Tumbes, Peru

Photo by: Kyle Wehrend

Orientation

The tiny department of Tumbes, the northern pinky finger of the ten coastal departments of Peru, holds the unenviable honor of being Pizarro’s impetus for invading Peru. Originally an Incan town before the arrival of the conquistadors, Pizarro spotted Tumbes from his ship and sent two men ashore to investigate. The men reported a well-organized society apparently lavish with riches. Based on their account, Pizarro decided to return to Peru several years later to begin his conquest.

Aside from this unfortunate series of events, Tumbes typically receives a bum rap in terms of tourist appeal, often written off as little more than a blip on the radar for tourists on their way north to Ecuador or on their way to the southern road más traveled. While not necessarily worth making a special trip for, anyone willing to give Tumbes a chance will be rewarded with a bevy of more laid-back, unusual tourist options. There’s the pricey, but scenic beach resort town of Punto Sal, the tranquilo fishing town of Zorritos, with its long, beautiful stretches of beaches and proximity to natural hot mud baths, the crocodile reserve and mangrove forests close to the town of Puerto Pizarro, or the multiple inland national parks and reserves which all serve to make Tumbes a great place to do some more relaxed adventuring before setting off for more involved travel.

Activities

(About Prices: Many Tumbes tour operators go to a mix of the places mentioned below. Read up here, talk to the operator, and pick a tour with activities that work for you to determine your price. For example, going to the Crocodile Sanctuary and the Isla de los Pájaros and the mangrove tour near it should cost S/.40.)

Tumbes, Peru

Puerto Pizarro
Photo by: Kyle Wehrend

Puerto Pizarro

Many locals here offer boat tours along the beautiful pacific coast. Don’t be afraid to shop around as you will have plenty of options. There isn’t exactly a market price, but you can expect to pay about S/.40 for a smaller group and less for a larger one. After your tour, the town of Puerto Pizarro itself is quaint and tranquilo enough to warrant a short stroll.

How to Get There: From the market in Tumbes, you will have to ask around for where the combis to Puerto Pizarro (S./ 1-2) park (they’re right by the market, but easiest just to ask people “combi, Puerto Pizarro?” There are also several collectivo taxis (s./ 5) marked by signs on Bolivar. The collectivos’ last stop is in Puerto Pizarro, where all of the tour agencies are.

Tumbes, Peru

Zoocriadero de Cocodrilos
Photo by: Kyle Wehrend

Crocodile Sanctuary (Zoocriadero de Cocodrilos)

This tiny reserve is situated inside the mangrove forest and has somewhere around 270 crocodiles in captivity. They vary in size from baby to gigantic. The majority of them just lay around and don’t move, but some of them can get pretty feisty with each other over the best shady spot. Regardless, it’s pretty unusual and impressive getting to see so many crocodiles in one place.

Tumbes, Peru

Isla de los Pajaros
Photo by: Kyle Wehrend

Isla de los Pájaros

Appropriately named (‘Bird Island’), this island is constantly surrounded and inhabited by large flocks of birds and boasts incredible diversity. Around the Isla, you can also wrangle yourself a boat tour of the mangrove forest and past La Isla del Amor, a rundown old sandbar with many ceviche restaurants and fishermen pulling Tumbes’s famous conchas negras (‘black shells’) from the nearby swamp muck.

Tumbes City

While the city itself has little to offer in terms of tourist attractions, it is an interesting place to walk around a bit to look at the beautifully colored tile artwork. The Plaza de Armas is particularly impressive. There’s a nice walkway along the river, too, and a market with some strange offerings, including tiny monkeys.

Hey! Note that Tumbes City is also famously dangerous at night, so don’t go there at night. We recommend staying somewhere on the beach outside of the city (look below for our top recommendation).

The Special Sauce

Tumbes, Peru

Baños Termales de Barro de Hervideros
Photo by: Kyle Wehrend

Baños Termales de Barro de Hervideros (Thermal Mud Baths)

Located about 30 minutes by mototaxi inland from Zorritos (basically in the middle of nowhere), these mud baths are a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. There are three mud baths of varying depths and heat. The first one on the right is the deepest and hottest while the other two are really shallow and cooler. It can be kind of disgusting at first because the mud is pretty thick, but if you just let yourself get into it, it’s actually really relaxing.

