Natalie Nanowski ex­plores Mán­cora–a sleepy Peru­vian beach town now mak­ing waves among the jet set.

ELLE (Canada) - - Lifestyle -

I PAD­DLE HARD and catch a five-foot wave. The only prob­lem: I’m rid­ing it crouch­ing down, oc­ca­sion­ally cling­ing to my board for dear life. Then I bail hard, scrap­ing my foot on a rock. Okay, so I’m no Kate Bos­worth in Blue Crush. But af­ter plan­ning my last six va­ca­tions around surf­ing, I’m def­i­nitely im­prov­ing, so I still feel con­tent and ac­com­plished as I wade out of the water to where my boyfriend, Sean, has laid out our white beach tow­els. I re­cline be­side him on the sand and dream­ily watch the pro wave-riders catch­ing the last of h

the sun­set ses­sion. And to think I went from trekking through the cold An­des to sun­ning my­self on one of Peru’s end­less beaches in un­der two hours.

Con­fused? Many peo­ple are when I tell them about Mán­cora since, for most trav­ellers, Peru is syn­ony­mous with Machu Pic­chu. But I’m a water baby, so even though the city in the clouds had long topped my bucket list, I couldn’t bring my­self to fly south solely to hike the Inca Trail. You can imag­ine my ela­tion when I dis­cov­ered Mán­cora, a once-sleepy fish­ing vil­lage be­low the equa­tor that has turned into a trop­i­cal haven with a luxe hip­pie edge, with ev­ery­thing from stylish restau­rants to bou­tique well­ness cen­tres to rick­ety bars that moon­light as clubs.

In the 1950s, Mán­cora was a glam­orous get­away where Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, Paul New­man and John Wayne would sip pisco sours—Peru’s na­tional cock­tail, made with a heady brandy—and dance by the pool of the nearby Cabo Blanco Fish­ing Club (the very place where, leg­end has it, Ernest Hem­ing­way man­aged to pull a 300-kilo­gram mar­lin from the Pa­cific). To­day, the club is crum­bling on its sandy perch, a ro­man­tic relic of an It des­ti­na­tion that is now hav­ing a second act, thanks (in part) to hav­ing one of the world’s long­est waves. And with the surf crowd come the tourists and the dol­lars. Mán­cora is on the cusp of “hot”—think Bali or Thai­land 20 years back. My foot is still sore af­ter my bumpy ride, so I re­tire my surf­board and put on strappy sandals for din­ner. The town’s main street is over­flow­ing with buskers and ven­dors; be­tween jug­gling knives and grilling corn, they greet us with a re­laxed bien­venido. Sean’s kryp­tonite is street meat, so he drags me to var­i­ous bar­be­cue stalls. (They are ev­ery­where.) I pre­fer

my meal on a plate paired with a cock­tail, and ev­ery smil­ing face points us to La Sirena d’Juan. It’s the only res­tau­rant in town where you need a reser­va­tion, but Sean’s Aus­tralian accent wins the host over and we snag a ta­ble on the quaint second-floor ter­race. The menu is Peru­vianAsian fu­sion, and chef Juan’s take on ce­viche—served with sweet potato and gi­ant corn—is de­li­cious, es­pe­cially when washed down with a pas­sion-fruit pisco sour.

At night, rev­ellers at Mán­cora’s dozen bars spill out onto the sand. As much as I love danc­ing un­der the moon, wak­ing up to techno isn’t my jam. So we opted to stay a 15-minute tuk-tuk ride away from the ac­tion at KiChic, a bou­tique well­ness ho­tel with nine suites, a yoga stu­dio over­look­ing the ocean and a veg­e­tar­ian res­tau­rant that uses only lo­cal in­gre­di­ents. The hote­lier, Peru­vian Cristina Gallo, used fur­ni­ture and art she collected dur­ing her trav­els to turn her home and man­i­cured gar­den into an el­e­gant and airy re­treat that’s in­spired by the Ja­pa­nese word ki, which means “energy.”

Over our morn­ing smoothie bowls the next day, we meet Gon­zalo, who runs Ocean­ica, a ma­rine-ex­cur­sion com­pany. Although there are plenty of boats of­fer­ing snorkelling day trips, Gon­zalo’s is one of the orig­i­nals and his niece is a ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist, so they know the water well and pride them­selves on en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion. When he of­fers to take us out to see hump­back whales, dol­phins and sea turtles, it’s an ob­vi­ous yes. Twenty min­utes and one beer (for us) into the ride, Gon­zalo an­chors and urges us to jump in. Be­fore long, we’re sur­rounded by sea turtles. (Fish­er­men have been toss­ing chum into the ocean for decades, at­tract­ing these gen­tle crea­tures.) One swims up to me, giv­ing me a quick once-over be­fore play­fully nudg­ing me with its fin. They’re just as cu­ri­ous and ea­ger to swim to­gether as we are, so we do. I may not have tack­led a bar­rel wave, but right now that doesn’t mat­ter in the slight­est. n

The pool at bou­tique ho­tel KiChic

Clock­wise, from left: A beach in Mán­cora; your ride—and your com­pany—on a snorkelling day trip; the main beach

The lounge at KiChic; (be­low, right) a dish at the ho­tel, made with lo­cal in­gre­di­ents

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