Every afternoon, we would watch from our rickety balcony as the ocean tried to devour Mancora.
Rare high-tides on the Pacific saw the surf crash upon the shore, and salt water flow into the dusty backstreets. With this desert beach-bum town perched precariously by the encroaching, shifting shoreline, we’re sure that one day the ocean will satisfy its appetite.
But, for now, Mancora remains a popular spot for Peruvians and backpackers alike.
For travellers, Mancora’s reputation as the biggest party town in Peru is either a reason to add it to your list, or to ensure you avoid it at all costs. For us, it had both effects; persuading us to stay away in 2015 but offering us a tempting home for the Christmas just gone.
Arriving with relatively low expectations for its beach and overall vibe, Mancora actually took us by complete surprise. We didn’t find a place which had sold its soul to travellers who only cared about getting drunk, the beach really wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, and, after weeks at altitude hiking in Peru and a few too many grey days, the sun on our backs was glorious.
Though not without its flaws (it’s got a lot of litter and in parts feels like it’s in a state of being either half-built or half-demolished), Mancora is - whisper it - actually a pretty decent little place to hang out for a few days.
With its colourful tuk-tuks, driftwood bars, smoothie shacks, beginner waves, and the best ceviche we’ve tasted in Peru, it provides a much-needed change in pace, climate, and vibe - especially if you’ve just completed weeks of hiking further south or in Huaraz.
In this post, we’ll share our favourite things to do in Mancora (and one thing you most definitely need to avoid), give some tips on the best part of town to stay in, advice on where to eat, important safety information, and an overview of onward transport connections to go south in Peru or cross into Ecuador.
Things To Do In Mancora
Hang Out At The Beach
Okay, let’s get a couple of things straight from the get-go; Peru is not a destination to head for if your interests extend only to lying on a beach and getting a tan.
You see, whilst there are a handful of popular backpacker beach towns in northern Peru, the beaches in this popular South American country really aren’t that great - especially when you compare them to the likes of Ecuador, Colombia or Brazil. That being said, Mancora (and the smaller villages around it) definitely have some of the nicest beaches in the country and we enjoyed the chilled out atmosphere.
The large crescent bay that spans the breadth of the town is split into three sections; Playa del Amor down one end, the hub-bub of activity in the crowded middle, and a slightly fancier (and much quieter) section down the other.
Where you end up spending your beach time will drastically change your day.
PLAYA DEL AMOR
This is actually the part of town that we ended up staying in, with our treehouse cabin at Mancora Apartments. It’s got a wide stretch of (relatively) clean sand, few tourists, no hawkers, and no bars or restaurants the beach. If you want to just lie in the sun and read a book away from the crowds, this is where you want to go for the day.
There’s nobody selling food etc on the beach but you’ll be able to source lunch and beers and one of the nearby hostels on the single dusty street which leads to the beach.
THE BUSY MIDDLE SECTION
A Peruvian beach town in a microcosm, this section of the beach is a sea of life and bold colours.
Cheap and cheerful souvenir shops line the streets and restaurants jostle for space on the ocean front, each proffering identikit menu cards; the beach, sometimes more pebbly than sand, is a magnet to holidaying Peruvians but popular with all who visit this small town.
On the plus side, you’ll never struggle to find a man or woman who will deliver a cold bottle of beer, a cup of Tigre de leche or fresh mango straight to your towel.
Do note that when the tide comes in, this section of the beach shrinks quite considerably and we saw more than one unsuspecting tourist get soaked by a sudden gush of sea water.
THE OTHER END
This is the section that the fancier accommodations like Las Olas look out on to. Whilst technically not that much further from the busier ‘middle section’, it’s definitely the section of sand that you should throw your towel upon if you’d like to remain closer to the action but still be able to read your book in peace.
For our money, Peru has the best cuisine in South America.
Crucial to this is the delicious dish ‘ceviche’, a wonderful combination of fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, chili, chopped onions, salt, and cilantro.
It’s on the menu of pretty much every restaurant in Mancora, but we have to recommend that if you’re only going to try this only once, head instead to one of the handful of stalls and street carts in Plaza Mancora in the afternoon or early evening. Specialising in ‘conche negra’ (which we didn’t try), they also offer up a big plate of fresh fish ceviche made right in front of you, for just 10 soles. Unfortunately we can’t remember the name of the gentleman who prepared ours, but he was quite young, a little tubby, and his cart/stall on the right hand side of the pavement definitely looked a bit fancier with all the right cooking equipment - if you find out his name, please do let us know in the comments!
