If you have never been to Hawaii, then maybe. If you have, then no. I think the main attraction of Mancora is the wind. If you are into kite sailing, then this is the place for you. Or if you are into wind.
We went in search of sun in winter. It took twelve hours to get there from Lima, including airplane trip, hotel stay, and almost three hours by car. Plus the flights were about $250. Collectively, I think for a sun vacation, one could fly to Cartagena for the same travel time.
I chose a mainstream hotel with gorgeous photos on TripAdvisor, and while the food was good, the place lacked many other things that I expect for that price per night (hot water, elevator as restaurant was downstairs, towels, lack of peeling paint, cleanliness, etc.).
It’s probably a better experience if one stays a private villa with butler and cook. Or at K!chic (one can also eat there even if not staying there).
We flew through Tumbes and I think I actually enjoyed that experience more than Mancora. Tumbes just got its first mall.
The downtown part of Mancora is touristy like Thailand. It’s not a cute town that one would wander about soaking up the culture… I think you go to eat seafood fried rice, chicken wings, drink, and admire the crusty tourists.
In Mancora, the seafood is good and black clams are the specialty.
The city of Trujillo, an easy hour flight north of Lima, is a great weekend destination. Trujillo is called the city of eternal spring. In the depth of Lima winter, I went looking for some spring. Flying up on a Friday evening, the pickup from the airport was easily done by the hotel located on the central square. The airport is located 20 minutes from the city and you even pass one of the tourist sites on the way in — Chan Chan — before passing a modern mall and convention center.
The archaeological site of the Huaca of the Moon and the Sun is a mere 20 minutes outside of the city so easily visited. The new site called “El Brujo”, is only 63 kilometers to the north but due to the road conditions, it takes 80 minutes. I’d recommend going to these two sites in one day, with lunch in the coastal town of Huanchaco, eat at Big Ben.
Then go for a walk along the Huanchaco malecon (boardwalk – sidewalk) and take your selfies with the reed boats, “caballitos de totora” — reed horsies, so called because the fishermen ride astride the boats, instead of sitting in them. Back in Trujillo, enjoy, on Saturday evenings, the free marinera (a type of dance) performances in the main square, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Join in! Then walk down to one of the famous restaurants for dinner. The photo of the Waldorf salad is from the famous restaurant with the balcony, El Celler de Cler.
On Sunday mornings, the main square is blocked off and the town dignitaries walk about in a procession. This is a good time to get photos of the square. Later, go to Chan Chan.
When you buy pottery reproduction souvenirs, make sure that the item is stamped as a reproduction so that you aren’t accused of buying cultural patrimony. The reproductions are some of the highest quality I’ve seen, as souvenirs go.
Then back to Huanchaco for lunch. The whole malecon is shoulder to shoulder with restaurants. Try the special “aji de gallina” of this area, made with crab. Or stick to ceviche which will be some of the best you’ve had.
To those contemplating moving to to Miraflores in Lima, think about the sun. During the winter, May-September, the sun doesn’t come out. At all. There are no shadows in the omnipresent gloom of winter. Hard to believe but true. During the winter, in the afternoon between 5-7 pm, a cold damp wind will blow up and it will feel noticeably colder. This is when the Limenos eat “lonche” a “lunch” that is akin to British afternoon tea of a hot drink and a sandwich. Also during the winter in Lima, the smell from the fish meal processing plants often pervades the city (apparently many Limenos who live abroad relish that familiar smell when they visit).
But, in the summer, the weather can be glorious. That said, in the summer, the weather depends on where you live. If you live inland (even five blocks can make a difference) in San Borja, or Surco or La Molina, there will be sun, and often quite hot burning sun. But, if you live within blocks of the ocean in Miraflores, prepare for bouts of fog. Yes, even during the summer. I’m told, that for health reasons many people choose not to live on the coast because of the humidity in the air.
Another thing about the weather in Lima — it never rains. Ever (a few piddly drops is not rain in my books). Lima is a desert city on a coast. No rain storms although there is usually a nice wind blowing on the coast.
The temperature in Lima stays fairly even. 70-80 in the summer. In the winter, the temperature can drop to 55-60 degrees. The locals tell me that because they are not accustomed to extreme temperatures (snow and 100 degrees), they are more sensitive to the weather. In the winter, one sees Limenos to wear puffy winter jackets and gloves.
As strange as it seems from May to September, there is no sunshine in Lima. If you imagine an overcast day that lasts for five months, then you are getting close to imagining it. Therefore, it is necessary to get out and find some direct sunlight. One of the places is Paracas, three or so islands to the south of Lima. Go for a weekend. There is a national park and sunlight. Maybe. If you really want to make sure, go down to Ica, location of the Nazca lines. Make sure to stop at the pitstop at marker 52 for breakfast.
