Mancora vs. Paracas: The Peruvian Beach Debate
Are you planning a trip to Peru and want to visit the beach? If you’ve done some research, you probably already know that Paracas and Mancora are among Peru’s most popular coastal destinations. But you might be wondering: Is Mancora or Paracas a better place to visit? I’ve been to both and will cover the key factors to keep in mind when comparing Mancora vs. Paracas.
First Things First: Peruvian Beach Life
With the entire west side of Peru bordering the coast, I don’t blame you if visions of quaint coastal towns, bikinis, and ordering margaritas on white sand beach bars come to mind.
Don’t get me wrong—these quintessential beach qualities exist in Peru.
However, they’re not the norm.
So, before you go spend money on a new bathing suit, make sure your reason for visiting a Peruvian beach is to bask in a little R&R side trip as part of a larger tour around the country versus heading to Peru specifically to beach bum it.
Long story short, Peru is not a beach destination. If the goal of your Peru trip is to lounge on pristine white beaches with calm, crystal clear water, you’ll be better off heading across the continent to Brazil or north to the Caribbean.
Peru is a country rich in geographical and cultural diversity. You won’t regret swapping some of your beach days for more time to explore other parts of the country.
Mancora vs. Paracas
After reading the above, you may be thinking I’m discouraging you from visiting the beach during your time in Peru. I’m not, promise! I just want to make sure you don’t arrive expecting a tropical paradise.
Paracas and Mancora offer completely different experiences. It isn’t fair to label one as “better” than the other since each has unique qualities that appeal to different interests.
We’ll be taking a look at the following points when comparing Mancora and Paracas:
Paracas is located south of Lima. The best way to get there is by driving or taking a bus, unless you hire a private plane to fly you to the Pisco airport.
Buses between Lima and Paracas are plentiful, most of which depart in the morning and early afternoon. Driving your own car to Paracas will take around 3.5 hours and the bus will take around 4 hours.
Occasionally, commercial airlines operate out of the Pisco airport. However, they’re notorious for canceling the route so I don’t recommend booking a ticket even if the option is available.
Mancora is located north of Lima, just below the Ecuadorian border. A plane ride from Lima will take under two hours and you have the option to fly into the Talara, Tumbes, or Piura airports. Talara is the closest airport to Mancora. Even so, be prepared for around a 1.5-hour taxi ride to get to the beach.
If you’re watching your budget, the Talara Airport offers shared taxi services that you can sign up for upon your arrival. The exact cost will depend on how many people end up sharing the ride.
If you decide to take the bus from Lima to Mancora, it’ll take you 19 – 20 hours.
Psst…Will you be heading to Machu Picchu? If so, head over to my post about ending the debate on whether it’s best to start your trip from Cusco or the Sacred Valley.
Landscapes: Finding Common Ground
Geography is where Paracas and Mancora share the most similarities. Both have dry landscapes.
You’ll encounter areas of irrigated gardens and palm trees that wouldn’t have grown there on their own. In both cases, the backdrops are hilly desert landscapes.
Mancora and Paracas’ landscapes are beautiful, but those expecting a lush, tropical environment will be disappointed.
Paracas is famous for having over 300 sunny days per year. Compare that to Lima’s approximately nine months of gloomy weather, and it’s easy to see why Paracas is commonly used as a mini-vacation getaway for Limeños.
Temperatures in Paracas are fairly consistent throughout the year. High temperatures in the summer are around 80 °F and in the low 70s during the winter. Low temperatures range from the mid-60s to mid-50s during the summer and winter, respectively.
Reminder: Seasons in South America are the opposite of North America.
In contrast, Mancora is warmer than Paracas year-round. Highs range from the mid-70s to 80s. A cool night during the winter may see lows in the upper 60’s.
Rain is rare in Paracas. Its average yearly rainfall is under an inch, so chances are good that you’ll get to enjoy dry weather.
Clouds and rain are more common in Mancora than Paracas. The months of December – April have the most clouds and rainy weather, with some months receiving upwards of over two inches of rain.
So, if you’re seeking the sun, Paracas is the best option during that time.
Travel Tip: The windiest months in Paracas are July, August, and September. In fact, it gets so windy that sand storms can occur! A sand storm will put a damper on your outdoor plans, so if you’re not willing to take the risk, consider visiting Mancora during these months.
If your idea of a beach vacation is white sand beaches, Mancora is the closest you’ll get to it in Peru.
The beaches in Mancora are more pristine than Paracas. You won’t find a lot of seaweed or rocks and the water quality is generally good for swimming.
Paracas, on the other hand, isn’t good for swimming. It’s located in the Paracas National Reserve and, as such, nature is left untouched. This means that you could stumble upon droppings from the plethora of pelicans you were just taking pictures of, or brush up against seemingly endless strings of seaweed if you venture in the water.
These nature-nourishing beaches are part of the attraction of Paracas. You’ll get to enjoy stunning scenery and see lots of coastal wildlife. And even though you may not feel inclined to lay out on a Paracas beach, resorts offer incredible poolside beach experiences. From there, you can soak in the sun and take a walk along the beach (with your flip flops on).
Mancora gets crowded. Not only are the beaches filled with people but you also need to share them with horses, jet skis, tubes, and vendors. It can be a great cultural experience but overwhelming if it’s not something you’re used to.
If you’re looking for a quieter Mancora experience, I recommend choosing a hotel on the outskirts of town. Even better, head over to a neighboring district like Punta Sal or Vichayito.
