Mancora has long been known as the most desirable tourist destination on the far north coast of Peru; a small surfing town, which has over the years evolved as a popular spot thanks to the Peruvians, foreigners, and surfers that have it made it their home.
Mancora offers what many small towns in the north haven’t managed to achieve yet – good quality food covering both Peruvian and international cuisine, basic everyday necessities that are essential to tourists and those that are luxuries – plenty of ATMs, supermarkets, pharmacies, markets to purchase local clothes and artesanias, restaurants with Happy Hours galore and tour agencies everywhere you turn.
Living so close to Mancora I’ve often dismissed it in the same way locals in my small town do; it’s too touristy, too expensive thanks to all the tourist traps and not really worth my time. I’d become accustomed to making a trip once every few months, often on a special occasion, to eat at one of the best restaurants the north has to offer and then head back home the same night. This all changed in a recent trip I made with my family; with my Mum and sister visiting from Australia it became apparent very quickly that despite Zorritos’ simple charms it just isn’t designed to cater for discerning tourists and foreigners who need life’s creature comforts close at hand. So here are some of the special things we discovered in Mancora.
La Sirena de Juan
Peru is all about food and Mancora is all about La Sirena de Juan. La Sirena de Juan has the reputation for being one of the best restaurants on the northern coast and deservedly so. Basing its menu in fresh, local ingredients, particularly tuna, it offers a gourmet twist on traditional Peruvian and international dishes. The stand out dishes are the tiradito nikkei, a unique interpretation of the Peruvian classic using super thin slices of fresh tuna, sesame oil, soy sauce, fresh chilli and accompanied with glazed sweet potato, you will be controlling yourself not to lick the plate. The grilled octopus served with lentils is to die for and everything that octopus should be; fresh enough that it smoothly melts in your mouth with a surprisingly rich flavor. For a main dish the lightly grilled tuna steak served with polenta and porcini mushrooms is an absolute delight and for something a little more Italian the osso buco is also delicious. If you have room for dessert their nutella mousse and apple crumble are really good. The only thing letting La Sirena de Juan down is their wine list, offering over-priced very ordinary Chilean and Argentinean wines. So it is worth paying the corkage (S/30 per bottle) and buying a great drop such as the Chilean Cousiño Macul Carménère for S/35 at the bottle shop across the road, a wine that deserves to be shared with such wonderful food.
Tucked away behind giant bougainvillea bushes on the main street opposite the artesania market, it can be easy to miss La Bajadita. However once it is discovered you’ll be asking yourself why you weren’t there every day. Food is varied from the standard Peruvian dishes to sandwiches, salads and pastas and the variety of dishes we tried were all well prepared and above average, however what really stands out are the desserts. All of them are lovingly homemade and reasonably priced offering everything from carrot cake to a variety of cheesecakes, brownies and pecan pie. Highly recommended with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
One of the first hotels established in Mancora, Punta Ballenas is bit of a local icon. Although it has more of a hostel than a hotel feel, Punta Ballenas offers comfortable accommodation right on the ocean. The dining room and family bungalow are literally on the water and over breakfast you can enjoy watching the surfers catch the breaks and feel the salt from the ocean on your cheek. A great spot for families due to its pool and the quiet beach to the left of the property, it is close enough to town that you can walk into the centre but far enough away that you can find peace and tranquility.
Taking a tour to El Nuro beach to swim with the giant turtles is a must when you’re in Mancora. As touristy and predictable of a thing to do it really is a special experience and Iguana Tours were worth paying S/70 per person. The tour included a full half an hour in the water swimming with the surprisingly friendly turtles, goggles and a mask to dive with, videos and photos of your experience topped off with a thrilling spin out on the water in a big yellow dinghy.
On Mancora’s main beach in between the sprukers, surfers and backpackers you’ll always find horses for a romantic horseback ride along the beach. Prices vary from S/10 for 20 minutes to S/15 for half an hour so make you negotiate first and keep your eye on your watch. My son was so enthralled by the experience that he insisted on being bought a señor-style hat and going for a ride every afternoon which was quite a special experience.
Mancora is touristy and occasionally a little superficial due to its touristic nature, however it is also filled with hidden delights and can be a lovely spot for a get away.
About the author: Ellie Ryan is an Aussie expat working and living in Peru. She is the Founder of TEFL Zorritos, a TEFL training institute which trains people to become English language teachers and places them in positions in Peru and abroad. She is also the Founder of TEFL Zorritos English Institute, the first ever English institute in the small northern town of Zorritos.