Do NOT Swim with Turtles
When we first read that you could swim with giant turtles in Mancora, we were excited. However, years of travel has taught us that when any animal is involved in a popular tourist activity, initial excitement has to give way to scepticism and further research.
So, after five minutes looking at videos on YouTube and images on Google, it was clear to us that you should not swim with turtles in Mancora. Lured into a port everyday by a constant source of food (the sole reason they don’t leave), the turtles then have to put up with being poked, prodded, and harrassed by dozens of locals and tourists bobbing about in lifejackets ‘swimming’ with the ‘wild’ turtles’.
This is in no way an ethical travel activity, and not something that you should fund or support. So, please spread the word to other travellers you meet in Mancora and Peru.
p.s. If you’re still not convinced, then just think of how lovely it will be to ingest mouthfuls of salt water permeated with rotten fish, turtle shit, and boat oil.
Learn How To Surf
The north of Peru (including Huanchaco) is a haven for serious surfers, but Mancora also offers an ideal and affordable opportunity to, literally, dip your toes in.
On the main beach, in front the excellent Green Eggs & Ham restaurant, you’ll find two rival surf schools. You can rent a board for 10 soles an hour or 20 soles for the day, or take a lesson for 40 soles - just rock up and ask. Unlike some places, the instructors here are pretty hands-on and will wear flippers in the water to give you a very decent push in the wave, meaning that pretty much everyone will get up on the board.
The best spot for beginners is right in front of these surf schools, but before heading out, it’s important to understand a few things:
| Surf only at mid or high-tide, when the dangerous rocks are covered by water. Venturing out when rocks are visible, especially as a beginner can result in some pretty nasty injuries.
| Prepare to get dropped in on by locals. We spent a few hours watching the surf one day and were shocked at how often this happens. Apparently, if you make the wave and they know you’re behind them, they’ll drop out, but it made for some pretty anxiety-inducing interactions.
| If you’re visiting in the winter months, you may still need a wetsuit - if it’s chilly, don’t be a hero.
Given the popularity of Mancora as a surf destination, you’ll be happy to know that for those more wave-inclined amongst you, there are a number of surf schools in town and further along the coast. You can either book a surf school package that covers food, accommodation, board usage, lessons etc (to find out more, click here), or book individual nights at one of the town’s designated surf camps - Laguna comes very highly recommended, is a stone’s throw from the ocean, and has good surf lessons.
Mancora is also a really popular spot to learn how to kite surf. Although you can rent equipment from a few places, if you’ve never given it a go before, we’d recommend taking a three-day course (the Mancora Kite Club comes highly recommended, and is the cheapest in town, running courses for $300 per person - yeah, we know, still not terribly cheap!). If you know what you’re doing, full equipment can rented out for $60 a day.
Explore the Coast
Prior to arriving in Mancora, we read a few articles extolling the virtues of Mancora’s beaches; they weren’t however talking about the one’s in town.
Popular nearby beach spots include Los Pocitos, Vichayito, Punta Sal, and in order to experience them, just jump on a bus or a tuk-tuk (more information on prices etc below).
Party at Loki
We honestly wouldn’t recommend staying at Loki, unless you want to be kept awake until the wee small hours, try and hook up, or drink shots off of your newly made friends’ abdomen just after lunch. That being said, it makes an excellent spot for a night out - and we actually craved it after so many days and nights up bloody mountains!
We had initially skipped Mancora on our first Peru trip because we were coming down from the excellent beaches of Ecuador and had been told that the place was just a a backpacker party town. After our stay of five days, we have to say that the reputation is a little undeserved. Yes there are party hostels and a few bars open until the wee small hours, but it doesn’t affect every part of the place and can easily be avoided if that’s not your scene.
! Non-guests are free to enter through the front gate where you’ll have to sign in an show a valid form of ID (a photo of your passport is fine - definitely do NOT bring your original passport) and be given a wrist band.
| Guests are able to put drinks on a tab, but as a non-guest you’ll be expected to pay-as-you-drink (which is not a bad thing).
