Hardly anyone was on the beach through the week and it was a great place to relax in the sun!

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One of the wonderful sunsets I saw while in Huanchaco.

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The surf…

When I arrived the waves were pumping and I was soon in the water. I didn’t bother bringing my own wetsuit as I knew Peru was going to be the last stop on my trip and didn’t want to lug around a wetsuit for over a month leading up to it knowing I would only need it in this part of my trip. That being said the wetsuits were widely available but the quality was terrible. Most of what was on offer for rent at the local surf shops was worn out and much of the insulating benefit of wearing a wetsuit isn’t going to be much use if there are holes throughout.

This being said I actually found the best rental wetsuit at My Friend Surf Hostel where I was staying. This was convenient as they didn’t worry much about a security deposit for guests and they could charge the rental to my room and get the money for this when I checked out. They also had boards for rent and like any place some were in better shape than others.

First off the water was quite cold but not unbearable. Considering it was the summer in Peru it was also helpful to have the sun warming you up through your suit. What made surfing here difficult was the current! I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt a current this strong in my life and no matter where you paddled out you would get sucked towards the pier in a short length of time. This meant I had to paddle out quite a far distance away from where I actually wanted to be sitting and waiting for waves. This also meant that I had to constantly be paddling to hold my position in the water. This got tiresome and after 2 hours of so in the water I was beat. For a 2 hours session expect to walk back down the beach atleast 4 times unless you are a very strong surfer with good paddling skills.

The wave here breaks over a cobble reef. I always like to wear booties over any sort of hard bottom if not for the rocks themselves but any shellfish or urchins that call the sea floor home. It’s worth sacrificing a little feel on your board to know that you aren’t going to risk cutting your feet open and being out of commission.

The wave here is more of a slow roller and doesn’t suck back over the reef. It breaks a little further out and gradually making it great for surfers of most levels. The take off is easy and the rides long. I would definitely surf this break again and granted I had more time surfing there I would be in the best shape of my life!

Anyone wanting to learn how to surf is best off on the far side of the pier where there is less current. The flip side to this is that it stays quite shallow so if you are scared to fall off of your board then be prepared to land on your feet or you could get scraped up. Most lessons are given in this area at mid to high tide. Once again booties are your best friend on waves that break over hard bottom.

I had some good days surfing here and it wasn’t crowded at all. Typically even if you had a few people surfing in the same area they would just go with the current and get what they could and then hike the beach back and paddle out again.

Where to eat…

Huanchaco is known as the birthplace of ceviche which is widely considered to be the most recognizable food from Peru. A walk down the coastal road will bring you to many restaurants with great views offering fresh ceviche, fried seafood and many other options. Most restaurants will bring you a bowl of toasted corn to snack on while you are waiting for your order to arrive.

Ceviche is fish or seafood that is marinated in citrus juice causing it to be cooked to some extent from the citric acid. The ceviche available can be ordered as fish only, seafood only or a mix of both. The ceviche is made in the most traditional way, which means it is fish, seafood or both mixed into a citrus juice, red onion and local chillis. It is also commonly served with boiled Yucca which is the root of the yucca plant. This is a starchy alternative to potato and is commonly served boiled or fried.

In addition to yucca root there is also corn served with the ceviche. One thing I found unique about the ceviche in Huanchaco was that it was also garnished with a local seaweed called cochayuyo or mooch, which is harvested from the shores along the beach. Depending where you go soda crackers are often served and I save these until the end to soak up the leftover juice on the place or bowl.

The best place to go for ceviche in Huanchaco is Big Ben Restaurant. It offers great seaside views and a nice breeze from the 3rd floor patio. Service is fast and they have good combination plates often including an Inca Kola or soda of some sort. As most places on the coast in Peru they also sell fried seafood (Chicharrones del mar) and mixed seafood platters. I also noticed lots of people ordering soups and chowder but didn’t try these myself. Another common dish is seafood with rice. If you order this be warned that the shellfish will be mixed in with the shell on and it is a good idea to go through and remove the shells and be mindful of shell fragments unless you plan on getting dental work done while on holiday!

Ceviche done right!

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This one was served with the yucca on the side.

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Another one of my favourite places to eat was called Menu Land. This was a very cheap option and the food was really good. I ate quite a few meals here but one of the stand outs was the chicken and mango curry served with rice. I tried an asian style chicken stir fry the one night which was served on rice with yucca fritters on the side. On another occasion I ordered the barbecued chicken with fries and salad. You really couldn’t go wrong with any item on the menu and it was always busy.

Chicken stir fry on rice with yucca fritters on the side.

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Barbecued chicken with fries and salad.

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My Friend Surf Hostel was an easy choice for meals since I was staying there. One night I had the seafood linguine which was hearty pasta served with a light garlic and oil sauce loaded with sauteed shrimp, mussels and squid. Another night I wasn’t overly hungry so I ordered the chicken cutlet with an egg. I’m not sure if there is a traditional name for this meal but if so I don’t remember what it was. This was also served with some fried plantain on the side and as simple as it looks it was perfect for how hungry I was and the cutlet was very tasty.

Seafood linguine.

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Chicken cutlet with egg and some fried plantain.

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All the meals shown were under 15Sol/$5 and this was easily one of the cheapest places I ate all trip. The food in Trujillo was even cheaper as Huanchaco is more touristy and on the coast. You could easily live like royalty in Huanchaco for less than $400 a month and I would consider going back there longer term if time ever permitted.

Huanchaco!!!

All in all I had a great 5 day stay in Huanchaco. It had a relaxed vibe for being so close to Peru’s third largest city and although there wasn’t much in the way of nightlife it was great for surfing, hanging out and eating really good. I think anyone wanting to make a stop between Lima and the north of Peru will find this a great choice.

Gone on a whim…