How to Get There: In order to get there, you will have to contract a mototaxi from Zorritos (try to get your hotel to help get a trustworthy one, but still could cost S./ 30-40 because he will have to wait while you are hanging out in the baths). The baths themselves are free, but the water to clean yourself off costs S./ 4-5 (at least you get to use warm thermal water to wash all the muck off of yourself).

Lodging Options

Tumbes, Peru

Zoocriadero de Cocodrilos
Photo by: Kyle Wehrend

Grillo Tres Puntas Eco-Hostel

The whole hostel is constructed from natural materials, many of which the owner recovered washed up on the beach. Everything is recycled, even the bathroom water. The entire atmosphere of the place is so chill, it just makes for a perfect beach getaway spot. The beach here is awesome and usually deserted. You can hang out all day on the beach, relax in one of the many hammocks, there’s free firewood for making fires on the beach, and if you stay up late enough at night (3-4 AM) you’ll get a chance to catch some bioluminescence in the water. The owner’s a super chill Spanish guy. He sells cold beer and drinks and makes some pretty baller food. You can also use the kitchen for a small fee if you arrange it with him ahead of time. Also, talk with the owner about arranging a mototaxi to take you to the mud baths. He knows some of the local mototaxi drivers.

Prices: Single is S/. 35, double and matrimonial S/. 44, triple S/. 66 and quad S/. 88

The prices vary depending on the season, so it’s best to contact ahead of time. There’s also the option for camping on the beach for less.

How to Get There: Let your bus or minivan driver know ahead of time that you’re getting off just before Zorritos at Tres Puntas (kilometer 1235).

Website: http://casagrillo.net/

Dining Options

El Brujo

A chain restaurant in Máncora, Zorritos and Tumbes, this restaurant serves higher end delicious seafood dishes specializing in northern Peru and Tumbes cuisine. The ceviche mixto is incredible and gives you a chance to try the famous Tumbes conchas negras, but the best item on the menu by FAR is the majarisco. Expect to pay something in neighborhood of $20 (dollars, not soles) – but absolutely do it. It really is the best ceviche in Peru, which is the ceviche capital of the world.

Website: http://www.restaurantelbrujo.com/

How to Get to Tumbes

Tumbes, Peru

Mangrove Boat Tour
Photo by: Kyle Wehrend

To get to Tumbes from Piura, there’re a couple of options. Buses leave throughout the day from block 11 of Sanchez Cerro. El Dorado has buses for Tumbes every two hours (S./ 15, 5 hours) and Transportes Chiclayo has at least one bus to Tumbes in the morning. There are also colectivo minivans (S/. 25, 3.5 – 4 hours) that go to Tumbes and that leave as soon as they fill up. Taking one of these can cut off an hour of travel time, but only because they drive recklessly fast. They can be found alongside the Linea bus station on Sanchez Cerro.
In order to get to Punta Sal or Zorritos, take any of the above options and let the bus driver or minivan driver know you’re getting off at Punta Sal or Zorritos.

Map

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Tumbes

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Tumbes -3.566667, -80.450000 Tumbes typically receives a bum rap in terms of tourist appeal, often written off as little more than a blip on the radar for tourists on their way north to Ecuador or on their way to the southern road más traveled. While not necessarily worth making a special trip for, anyone willing to give Tumbes a chance will be rewarded with a bevy of more laid-back, yet unique tourist options. There’s the pricey, yet scenic beach resort town of Punto Sal, the tranquilo fishing town of Zorritos, with its long, beautiful stretches of beaches and proximity to natural hot mud baths, the crocodile reserve and mangrove forests close to the town of Puerto Pizarro, or the multiple inland national parks and reserves which all serve to make Tumbes a great place to do some more relaxed adventuring before setting off for more involved travel.