Where To Stay in Mancora
Mancora is a small town split by the Pan-American highway, so when choosing a place to stay you have to decide whether to stay in the centre (which is cheaper but means a very noisy road all day and night), on the main beach (expensive), or go for the quieter, more laid-back vibe of Playa del Amor.
You also have to work out if you want to stay in a party hostel or not - as they’re a big reason why Mancora has developed its unfair reputation. Here are our personal recommendations:
Playa del Amor
Mancora Apartments | We treated ourselves to a private apartment at this place, which only been here for two years. Owned and run by and English man and his Peruvian wife, they’ve nailed the ‘beach-shack she’ vibe to a tee! We absolutely loved it and it’s a great option for couples, though they also have a number of dorm bed. To find out more click here.
Note that Playa del Amor is a 3 soles tuk-tuk ride from the centre of Mancora (3-5 minutes). You will never have issue finding a tuk-tuk to or from the city centre and there is a set of regular drivers who wait here all day and night so you don’t have to have safety concerns. For night-time rides, the cost is S./ 5.
This is a quieter, hanging out section of beach but factor in your fees if staying here as the 15 min walk is a ball ache if you do it more than once a day.
On The Beach
Kimbas Bungalows Mancora | The rooms aren’t fantastic (at least not for the price) but they have lovely Balinese inspired grounds with a great pool. Doubles start from £38 a night.
Las Olas | Beach front with delightful rooms, many with fantastic terraces overlooking the ocean. With rooms starting at £50 a night, it’s far from the cheapest spot in town, but if you’re going to splurge this is a good option - check prices and availability here.
On The Main Road
Loki Mancora | As we’ve mentioned above, this wouldn’t our first choice of accommodation, but amongst the partying backpacker set, there’s a reason that this remains a popular choice - especially with dorms starting at £8 a night.
Casa Naranaja | Such a cute little hostel with wonderfully decorated rooms, lovely common areas, a shared kitchen and just 200m from the beach. Doubles start at £23 a night.
La Posada | Pretty average rooms, but the grounds (including a pool) and the price more than make up for it. This is a favourite amongst backpackers on a little more of a budget - check availability here.
Note that if you’re visiting Mancora around Christmas, New Year and early January, or at Semana Santa (Easter), that it’s essential to book accommodation early as prices go up with more holidaying Peruvians visiting than backpackers.
Where to Eat in Mancora
If you’ve been in the mountains for a while and grown tired of standard Peruvian fare, then you’ll be delighted to know that Mancora is choc-a-bloc with western fare as well as backpacker favourites and fusion cuisine from around the world. These are our picks:
Black Sheep Cafe | Nothing fancy but you can get a really great feed for not very much cash, including an excellent vegan burger meal deal combo for just 10 soles. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal in town.
Cafe del Mundo | Great little cafe serving all sorts of comfort food (the falafel is particularly good) and real coffee in a French press.
Bananas | Particularly good for breakfasts, they specialise in combo menus. Also serve decent veggie burgers and pizzas. Say hey to the slightly grumps (but still adorable cat for us).
Green Eggs and Ham | More of a breakfast / brunchr spot, they serve a Mexican style omelette that is so good we went back more than once. Seriously, it’s bloody delicious! Also have excellent juices, good coffee, and luxurious milkshakes. A nice open-air terrace overlooking the beach too.
Angela’s Place | The only fully vegetarian restaurant in Mancora, this is an excellent place to get filled up on all the good stuff if you’re beginning to tire of lots of rice. It is a little pricier than other restaurants.
Buda | With a variety of excellent Asian dishes (their Thai cuisine comes especially highly rated), Buda is a popular dinner spot. Also has a variety or vegetarian and vegan meals.
Tokuyo | Mancora’s premier sushi joint, we highly recommend you give the poke bowls a go. On the upper side in terms of cost, but the food really is of excellent quality. Also good to know that they’re happy to make any of their bowls vegan or veggie.
Atelier Restobar | Mancora’s trendiest restaurant with super stylish decor, good cocktails and modern cuisine. Definitely one for one you fancy a upscale night out.
And if all you’re really looking for is a local set lunch with a bit of ceviche, you’ll be pleased to know that Mancora also has these by the bucket load! Expect to pay 10-12 soles for a starter, main and drink, and you’ll find them on the busy main street leading to the beach and in the ‘middle section’ of the beach too.
