I’ve been behind schedule with my blog posts lately, but I really wanted to get this Mancora one immediately done with and out of the way. Why? Because it was a segment of our trip that I would like to purge from my brain forever. I need some closure on that place so I decided to write about it quickly and then try to forget it for good. Hopefully one day many years from now when someone asks me if I ever made it to this most famous of Peruvian beach cities I will merely respond with a look of puzzlement because I’ve blocked it from memory.
You might find it hard to believe that we hated it so much, especially when you see the pictures of this beach.
It really was an amazingly beautiful beach.
When you mention “Mancora” to any Peruvians or Ecuadorians within 1000 miles of this place, without exception they stop and get a dreamy look in their eyes and say something like, “It’s soooo beautiful there!” or “I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go there!” or “I went there once when I was a kid and it was WONDERFUL!”. Even the Peruvian President’s daughter got married here last year because it is, obviously, the place to be.
And that was how we ended up deciding to find a rental there, even though it was 8 hours from the nearest big Ecuadorian city (Cuenca) and a mind boggling 17 hours from Lima! We kept reading the reviews of the beach and saw the expensive resorts and hotels that were advertised and decided that it must be really something worth visiting. Luckily (in hindsight), it was ridiculously expensive to book an Airbnb apartment rental there, so after finding a rustic “bungalow” just barely in our price range we decided to only stay for a little over one week ( that’s a much shorter stay that our usual routine of booking apartments for one month).
I should mention here that we are definitely a family of “city people”. We like big, bustling places with attractive architecture, lots of restaurant choices, museums and parks, and nice sidewalks. Of course, like anyone, we also enjoy the occasional trip out to the boonies to commune with nature and we thought that a week at the beach in a resort town would fit the bill for us. A little bit of nature with just enough city attached. We are not “campers”. Not. At. All. And yes, I recognize that for most of the world that admission just took me down a few notches on the cool scale.
Perhaps the types of lodging available should have been a clue. I should have realized that Mancora exists for only two kinds of travelers – young backpacker types who like cheap bars and hostels right on the beach, loud night clubs and two-for-one drink specials, and very rich Peruvians from Lima who bring along their own nannies and stay in $400 a night resorts. That there was literally only one listing that we weren’t afraid to take our kids to and that we could afford should have been a red flag. We are a family of budget travelers who like to explore, talk to locals and eat authentic (but inexpensive) food.
Mancora was not for us.
The town of Mancora itself was a one street affair – one very crowded street that is prone to terrific traffic jams day and night. The Pan American highway ran right through the middle of town, ensuring a constant stream of giant long-distance buses with all of their billowing exhaust fumes. There were also hordes of tourists from Lima in their cars, and what felt like billions of little “moto-taxis” driven by the locals. This is what the main street of Mancora looked like most of the time.
During the sleepy siesta times, it looked like this.
Moto-taxis appeared immediately after crossing the Peruvian border, and seemed to be the vehicle of choice in all of the dusty desert towns of the north. There were literally no other types of taxis available in Mancora. As a side note, I would just like to point out that if the mom I am now after 5 months on this trip through Central and South America could have told the super-paranoid, safety conscious mom that I was right before we left that we were going to be spending a week in a place where the only form of transport available was a motorcycle chopped in half with a bench seat attached, that mom would have been horrified. But yes, we have graduated from the best carseats that money could buy, to no car seats, to no seat belts available, to bench seats on motorcycles. Life is full of surprises and travel really does change your perspective on things.
Mancora was basically a fishing town with a tourist problem. It had a long pier surrounded by fishing boats with a fish-processing center attached. Early every morning you could watch a great variety of fishing boats leave the pier and head out into the ocean. Most were small, simple boats, speaking to the humble living situation of the town’s residents. Mid-morning, the boats would head back in dragging their heavy nets, followed by flocks of hungry pelicans. Trucks filled with ice backed up to the pier to collect the day’s haul.
We snuck out onto this pier one day to take some pictures. Visitors are definitely not encouraged judging from the dirty looks we got, but it was really our one glance into the heart of Mancora before it was apparently taken over by pushy tourists and backpackers.
Our bungalow? Well, the hostess was generous and friendly and our kids absolutely fell in love with her because she would bring them little treats and presents and things, so I can’t bring myself to say anything bad about it. It was definitely a little too rustic for our tastes, but I am sure that people who are more into camping than us would have absolutely loved it. And the view was unbeatable.
