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Since at least 1700 BC, the coasts to the west of Piura have been premier fishing grounds. The Tallán lived here, and later the Chimú. 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 “just desolate desert.” 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 Simón Bolívar, Generala Manuela Sáenz (the Liberator’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 paiteño 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.

The palm tree-lined MalecĂłn Almirante Miguel Grau and Playa El Toril along Mar de Grau are favorite strolling places for families and lovers. Stop at the tourism office at the new pier for more information (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Anexo 205. Tel: 211-043, E-mail:, URL: /

Have lunch next door to the office at Restaurante El Grifo (Jr. Los Cáramo s/n. Tel: 211-404, E-mail: Lunch special Monday-Friday: $ 2.35; daily à la carte: $5-18). Tourism Week is the last part of March. Lodging in Paita is expensive yet poor in quality. The best lodging choices seems to be Hostal Miramar, an old red mansion on the seafront (Av. Jorge Chávez. Tel: 611-083. Single $13.35, Double $17.).

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).

Colán, 15 kilometers (9 mi) to the north, has long been one of northern Peru’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 Colán. Tel: 674-008/692-712, E-mail: /, URL: 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 Doña Betty here about renting a house for as little as $100 per month in the low season. Restaurante-Hospedaje Los Cocos de Colán also has rooms and camping (Av. Costanera s/n. Tel: 660-607/661-464). Ask Secundino Ruiz of Restaurent-Hospedaje San Felipe, Paita’s tourism office representative, about other safe places to camp.

Colán’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 Apóstol, 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 isn’t too rough), you can walk along the coast to the next beach, Los Cangrejos. With a bit of luck, you’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)

(Colán: Population: 13,000, Altitude, village: 45 m/146 ft, Phone Code: 073)

(Yacila: Population: 800, Altitude: approx. 5 m/16 ft, Phone Code: 073)


Other places nearby Paita : Lambayeque, Huancabamba, Trujillo, Cabo Blanco, Tumbes, Máncora, Ferreñafe, Piura, Caral and Catacaos.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

23 Apr 2012

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