Preparing your own meals
Cooking your own food in Mancora isn’t terribly cheap or convenient, and by the middle of our five day stay here, we basically agreed that eating out was the best for everyone!
On the main street, in amongst the souvenir and bikini shops, you will find one fresh fruit and veg shop and a cart a little further along. Choice is limited and the prices are way higher (and inconsistent) than we paid anywhere else in Peru - even factoring in location. There is no proper supermarket in Mancora, instead you will find lots of smaller stores along the main road. Whilst choice (especially fresh produce) is lacking, Ultimarket Marlon will allow you to source most things in one place.
For those on a budget, we’d recommend heading over to the ‘mercado municipal’ (the city’s local market) where you’ll find your standard fresh produce sellers as well as small restaurants to grab a cheap meal. The market is open between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Safety in Mancora
As with any backpacker party town in South America, with the increase in late nights and booze comes an increase in safety concerns. We didn’t meet anyone who has had issues in Mancora, but please do exercise caution after dark, particularly if walking back to your hostel. Try to do it in a group and take a tuk-tuk together. If you know you’re having a late one, then go out with minimal valuables and just enough cash.
If you go to Playa del Amor for the day, or are staying there, note we were strongly advised not walk very far beyond the single dusty street which has all the hostels (i.e in the direction as you walk away from Mancora) as there have been muggings by a few people there. This isn’t anything to worry about, just don’t go for a spontaneous walk more than a couple of minutes in that direction!
Useful Things to Know Before You Visit Mancora
| There are several cash machines in Mancora, but not all are created equal. In fact, the only one that won’t charge for withdrawals is BCP. Whilst we were there the cash machines stopped working and we were forced to use the Globalnet ATM by the supermarket which charges 19 soles withdrawal fee and 400 soles withdrawal limit meant that we were very glad when the other one got fixed!
| When the sun goes down, the mozzies come out. Seriously. Without repellent, we both got bitten loads - we use and recommend Incognito which is all-natural, DEET-free, and actually works.
| Tuk-tuks are the best way to zip around Mancora, and these will be your best mode of transport to / from the bus station too. They can fit all your bags in, and journeys during the day usually cost 3 soles (but from the bus station to your hostel it may be 5 soles).
| This is a popular spot for Christmas, but goes crazy for New Year. If you’re planning on visiting for either, we’d recommend booking weeks in advance.
| As you might expect, it’s definitely not safe to drink the water in Mancora. You should invest in a travel filter water bottle for Peru.
| There is wifi in pretty much every hotel, hostel and eatery in town but it is probably some of the worst we encountered in the country. Good enough to get basic internet tasks done, but you’ll likely struggle with streaming movie, for example.
| You may be wondering why we haven’t mentioned the mud baths as a thing to do here? The truth is, we looked into, but they really didn’t seem that good. If anyone who has visited them would like to vouch for the experience, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.
| Suncream is pretty pricey in Mancora, so we’d recommend stocking up before you get here.
Transport options to and from Mancora
Like a number of destinations in Peru, Mancora doesn’t have a central bus station but rather companies have their own offices and pick-up points - and these are all located along the main road road. For buses heading to the rest of Peru, you will likely find an office for whichever company you would like to take; for those planning on heading north and crossing the border Ecuador, you’ll almost certainly have to use a travel agent, like us.
Bus from Mancora to Trujillo or Piura
Although there are a few attractions in the very north of Peru (we’re still annoyed at not having being able to make it to the Kuelap region), for most people in Mancora the next logical stop on the road is Trujillo, and Peru’s other popular beach town, Huanchaco.
Buses leave frequently throughout the day, and cost between 40 soles and 75 soles depending on company and standard of bus. Do note that the company at the cheaper end of the scale - Transportes Primavera - doesn’t have terribly good ratings, and as it’s a 10 hour bus ride, you may want to stump up some extra cash for one of the better lines such as Oltursa or Ittsabus. Note that the it’s best to do this journey overnight.
There are also buses that go direct to Lima, although why you’d want to cover this much ground in one day is a little beyond us.
Bus from Cuenca to Mancora
This is a super common border crossing between Peru and Ecuador, so despite it being done at night, it’s very straightforward. We’ve actually written a post for this border crossing at the Aguas Verde border, so head on over there for all the details on buses, times, route, and cost.