Walking through the surf on the beach in Máncora, Peru.

Peru's Best Beaches

The extremely dry northern desert coast is graced by Peru's finest long, sandy beaches, but for decades their inaccessibility kept them poorly developed and the secret of pioneering locals, land travelers on their way down from Ecuador, and surfers drawn to the Pacific Ocean's extraordinary swells and breaks.

Only in the last few years has the region begun to take off with a more diverse crowd. It's still complicated to get to; access is via a long drive or bus from either Piura or Tumbes. Máncora is the fashionable destination of choice, with the most facilities, but there are quieter beaches and even more amazing surfing waves both south and north.

Photo Caption: Walking through the surf on the beach in Máncora, Peru
Surfing in Cabo Blanco, Peru.
Cabo Blanco
Where: Ctra. Panamericana Norte Km 1137, 150km (93 miles) north of Piura

This modest, even desolate fisherman's village is famous in Peru as the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea (while Hemingway did spend time in the area and at the famous Fishing Club in 1956, deep-sea fishing and carousing, most literary scholars believe Cuba was the real inspiration). The area is renowned for sportfishing, however; it holds the record for the largest black marlin caught off the coast.

With its perfect pipeline waves, Cabo Blanco is also a magnet for surfers (Panic Point is the much buzzed-about spot), who don't seem to care much that the natural beauty of the area is marred by oil rigs just offshore.

Photo Caption: Surfing in Cabo Blanco, Peru
The beach in Los Órganos, Peru.
Los Órganos
Where: 13km (8 miles) south of Máncora

Laid-back Órganos, as it's known to locals, marks the real beginning of the tourist zone of beaches north of Piura. It has a few good cevicherías and is more family-oriented and a bigger destination for the Peruvian middle class than several of the beaches farther north. The best beach in this area is Punta Veleros.

Photo Caption: The beach in Los Órganos, Peru
The serene sands of Vichayito in northern Peru.
Thornton Cohen
Where: 7km (4 miles) south of Máncora

Blessed with wide sands and calm waters, this beautiful stretch is one of the top beaches along the north coast for swimming, sunning, and kitesurfing. It's perfect for a relaxing vacation, but still close enough to the restaurants and bars of Máncora for easy access.

Origenes (tel. 073/694-460; www.spaorigenes.com), is a fantastic spa right on the beach, with a full menu of services and open-air massages, as well as a hot tub and gorgeous pool overlooking the ocean. There are two entrances to Vichayito: either at Km 1150 of the Ctra. Panamericana Norte, just past Los Órganos, or along the dusty, unpaved road back from Las Pocitas.

Photo Caption: The serene sands of Vichayito in northern Peru
Las Pocitas, Peru.
Los Pocitas
Where: 3km (2 miles) south of Máncora

Similar to Vichayito, though with a narrower, palm tree-lined beach, this upscale zone just south of (and virtually contiguous to) Máncora is home to a growing number of chic hotels and weekend and summer houses. The waters are calm and excellent for swimming.

Photo Caption: Las Pocitas, Peru
Mototaxis on the beach in Máncora, Peru.
Thornton Cohen
Where: 376 km (233 miles) Southwest of Guayaquil, Ecuador
Only a few years ago, Máncora was a remote little fishing village where a handful of surfers and budget travelers had alighted and stayed put. It has suddenly become the hottest destination in the north, both among young foreigners and well-to-do Peruvians, although outside of summer season and other busy holiday periods, it still seems pretty easygoing and charmingly rough around the edges. Máncora is essentially one main drag, lined end-to-end with open-air bars and restaurants, with the impenetrable desert to one side and the open sea on the other.

Check out the Artisans' Market, on Av. Piura, or the chic little shop Sirena, Av. Piura 336 (tel. 073/258-445), featuring stylish bikinis, sundresses, pareos, sandals, and other beach apparel and accessories designed by an Argentine woman and made in Máncora. The Birdhouse, a gringo-built warren of breezy shops, restaurants, and bars between the main street and the beach (Pasaje Piura), is hangout central. Soledad Surf Shop, Av. Piura, 316 (tel. 01/9983-0425), is the go-to place for hard-core surfistas or for beachy types who just want to look the part. For those into the burgeoning sport of kitesurfing, Máncora Kite Club and Máncora Kite Surf (www.mancorakitesurf.com) arrange lessons, gear, and trips.

Photo Caption: Mototaxis on the beach in Máncora, Peru
Sunset on the beach at Punta Sal, Peru.
Punta Sal
Where: 23km (14 miles) north of Máncora

Home to a beautiful, long, white-sand beach (which some contend is the loveliest in Peru) and calm waters, this relaxed resort has a couple of large hotels frequented mostly by Peruvian (largely Limeña) families.

Photo Caption: Sunset on the beach at Punta Sal, Peru
Sunset on the beach in Zorritos, Peru.
Eduardo Dios
Where: 27km (17 miles) south of Tumbes

This mellow, often empty beach destination south of Tumbes, the capital of the department (province) just 30km (19 miles) from the Ecuadoran border, marks the northern end of the region's stretch of beaches. With a pretty beach with a tropical feel, good waves, and a smattering of rustic, thatched-roof cabaña accommodations, it is developing into a young people's alternative to Máncora (an alternative to the alternative, as it were); access is much simpler from Tumbes than Piura.

Photo Caption: Sunset on the beach in Zorritos, Peru
Surfing in Lobitos, Peru.
Where: 132 km (82 miles) northwest of Piura

The dry desert of the north is enlivened by great beaches and an oceanic phenomenon that produces ideal conditions for surfing. Two currents, the cold Humboldt from the south and Ecuatorial from the north, meet just south of Cabo Blanco, creating vastly different water temperatures.

For surfing fanatics, this section of the Pacific is renowned for its excellent swells, long waves, perfect barrels, superb point breaks, and awesome lefts. The water is warm; the sun shines virtually all year; and, to put it in the local parlance, the seafood and ceviche are killer and the waves are rad.

Photo Caption: Surfing in Lobitos, Peru