Upon first glance, Huanchaco beach town is, as lonely planet puts it, “distinctly average”. But if you allow yourself to dig deeper, this once ancient fisherman village can reveal its hidden charm to you.
I am not a new-comer to Huanchaco. As a former Peace Corps volunteer stationed an hour or so north of the town, Huanchaco was a meet-up location for the several volunteers who spotted the department of La Libertad. On our small salaries and desperation for some peer-to-peer socializing, a hostel and a beach were more than enough to keep us happy. So in other words, my expectations for Huanchaco were humble from the beginning.
What I saw, and continue to see in Huanchaco is a charm, unfound in any other similar beach towns of Peru. Home to the world’s first surfers some 2,000 years ago and a World Surfing Reserve today, you could spend hours staring at the professional or semi-professional athletes that glide on Huanchaco’s never-ending breaks. People are not harassing you every 5 seconds to buy their merchandise or chastising you to lunch at their restaurant as aggressively as in Mancora, and if you drop the pretense that a beach town must act and look a certain way, well you may just be open to seeing the value of this town.
If you are a gringo, yes, expect some initial attention, but if you respond with a polite “no, gracias” they will leave you be. If you spend more time here, slowly you’ll be treated like a local. In Huanchaco, there are many travelers who have stayed in this town and made it their home, most of whom, only expected to spend a few days or weeks there. So what keeps them? The endless breaks, the sunsets, the beach, the budget-friendly living accommodations, the mingling with many cultures (foreign and national), the relative ease in becoming and being treated as a local, the fresh-as-hell seafood, the amenities of a nearby city (what many locals call “going into town”), volunteer or exchange opportunities, and the proximity of ancient pre-Columbian ruins.
Are there things to be improved? Yes. The environmental volunteer in me has a hard time not focusing on the trash that shouldn’t be there and the noise pollution of cars honking and sometimes too loud reggaeton music. But how many other beach towns are known to be the creators of the dish “ceviche”, or the preferred port of the Incas? Further, pre-Columbian civilizations made this town their home and created -what is referred to today as the world’s first surfboard – reed boats for fishing (Caballitos de totora) that can still be seen used today.
So to be labeled as “distinctly average” seems as far from the mark as one can get.
My current trip afforded me the opportunity to experience Huanchaco not as a volunteer, but as a seeker. I came to check out the developments and to relive the tranquility that this place has always afforded me. The most memorable moments of my trip were the conversations I had. I stayed at an Airbnb located smack dab in the middle of town and across from the beach. The hostess and other housemates at the Airbnb could not have been friendlier, many of whom invited me to come along with them for whatever plans they had for that day. What I loved most, was breaking away from my computer at 5 pm and meeting them all at the Mandala hostel, run by an amazing Irish and Belgium couple, and having a piña colada while listening to reggae music. This hostel too was located in front of the beach.
“Good-hearted conversation and a diverse crowd are what you can expect to find in Huanchaco.”
In an instant, you can meet someone from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France, Holland, the US, you name it. I spent countless hours sitting with many different people who have seen so many diverse places of the world and shared stories of our travels and our home lives. Good-hearted conversation and a diverse crowd are what you can expect to find in Huanchaco.
I had the opportunity as well, to check out a few restaurants at night and although I went alone, I never ended the meal that way. The chefs, or the owners, or other diners easily struck up a conversation and either sat with me to finish my meal or exchanged a few niceties throughout. Again, Huanchaco retains their small-town, villagey feel, and so expect friendly conversations and people wanting to interact with you.
Memorable meals, the homemade pasta and paired wine at Casa Tere, the Maki’s at Umi, the vegetarian Mexican burrito at Otra Cosa, and the parihuela and ceviche at El Sombrero.
Huanchaco, if you let it, can offer you a break from the everyday demands and busy-ness that we all create and fall into from time to time. If you are living in Peru, I definitely recommend spending a weekend in Huanchaco for surfing, ceviche, the laid-back pace, and sunshine. If you are traveling in Peru and are visiting the Huacas del Sol y La Luna, or Chan Chan (the ‘Moche Tourist Route’) I recommend either staying in Huanchaco and making day trips out to those ruins (walking around ruins and museums is actually exhausting), or at least dedicating a full day and night there to unwind.