For the screw-footed small wave aficionado, there aren’t many places that can top Northern Peru. The land of the Inca is also the land of endless lefts, and between good wind and consistent year-round swel, the dusty coast north of Lima is the stuff of goofy-footed dreams. But don’t limit yourself to surfing! Peru is also one of the most culturally rich places on the planet, in addition to being one of the world’s most climactically diverse political regions. As far as cost, convenience, culture and consistency go, this might be the most user-friendly surf destination on the planet.
The Surf: Northern Peru is known for long, perfect left points which typically break over sand or rock, but there are just as many barreling setups to be had as there are rippable walls. Still, the waves in this region are generally in the intermediate range. If right handers or death slabs are your thing, you’re looking in the wrong place.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Chicama—the “world’s longest wave” lights up whenever there is a solid South swell, and can peel for over a kilometer. Although it’s rare to get all the sections to line up, this brown water beauty is still a phenomenon that has to be experienced to be believed.
- Lobitos—Perhaps the most consistently high-quality wave in Northern Peru, Lobitos is a rippable, multi-section left that can also offer up barrels. There are a number of other quality waves within walking distance as well, making this the most popular area in the region.
- Cabo Blanco—Northern Peru’s premier summer-time spot, Cabo Blanco is a slabby left hand barrel that picks up north swell and hosts an annual local barrel-riding contest.
- Pacasmayo—Chicama’s lesser-known and lesser-surfed sister, Pacasmayo is another endless, perfect left point that is actually hollower than Chicama, although more wind-exposed as well.
- Everywhere Else—Although Peru’s left points garner all of the public attention, the truth is that they are only the tip of the iceberg. With thousands of kilometers between Lima and the northern border and only a tiny fraction of this coastline surfed with any kind of consistency, perhaps the best thing you can do is NOT go to the marquee spots. After all, there isn’t much better than discovering your own slice of paradise.
The Water: The water can range from filthy to crystal clear, depending on how much development has occurred on shore—another reason to search out the less-developed and less-surfed beach breaks, reefs and points littering the coast. Water temps in the Chicama region range from 64–75 F (18–24 C) depending on season, so a 3/2 wetsuit will keep you covered during winter, whereas the breaks in the far north such as Lobitos and Mancora see temps ranging from 66–77 F (19–25 C) and are often surfable in boardshorts.
The Season: The best thing about Peru is that it picks up swell from basically every direction, so there are typically waves year round—although different spots light up under different swell directions. South swell spots are best between May and August, whereas breaks picking up north swell are best between November and February.
The Vibe: The local vibe is pretty mellow, considering how good the waves are. Spots can be crowded with traveling Brazilians, but the locals are cool, and if you can surf and are respectful, you shouldn’t have any trouble in the water. On land it’s a different story, however. Petty crime and thievery are common, and both assault and rape have been known to go down on occasion, so watch your back, your belongings and your girl.
Things To Do: Peru may have more to offer in the way of non-aquatic activities than any other destination frequented by surfers. Cuzco is a gateway back into the time of the Inca, and is a good hub to check out Machu Pichu and the Sacred Valley. The Andes are a great attraction as well, appealing to the trekking/backpacking crew, and Iquitos rests in the middle of the Amazon river system. Rest assured that, in the unlikely event that the surf goes flat, you won’t be bored.
Where To Stay: Fairly priced hostels abound, especially in tourist areas (which include all the major surf hubs). You should have no problem finding cheap accommodation upon arrival, but can also pre-book online if you are more comfortable doing so.
What To Bring: Your favorite board in long, rippable left points, and a step-up for bigger days at the hollower breaks. A 3/2 wetsuit and boardshorts. Hiking boots and cold-weather gear for the mountains, hot-weather gear for the Amazonian jungles. Finally, a copy of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Peru will come in handy if you plan to see more than just the lineup.
Getting There: Lima is a major international airport, and flights from the US west coast can range between $500 (at the very lowest) to $1000 (more common). From Lima, you can either take a bus north, or fly on one of the local airlines. Peruvian Airlines has a dodgy reputation and can be difficult to book online, but tickets are very cheap, and the airline is actually quite comfortable and user-friendly once you are on board. Tacna and LAN are nicer but more expensive, and both charge an extra “tourist fee” on top of their normal prices (roughly $175). Tourist visas are available upon arrival. Airport code: LIM.