Hidden in the middle of the Peruvian desert in the most Northern reaches of Peru lays an abandoned ghost town named Lobitos, the unlikely home to some of the best waves Peru has to offer. If you are in search of a truly unique surfing and cultural adventure then look no further than the famed shores of Lobitos. [Continued below]
The sheer quantity of world class waves in Peru is absolutely mind blowing and Lobitos is no exception to the rule. This isolated village is absolutely bursting at the seams with left hand point break after left hand point break. Lobitos is home to a multitude of waves that all break in different swell sizes and styles. In fact there are around eight different high quality point breaks all within a close 5-6km stretch, what's not to love? Lobitos was once an oil boom town and is now a rejuvenating surf town and fishing village.
My time spent in this sleepy ghost town proved to be one of my most unique surf adventures of my life as quite frankly there is no other surf destination like Lobitos on the face of the planet. Here you will discover a string of lefthand pointed breaks all housed in one of the most unique and characterful settings you will ever have the pleasure of stumbling upon. In the heart of the rugged, raw and desolate Peruvian desert, a 45 minute drive from the nearest town of Tallara is where you will find the sleepy town of Lobitos. [Continued below]
LOBITOS, THE TOWN
Here in Lobitos a small tight knit community of local surfers and fishermen are slowly rebuilding the town out of the literal ruins of a once booming oil town and a Peruvian military base. The landscape of Lobitos is truly astounding as new town emerges inside the ruins of these old abandoned Victorian and military buildings. The town is also surrounded by a scattered assortment of oil pumps and a multitude of oil rigs sitting off the rugged coastline, a clear testament to it’s rich oil history.
Wandering along the dusty dirt streets of Lobitos is a true experience in itself. You will be filled with intrigue as you meander past the abandoned plazas, derelict and decaying buildings and admire the few old Victorian houses that have been thankfully saved and restored. The setting feels more like somewhere straight out of the Wild West or perhaps an apocalyptic movie set. In order to truly understand the current state of Lobitos one must gain an understanding of it’s interesting history and delve back into the past. [Continued below]
The actual history of Lobitos is absolutely fascinating. The town was founded in the 1960's by English and American ex-pats who moved to the region to set up and work on the oilfields and numerous oil rigs that now scatter the ocean horizon. In 1968 the new Peruvian military lead Government took control of and Nationalised the entire Peruvian oil industry. Subsequently the English and American ex-pats who had founded Lobitos were given ten days to pack their belongings and flee the country. Overnight a thriving town housing close to 20,000 occupants was hastily abandoned. [Continued below]
The Peruvian military were quick to move in and set-up a military base to strengthen Peru's borders largely in response to a border dispute with Ecuador at the time. The military occupation, however, was short-lived and as soon as a peace agreement was signed with Ecuador the military base was removed. Once the military left the region these historical landmarks soon became vulnerable and the majority were looted and destroyed including the historic cinema but fortunately the old church was left untouched and still stands to this day. This beautiful Victorian styled town was left alone to face the elements of harsh Peruvian desert and it rapidly fell into decay and ruin. [Continued below]
The town of Lobitos lay abandoned for decades, that is until adventurous surfers begun to frequent the town in search of the perfect wave and were soon to discover the perfect left hand point breaks that lay hidden here. These canny surfers slowly but surely begun to reclaim and restore these beautiful derelict buildings and rebuild this quiet ghost town. Largely thanks to surf tourism this small once forgotten town is slowly sparking back to life and is slowly filling with restaurants, cafes, backpackers and even small scale hotels.
Lobitos is a truly unique town and I have honestly never encountered anywhere quiet like it in my life. It is a real pleasure to wonder the streets of this charming ramshackle town and try to picture in your mind what once must of been. [Continued below]
Ok, enough of the boring history lesson and time to move onto the real reason for you being here, the waves. Lobitos is blessed with a multitude of waves, eight in total. The spots all break in different swell sizes and styles. From fully exposed breaks to sheltered spots that will only break on large swells a handful of times a year. Ranging from top to bottom barrels to mellow rolling beginners waves and everything else in between. Fret not, there is definitely a spot to suit all styles, tastes and surfing levels.
The waves I stumbled upon in this former bustling oil town were, not to mince my words here, absolutely epic. The majority of spots are all within walking distance of each other. While the wave quality is greatly dependent on the quality of the sandbanks at the time there is usually around 1-2 spots working well at any given time. Fast, down the high line high performance waves with the odd cheeky barrel section thrown in for good measure is what you will most likely find here. The following is an overview of some of the more popular breaks. [Continued below]
Baterias is the most Southern wave named after the oil platforms scattered offshore. This left point is the most exposed spot to swell and wind making it a good option when the swell is smaller. At low tide you can find nice barrel sections and thick walls with lots of power and speed. Further up the beach you may just score some epic kegs in the right conditions but it is often almost too fast and with some very strong currents to fight.