Despite Paracas’ popularity with locals from Lima, the beaches typically don’t feel as crowded as in Mancora.
Since the beaches aren’t ideal for hanging out on, many people stick to enjoying the views poolside from their hotel. This helps to divvy up the crowds, making you feel like you have a piece of Paracas mostly to yourself.
Hey! Thinking about heading to the Amazon? It’s easy to make the mistake of choosing the wrong destination. Head over to my guide on Iquitos vs. Puerto Maldonado for details on what to look out for.
Paracas and Mancora both offer water-based activities like standup paddleboarding and kayaking.
In Mancora, you’ll also find opportunities for parasailing, surfing, jet skiing, and tubing. You can also horseback ride on the beach, but decline horseback riding offers if the horse appears mistreated or overworked.
Mancora also offers the option to swim with sea turtles. I took this tour and came away with mixed feelings. Let me share them with you.
Swimming with Sea Turtles in Mancora
There are plenty of places where you can sign up for a swimming with sea turtles tour in Mancora. The tour will take you a short drive outside the town to a dock hovering over clear, calm water in a bay.
You’ll be given about 10 minutes to swim with the turtles since there’s usually a (fairly small) line of people and they control how many people go in the water at once. I was shocked by how friendly the turtles were! They came right up to me and sometimes brushed against me at their own will.
Here’s where my mixed feelings come in: swimming in the vicinity of sea turtles who aren’t in captivity isn’t inherently bad, however far more regulation needs to happen since I witnessed many tourists reaching out to pet the turtles. They told us that touching the sea turtles was prohibited, but I didn’t witness the guides enforcing these rules. They also feed the turtles to keep them around.
I think there’s potential to swim with wild sea turtles in a sustainable way but, if you’re an animal advocate like me, you’ll probably struggle with the way the tour is currently run.
So, if you’d like a different marine animal experience, Paracas is an excellent option.
Visiting Sea Lions in Paracas
Morning boat tours run daily to the Ballestas Islands from Paracas. The Ballestas Islands are home to thousands of birds (including penguins, depending on the time of year) and sea lions.
Psst! If you’ll be heading to Lima, don’t miss out on the chance to swim with sea lions.
The boat ride is about two hours long and you’ll learn about Paracas’ coastal wildlife along with seeing a variety of species of birds and sea lions. We got extra lucky on my boat and saw an octopus climb up a rock!
As a bonus, you’ll pass by a geoglyph on the side of a desert hill. This will give you a glimpse of the Nazca Lines experience without you having to pay for an expensive flight.
The Ballestas Islands tour is strictly a boat experience; there aren’t any opportunities for swimming. The waves can get rough, especially as the day goes on when the wind picks up. For this reason, Ballestas Islands tours only run in the morning, usually from 8:00 am – 10:00 am. On occasion, tours are canceled due to high waves.
Other Paracas Tours
Aside from the Ballestas Islands, there are other wonderful tours you can take in Paracas. They include:
- Paracas National Reserve
- Flight over the Nazca Lines from the Pisco airport
- Winery tour in Ica
- Dune buggy and sandboarding
A dune buggy and sandboarding tour, you ask?
Yes! This is a thrilling tour for adventure lovers. There are sand dunes in both Paracas and Huacachina where you can take the tour. The Paracas dunes are closer, but if you’re willing to make the 1+ hour trip over to Huacachina, you’ll get to see an oasis. As a bonus, there are restaurants around the oasis where you can grab a bite to eat before or after your tour.
Huachachina is a super small town—you can walk from one end to the other in about ten minutes. It also has a backpacker vibe. Some people love this and spend the night at a hostel there. Others prefer to hightail it back to their Paracas resort.
A Day and Night Out on the Town
Mancora and Paracas are both small towns that live off of tourism. You’ll find restaurants and beach-themed souvenir shops along the main avenue in both towns.
Paracas is more of a port town with a small boulevard along the water. In contrast, the streets in Mancora lead directly to the beach. If you’re looking for a party scene, Mancora is the better option. Other than that, either town can be thoroughly explored in an hour or two.
Bonus: Mancora vs. Piura, Punta Sal and Vichayito
In your research, you may have found varying names describing the beach area of northern Peru. It can get confusing the way people interchange the words, so let’s talk about that.
Piura is a region of Peru. It encompasses part of the northern coast but it also refers to a large inland part of Peru, including Piura’s capital, conveniently called Piura.
By going to Mancora, you’re going to Piura.
The word “Mancora” is oftentimes used to describe areas like Punta Sal and Vichayito, located outside of Mancora’s town. Punta Sal and Vichayito are beach towns located a short drive north and south of Mancora.
Punta Sal and Vichayito tend to offer more resort-style hotels and don’t have as much of a tourist/restaurant/bar center as Mancora.
So, if you’re looking for a quieter beach experience away from crowds and nightlife, Punta Sal and Vichayito are excellent options.
What will it be: Paracas or Mancora?
I hope this article has given you a better understanding of Mancora vs. Paracas. Have you decided which Peruvian beach town you’ll be visiting? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear where you’ll be going. Similarly, if you’ve already traveled to Paracas and/or Mancora, please share your experience and let me know which one you prefer.
Laura’s love for traveling started with a trip to Jamaica. Since then, she’s spent over five years living in Latin America and four years wandering the globe. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.