By John Forrest
Beaches all along the Peruvian coast come alive as dormant condominiums, restaurants, clubs and shopping centres reopen. The renewed activity starts at New Year and runs through to April. Peruvians, as with most residents of the southern hemisphere, take their main annual holiday in the first three months of the year, if they can. For many, this means spending a week, or two, at the sun-drenched coast where growing affluence from the mining boom is bringing about radical changes.
The wealthiest Limeño families, who can usually trace their lineage back to Spain, decamp to luxurious, gated developments with private beaches stretching along 30 kilometres to the south of Lima. While mothers and children enjoy several weeks at the beach, fathers remain working in Lima and visit at the weekend. Many families bring their housekeeper, who is usually of Andean origin and may have been with the family for years. Housekeepers will cook, clean and help look after the children, and some are still expected to wear a white uniform on the beach, making them easily recognisable.
The slightly less affluent, are increasingly investing in second homes overlooking the ocean between these developments. Here, the beaches are patrolled and restrictions applied on partying. However, you can safely park your car, hire deck chairs and sun shades, and they are kept clean. After spending time on the beach, holidaymakers return home for an evening of cocktails and barbecue.
You may find yourself invited if you have become a close family friend. On such occasions you are their guest and they expect to host you – though a thoughtful gift such as a quality bottle of wine or spirits is always welcome.
Elsewhere on the coast, where the beaches are open to all, families of humbler backgrounds will visit. In these parts, facilities are much more basic and the cleanliness variable. Once families have departed, a young crowd may remain into the evening to party with music blasting out of their car stereos, and plenty of beer to go around.
The baking midday sun means that beaches are busier in the afternoon. Most Peruvian beachgoers are happy to sit and relax, chatting and sunbathing. Topless sunbathing is frowned upon and will likely attract unwanted attention in this traditionally Catholic country. While they may not be great swimmers, some residents may accompany you for a short dip – but ensure someone remains to watch any valuables. Local beach vendors wander up and down the shoreline all day selling everything from ice-creams and empanadas (cheese or meat filled pasties), to beach hats, sun shades and even shell jewellery. In general, they are out to make an honest living, but if you consider buying from them always negotiate the price.
In many bays from sunrise to sunset, the sea is dotted with bobbing black specks a couple of hundred metres out. Surfing is very popular even if the waves are not always especially challenging and a wet suit is required all year round. Beach volleyball is also a common sight in the late afternoons, especially amongst women. You may even find yourself invited to join in for a game on their imaginary court. Boat trips to offshore islands offer a chance to see the wealth of marine life, and deep-sea fishing makes for an exciting excursion.
Most of the larger beaches will have several pop-up restaurants serving delicious, fresh ceviche. The most typical is made from raw fish marinated in lemon juice but variants also include ceviche de erizo – sea urchin. If that isn’t to your taste, you may prefer a tortilla de raya (ray/skate omelette). Large family groups often bring huge pans of home cooked food rather than a simple picnic.
In the far north, where the best all year-round beaches are located, our personal favourite is Punta Sal. We love to lie in hammocks at a beach bar with a pisco sour or chilcano cocktail at sunset, watching whales leap out of the ocean a couple of kilometres out to sea. The combination of tranquil waves and lush tropical surroundings makes Peru the perfect destination for a coastal holiday.
About the Author
John Forrest is a teacher and writer based in London. He first travelled to Peru in 1981, after graduating with a BA Comb.Hons in Geography and Statistics from Exeter University. He returned to Peru regularly to lead study tours and to research, write, and publish his own travel guide. He is a committee member of the Anglo-Peruvian Society and continues to visit Peru as Chairman of the Tambopata Reserve Society.
Culture Smart! Peru: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture
Page count: 168
Dimensions: 171 x 108 x 13mm
Published at: £6.95 / $9.95 / CAN $12.95