Huanchaco, a beach with a history and a future


With a coconut-and-lúcuma cremolada in my hand and the sun strong and warm above me, I was a happy man. I was at the beach, and not just any beach. I was at Huanchaco.

Huanchaco is a special place. It is a beach where the past and the present come together. Surfers share waves with fishermen riding caballitos de totora, reed rafts used on the northern Peruvian coast for at least two thousand years. The restaurants on the malecón blast reggaetón just meters away from the pier where families fish, as they have done ever since it was built over 100 years ago.

Just fifteen minutes away from Trujillo, Peru’s third-largest city, Huanchaco is not a virgin, empty beach, especially during summer weekends. And yet, while some beaches around Lima are in the headlines because of acts of discrimination, everyone seems to mix happily in Huanchaco. Families from Trujillo’s toniest and humblest neighborhoods rub shoulders with surfers from the U.S., earnest volunteers from England, and hippies from Argentina.

What attracts all of these visitors is one of Peru’s most appealing urban beaches. For the amount of visitors that Huanchaco sees, the beach and sea are kept quite clean, thanks to government efforts to get beachgoers to use trash bins and municipal ordinances against littering. After years of erosion, Huanchaco’s beaches have been rebuilt, and there is now a wide strip of sand stretching over multiple kilometers. According to press reports, the local government is planning to invest more in improving the malecón and preserving the caballitos de totora.

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Surf boards and caballitos de totora in Huanchaco

When it’s time to leave the sand, there are a couple of attractions in Huanchaco. In the heights above Huanchaco, the local church is the second-oldest in Peru, dating to the Spanish arrival in the sixteenth century. Right along the beach, a small museum at the Coastal Laboratory of the Peruvian Oceanic Institute (IMARPE) has a tiny aquarium and an extensive collection of taxidermied fish, so you can see what goes into the ceviche you are about to eat.

And oh, the ceviche! The entire malecón is lined by seafood restaurants, and I can’t remember having had a bad meal in any of them. The local specialty is crab, but all of the classic Peruvian seafood dishes, from choritos a la chalaca to parihuela to tiradito, are available here. For dessert, I recommend one of the ubiquitous cremoladas and a walk along the beach.

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>Late afternoon at Huanchacho

Huanchaco is easy to get to. It is located 13 kilometers from Trujillo. Buses leave frequently, passing the Avenida España. A taxi from the center of Trujillo costs about S/. 12.

Huanchaco has few hotels, but a large and varied collection of hostels. My favorite is >Casa Amelia, which has friendly owners, nice views and surprisingly spacious rooms.

The beach at Huanchaco provides a place to soak up the sun, rub shoulders with visitors from around the world and enjoy a little history.