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The Dry Forest and Mangrove Swamps of Northern Peru

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Northern Peru is famous for being a great destination for surfers, gastronomy enthusiasts, and beach-side relaxation hunters. But Northern Peru also contains unique ecosystems such as the mangrove swamps of Tumbes, equitorial dry forests, and the Pacific tropical forest.

Los Manglares de Tumbes National Sanctuary

(Photo: PXHere)
The far north of the Pacific coast is very different from the rest of the country. Near the border with Ecuador, an hour and a half north of Mancora, the Rivers Tumbes and Puyango discharge into the Pacific Ocean. The water flows slowly, with no rapids or shallows, meandering and forming lagoons amid the trees. Frigate birds fly over the forest canopy. A crab-eating raccoon searches for food on the seashore. This is the Los Manglares de Tumbes National Sanctuary, an ecosystem unlike anywhere else on the planet.

Life in the mangroves

(Photo: Wikimedia)
The reserve is named after the mangrove, a widespread tree species that grows in both salt and fresh water. Mangroves are gradually reclaiming land from the sea by taking root in the sediment carried by rivers, thus creating a natural barrier that prevents erosion by the tide and swells. This is how the trees expand their territory while preserving an ecosystem that is home to an exotic variety of animals.
The sanctuary is divided into two parts: the buffer zone and the core. You can access the buffer zone through Puerto Pizarro, a small fishing cove surrounded by tranquil waters. There you’ll find rustic restaurants selling the signature dish of northern Peru: mangrove scallop cebiche (no self-respecting inhabitant of Tumbes will admit not to liking it), which is said to have aphrodisiac properties. You can visit the Isle of Love (Isla del Amor), a popular destination for couples seeking intimacy and romance, while Bird Island (Isla de los Pajaros) is a good place to observe White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), gannets (Morus bassanus), Fork-tailed Flycatchers (Tyrannus savanna), Kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus) and “Peruvian” pelicans (Pelecanus thagus). If you want to do some bird watching, make sure to go early in the morning or at sunset, when the birds are most active.

The core

Visits to this part of the sanctuary are strictly controlled in order to keep the environment as pristine as possible. If you want to get permission to go to this part of the reserve, make a trip to the Protected Natural Areas control point known as El Algarrobo. The park rangers use it as a base. It also has certain facilities and an interpretation center for visitors.
Here you will be able to make contact with the area’s diversity of fauna. There are 12 species of mammals, including the mangrove bear, the crab-eating raccoon and the neotropical otter, although the monarch of this territory is the American crocodile, a huge reptile that can grow up to 5 meters long. There are also 93 species of fish, 33 of molluscs and 34 of crustaceans. The bird population, on the other hand, you’ll find native and migratory species. Of the 120 bird species, 63 are migratory, some of which come from as far away as Canada, then fly even further south. The native birds include the Grey-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides cajanea), the Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea), the Bare-throated Tiger Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum), the White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) and the Mangrove Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus subtilis).

Two ecosystems, one river

There are other very special ecosystems located just a few kilometers away. These are the equatorial dry forest and the Pacific tropical forest, found in the Tumbes provinces of Zarumilla. The reserve extends south as far as the provinces of Talara and Sullana in Piura. This corridor is called the Nort West Biosphere Reserve and includes the Cerros de Amotape National park (the core), the Tumbes National Reserve and the El Angolo Hunting Reserve (buffer zones).

Amotape National Park

(Photo: Wikimedia)
The River Tumbes crosses Cerros de Amotape National Park, which takes its name from the Amotape Mountains. The west bank of the river is an equatorial dry forest, while the east bank is tropical forest. Its five areas range from altitudes of 120 to 1,538 meters. This gives the park an extraordinary variety of ecological zones, and an enormous diversity of plants and animals. Because of the wide elevation ranges, this is a world-renowned center for plant and bird diversity.
You can access this park through the National Protected Areas Service control point at Rica Playa. You can do this on foot through wonderful wooded and cultivated scenery, or by car from Bocapan. Once you reach Rica Playa, you can hire Creole horses. These beautiful animals adapted to the local terrain after originally arriving with the Spanish conquistadors. Don’t be surprised if you come across grey deer (Odocoileus virginianus), boa constrictors (Boa constrictor) or iguanas (Iguana iguana) crossing your path. With a little luck, you may also see a King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) flying overhead.

Many wild animals

(Photo: Flickr)
Covering more than 151,000 hectares, the park is home to some spectacular animals such as anteaters, ocelots, jaguars, howler monkeys and the extraordinary American crocodile. The park is particularly interesting for bird watchers. It contains dozens of species including parrots, woodpeckers, owls, eagles, herons and many more.
The birds live amidst trees and plants of the reserve, including 4 species of orchids. One of the most curious trees is the ceibo. This tree can grow 20 meters tall and forms an ecosystem in itself, harboring unique species of plants and animals. On the other hand, the carob is one of the most important tree species in northern Peru. It’s perfectly adapted to the dry terrain, providing shade and protection to both men and animals.
Peru’s most famous nature reserves are in the jungle and on the southern coast. But it’s worth pointing out that the northern ecosystems are merely another example of the country’s biological diversity; and don’t think of these zones as places for competition among other parks; rather, this these are just some of Peru’s other natural paradises that are worth visiting and exploring.

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Cover photo: Flickr

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Diego Oliver is a Peruvian writer and author whose work can be found in the travel magazine Ultimate Journeys. He loves to focus on Peruvian culture both modern and classic, traveling the country, as well as social responsibility.