We went for a weekend. Paracas is a small town that seems to exist nowadays for the tourism related to the Paracas National Reserve, a vast sandy national park, and the Ballestas Islands which is part of the park but a separate boat tour. These islands were the source of guano, bird poo, which is used for many products, including fertilizer. It was a big industry. The birds still produce and they like to aim for the tourists (wear a hat and long sleeves). You will also see sea lions sunbathing. The boat ride is two hours with no toilet, no roof, and lots of wind and water. Be prepared.
As much as I enjoyed the boat ride and watching the local fauna (a man and his 12 offspring) on the boat, I actually preferred driving around the desert part of the reserve and finding well appointed viewing platforms and amenities along the way.
“It’s mostly a flat walk and takes only three to four hours” said the manager at the eco-lodge. Beware words like those.
After paying a princely sum of 30 Bolivianos (it wasn’t the amount we found annoying but the constant milking as tourists — but, hey, that’s what we came for, right?), we took the ferry 30 minutes up to the north side of the island. At the north end of the Island of the Sun, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, is where there are several Inca sites (this is where the first two Inca rose out of the lake), including a sacrificial stone slab table, a stone maze, and other sites. More about that another time. We were taking the little “walk” along the ridge of the island. Three hours, he said.
The Island of the Sun is six miles (10 kms) long. It rises about 600 feet (200 meters) of which you feel EVERY step uphill. It’s like a slow stairmaster. With all the independent entrepreneurs asking us for five Bolivianos here and five Bolivianos there, it felt a bit like that tale of Billy Goat Gruff.
It was just after 11 a.m. when we got off the ferry at the hostel infested port. We stopped to have a glass of orange juice and take a photo of the lake. After paying the site entrance fee, we started our walk along a beach, up a path, past kids racing home for lunch, and past couples toiling away in their fields, harvesting rocks. The ladies look like a breed of bird with their round bowler hats and bright red skirts.
We continued to walk uphill for another hour. When we got to one of the Inca sites, we had a Swiss tourist take a photo of us. We admired the view, and I wished that the little hut was a toilet. As we shared the view, a local runner came bounding up the rocks with two white plastic bags in his hands. From one he extracted two styrofoam containers and Powerade drinks. He handed these to the Swiss couple. It was 12:30 p.m. and it was lunch time.
We left them and continued down the vista point to the other Inca ruins. The sun was baking the landscape a dun color but we didn’t feel warm because of the jerky-making wind that sandpapered the air around us.
At every ridge on top of the 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) mountain, we kept walking uphill. It seemed impossible that we could keep walking up. Around 3 p.m. and several “rock” t(r)olls later, the ground started to level out. As in, it stopped going uphill all the time. At this point, we had a tiny bit of water left and no food. I had some nuts in a bag and I was eating them every few steps, trying to keep the hungry wolves in my belly at bay (have a nut, you ravenous carnivore! It tastes like steak, no? It’s a Macadamia!).
By the time it was 4:30 p.m. and the sun was roasting the backs of my calves (instead of the front), we were resigned to making it all the way to the south side of the island without lunch.
Then, like a mirage, I saw my friend holding up a giant water bottle, glinting aloft in the sunlight like a trophy. We had arrived at Las Nubes, a hostel in the “clouds.”
Wide skirt and bowler hat firmly in place despite the knuckle freezing winds, the proprietress was manhandling a log for my friend to use as a stool over by the table with the view.
When I stumbled up to the shop window, I asked the lady if she had anything to eat. She said, “no, because when I do, no one comes.” Which I can believe because we had only run into about 10 other walkers, all European, hale, and lanky. In a red plastic basin on the floor, I noticed a giant gourd soaking, and as hungry as I was, I coveted it for a brief moment. But, I then focused back on what I could eat and drink. She had Pringles, Snickers, and Kitkats. I got a can of Pringles and two Snickers. It was a feast. When I got to the table with the view, my friend said that I could have shared her can of Pringles. To this I replied that I intended to eat all 2,500 calories of carbohydrates in MY can, by myself. I did give her a Snickers for dessert.
I asked the lady of Las Nubes for a photo and she was ready to take the photo but was surprised when I said that I wanted one with her. My Spanish only got me far enough to explain that we were happy she existed.
After the lunch of champions (electrolytes!) of sugar, salt, and fat, we still had another hour and a half to the village.
When we got to the village, I ordered four glasses of juice.
After eight hours getting whipped by the wind, my skin was super soft. Like I’d been at the spa.
San Andres is nice and has all the usual activities of a sun and sand vacation. Plus, San Andres has some decent restaurants and lots of duty-free shopping.
The only thing that I didn’t notice were too many spas. There was a spa on the beach. But as they appeared to be the only game in town, they only had 30 minutes massages available. They only had one massage table and it was separated from the public by a bamboo bead curtain (which was never closed). The main “spa” activity in the hut seemed to be the fish foot spa. Even with a reservation, we did not manage to get a spa treatment on the beach. We did find a hair salon that also had massages and manicures and pedicures.
Apparently, the smaller (less crowded) Providencia is much nicer than San Andres. Perhaps another time.