Since at least 1700 BC, the coasts to the west of Piura have been premier fishing grounds. The TallĂˇn lived here, and later the ChimĂş. On March 30, 1532, Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro established San Francisco de Payta de Buena Esperanza in the main bay of the region. Payta, or Paita (as it is spelled today), is derived from Quechua and means â€śjust desolate desert.â€ť It was an important Spanish port. However, with time, it lost its place to the city of Callao, further south. Once more, though, Paita is booming. It is the major port for the Interoceanic Highway, a continental project that creates a river and road shipping route from the Pacific to Atlantic.
After the Wars of Independence and the death of SimĂłn BolĂvar, Generala Manuela SĂˇenz (the Liberatorâ€™s confidante) settled here in exile. She made a living by embroidering and making sweets. Her house still stands; there are hopes to make it into a museum (Jr. Nuevo del Pozo 390). Another famous face, Pacific War hero Miguel Grau, was a paiteĂ±o by birth.
There are still a handful of colonial buildings that bedeck the labyrinth of streets, such as the Iglesia de la Merced, the old Customs building and the Club Liberal. Museo Elba Aranda de Sarango has archaeological, paleontological and historical exhibits.
Fishing continues to play a major role in the economy of Paita and its neighboring coastal villages. But beyond this veneer are kilometers-long grey sand beaches with great birdwatching (including the Humboldt penguin) and sea lion colonies. Paita is the hub from which to visit these other hamlets. Local fishermen offer half-hour tours of the bay and sea lion colonies ($0.80 per person).
ColĂˇn, 15 kilometers (9 mi) to the north, has long been one of northern Peruâ€™s great balnearios. In recent years, it has been rebuilt, with several expensive hotels like Sunset Bay Hotel (Ala Sur, Playa La Esmeralda, 3 km/1.8 mi south of ColĂˇn. Tel: 674-008/692-712, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com, URL: www.sunsetbay-colan.com. Low season $80-120, high season $150-240). Budget travelers are not left out, though. In the low season, basic hotels like Hospedaje-Restaurant Frente al Mar have rooms for as little as $7.50 per night (Av. Costanera s/n. Tel: 703-117, Cel: 969-666-914); ask DoĂ±a Betty here about renting a house for as little as $100 per month in the low season. Restaurante-Hospedaje Los Cocos de ColĂˇn also has rooms and camping (Av. Costanera s/n. Tel: 660-607/661-464). Ask Secundino Ruiz of Restaurent-Hospedaje San Felipe, Paitaâ€™s tourism office representative, about other safe places to camp.
ColĂˇnâ€™s Playa Esmeraldas stretches five kilometers (3 mi). Beware of rayas (rays) if swimming. At the southern end, fossil-rich bluffs meet the sea. Oystercatchers, several species of gull, Whimbrels, pelicans, frigate birds and Blue-footed Boobies are frequent visitors. The patron saint, Santiago ApĂłstol, is honored July 17-27 with traditional dances and other activities.
To the south of Paita are more-pristine beaches. Yacila is a fishing village on a small, rocky cove (17 km/10 mi away). When the boats come in with their harvest of fish and pota (giant squid), the pelicans, man-of-war birds and sea lions come in for the castoffs. As well as modern wooden boats, men here still use balsillos, traditional rafts made of five logs. Some travelers boogie board here. But everyone stops to watch the spectacular sunsets. There are two inns, with rooms costing $7-10 per person.
When the tide is out (and if the sea isnâ€™t too rough), you can walk along the coast to the next beach, Los Cangrejos. With a bit of luck, youâ€™ll spot Humboldt penguins living in caves worn into the rock cliffs. Otherwise, take the inland road (2 km/1.2 mi). Los Cangrejos is busy in the summer, but the rest of the year the only hotel is boarded up and sand forms dunes around vacation cottages. The many kilometers of strand afford great beach combing and observation of birds and tidal pools. If you come in the off-season, ask around about renting a room from one of the dozen resident families or about camping.
Off-shore is Isla Foca, easiest reached from La Islilla hamlet, 22 kilometers (13 mi) south of Paita. A ride around the island to see its sea lion, guanero bird and penguin colonies costs about $10 per boat. Other southern beaches are La Laguna, Hermosa, Gramitas, TĂ© para Dos and Las Gaviotas. These are very isolated during the low season; ask locally about safety. Playa Tortuga has a tourism officer who can orientate you to lodging and camping sites.
In many villages, Fiesta de San Pedro y San Pablo is a very large affair. From June 28-30, these patron saints of fishermen are feted with dances, maritime processions with San Pedro, regattas and masses. The summer months (mid-December through March) draw many vacationers, with prices rising sharply.
(Paita: Population: 87,500, Altitude: 3 m/10 ft, Phone Code: 073)
(ColĂˇn: Population: 13,000, Altitude, village: 45 m/146 ft, Phone Code: 073)
(Yacila: Population: 800, Altitude: approx. 5 m/16 ft, Phone Code: 073)
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