We are travelers on a budget, yes, but I have to admit that there are some “luxuries” I have taken for granted until this trip. Like, I never thought I would have a “washing machine” that looked like this –
The worst thing about staying at the beach is how much sand gets into everything. Your hair, your sheets, your food. We spent roughly 50% of our time here trying to sweep and shake the sand out of everything. I am still, days later, finding sand in our clothes.
The portion of the beach we were staying on was billed as the quiet portion far from the madness that was the “downtown” beach. At one point in my life, I would have loved a $5 hostel bed in a place next to a tiki bar with “sex on the beach” specials for $1. But alas, that life is past, and now I am the one grumpily looking out the window at tourists having too much fun at 10pm.
No, our beach was the one that the rich and famous from Lima went to. Our beach was filled with nannies wearing all white shepherding flocks of children in expensive bathing suits, body guards walking with people we didn’t recognize, and cooks stepping out to announce that lunch was ready on the terrace. No one talked to us, because, well, we didn’t exactly fit in. I was still wearing that bathing suit from last year when I hadn’t lost all of the baby weight, but I didn’t want to spend the money on a new one since we were going to be traveling and not spending much time at the ocean. And my husband loved to wear his old t-shirts to the beach, the ones with holes and bleach stains and frayed edges, because hey – it’s the beach!! Who were we trying to impress anyway?
Luckily no one, because no one was impressed.
Once we took a look at the pier, and visited the “main beach” just to cross it off of the list, and went for a nice long walk along the beach everyday with the kids playing in the water and collecting shells, we were bored.
We tried a couple of restaurants, but they were predictably very expensive and not exactly delicious. We stared at the lovely view for hours, and went slightly crazy.
The “grocery stores” in town were terrible. Produce was hard to come by, I suppose, because we were in the middle of a desert. Canned foods were surprisingly expensive since they were shipped all the way into the boonies. We resorted to cooking things like ramen noodles at home and eating lots of mandarin oranges, so the food aspect was definitely not enjoyable.
Getting into town was difficult. We had our own moto-taxi driver whose name was Pancho.
He worked for our host doing odd jobs around the house and he brought us fresh bread every morning for $1, but his real job was driving a moto-taxi all day. So we would call him to pick us up and about 25 minutes later he would arrive. It cost roughly $1.50 to ride into town, and the one time we took a moto-taxi that wasn’t Pancho, the guy charged us 3x the going rate, so we always called Pancho.
Moto-taxis were fun and quirky for about 10 minutes, then, your ass hurt from all of the bouncing up and down on the hard bench seat, the fumes from the engine seem directed right at you, and the noise was loud enough to prevent any talking at all. My daughter, usually the one who can find something good in anything, announced after one day that she hated moto-taxis and vowed that once she left Mancora she would never ride in another one again!
We are pretty easygoing travelers. We can put up with bad food, uncomfortable lodging, and unglamorous towns. We generally find something to like even in the places that most people hate. However, there was nothing redeeming about Mancora. Especially not the local residents.
The people in the town were, hands down, the most miserable, unfriendly, outright hostile people I have met in 5 months of travel. After a couple of visits into town to buy supplies, eat and look around, we realized what was up and worked hard to avoid having contact with anyone except Pancho and our host.
When we went into stores, cashiers would ignore us. One memorable cashier pointedly refused to look at us even though we stood directly in front of her and asked a question. We came to refer to that store as the “grumpy lady store” and unfortunately, because it was basically the only show in town we had to go back! Yes – she was that grouchy every time! When we sat down at restaurants, waiters would avoid us until we actually got up and requested service. It wasn’t just us receiving this disdain, as I saw other Peruvians and backpackers being treated the same way. The whole entire town seemed to be in a crappy mood.
I get it, sort of. The residents were mostly quite poor. They lived in a place that is out in the middle of nowhere and the existence was hard. Most of the residents, like Pancho, seemed to work at multiple jobs just to scrape by.
They depended on tourists, and yet couldn’t seem to stand them. I could see that it was terrible to live in abject poverty and have to put up with rich families from Lima who talked down to you, or foreign backpackers who couldn’t speak to you in your language. I understood that it was terrible to live someplace that was so isolated.
But frankly, I just wanted to get out of there and as far away as possible.
In spite of the beautiful beach, we were all bored, depressed, anxious and grouchy, and each day seemed to get worse and worse. Our days there passed more slowly than I ever thought possible.
I never thought I would say that I was “excited” to get on a bus and spend the next 17 hours driving through a desert to get to a city of 8.5 million people, but when our bus to Lima pulled into the station in Mancora, I was ready and waiting for it!
I am sure better things are ahead of us in Peru. Cross your fingers!