El Hueco (the Hollow) on it’s day offers up an extremely heavy barrel which breaks on the reef off the tip of the point at Lobitos. A solid swell is required for it to break and it works best on low tides. Definitely a wave for the more advanced surfers as you often have to beware of the exposed razor sharp rocks.
Lobitos is the most famed wave in the area and not without good reason as it is one of those perfectly shaped Peruvian points offering long mechanical peeling walls that run for a couple of hundred metres. Lobitos is generally more of a fun and playful wave but can get a tad more serious and hollow when the swell begins to jack. [Continued below]
Los Muelles (The Docks)
This fickle wave breaks inside the long peer and offer up a short, fast and very intense sand bottomed barrels. It is a super fickle wave that it is highly dependent on the sand banks but can offer up some of the most intense barrels in the region to get the strong local bodyboard contingent frothing. [Continued below]
Piscinas aptly named after the old swimming pool built into the rocky outcrop at the start of the point, is the wave which I surfed the most while staying in Lobitos. While I was in town it was pretty much the only spot that had good sandbanks at the time as it was early in the season and many of the other spots were stilling waiting for the sand to fill in over the rocks.
Piscinas is a super fun and playful down the line left hander. It offers up fast powerful walls and some tasty barrels on the outside and inside sections thrown in for good measure. Rides can get up to 100 metres in length and range from bowly walls to fuller cutback sections which finish with a barrel or floater/air section on the shallow inside. To be honest this is one my favourite waves in the world and it reminds me a lot of an amazing wave (that will remain nameless) that I found in the deep South of Chile a year earlier.
I completely surfed my brains out in Lobitos with 2-3 surfs per day and thus averaging close to 7-8 hours a day in the water. When it eventually became time for me to leave Lobitos I could barely walk and I was highly fatigued from pushing my aging, worn and weathered body to it's limit day after exhausting day. I shit you not, Lobitos is absolutely epic. [Continued below]
Lobitos almost sounds to good to be true right? Well that is because it is. There is one major catch here and that catch is the crowds. The Lobitos region is well known the world over and while having its own very strong and highly competitive local crowd it also tends to attract hordes of wave hungry Brasilians and an assortment of random gringos thrown into the mix. In most Latin countries you can usually enter the water at first light to beat the crowds but this is not the case for Lobitos.
When the crowd is up water etiquette can completely go out of the window in the lineups of this dusty little ghost town. At times it can prove difficult to snavel waves off the hungry horde and unfortunately painfully blatant snaking can be all to common place here. I attribute the etiquette to the relatively young surfer culture combined with the large crowds and the fact that there was only one wave with good banks while I was in town. Heck, if my local wave was constantly overrun by frothing foreign surfers then I would probably behave the same way.
While the locals remain highly competitive in the water outside of the water is a completely different story altogether as you will quickly find the Peruvian people to be among some of the most welcoming you will encounter during your time in Latin America. Despite the crowds if you are smart, surf outside peak times (think siesta time here), patient and respectful you should still luck into your share of Peruvian gold.
However, if the crowds do become too much for you don’t stress as there are still plenty of other surfing options as good if not potentially better than Lobitos to both the North and South along the Peru’s wave rich coastline. [Continued below]
OPTIONS FURTHER AFIELD
64km North of Lobitos lays the once sleepy fishing village but now intense party town of Mancora. While Mancora itself can offer up some decent waves but what really draws people here is it’s thriving and somewhat seedy nightlife. Mancora is highly regarded as one of Peru’s premier coastal resort towns due to its comfortable climate and constant sunshine.
If partying and mingling with the locals is your thing then you have definitely come to the right place for some flat day fun. Wave wise, in town there is a decent but highly crowded rolling left hand point break while Punta Ballenas to the South is more exposed to swell, less crowded but also much more fickle.
Chicama, The World's Longest Wave (?)
If you venture south of Lobitos you will find the famed wave of Chicama, commonly dubbed the longest wave on the planet. The wave of Chicama is housed in the small sleepy coastal fishing village of Puerto Malabrigo/Chicama and this legendary wave well and truly comes to life when extra large South swells march up the Pacific coast of South America. You can read more about my time spent in Chicama here. [Continued below]
Huanchaco, the city of the Ancient Surfers
South of Chicama lies the ancient fishing village of Huanchaco where surfing is claimed to have originated. Huanchaco is a small backpacker town and can prove a nice break from the sleepier isolated surf towns lurking further north. While the waves I encountered here where probably the worst I had encountered during my time in Peru yet the town of Huanchaco is still worth the visit due to it's rich surfing history and close proximity to the ancient ruins of Chan Chan and the temples of the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Temples of the Sun and the Moon). [Continued below]
Under the Radar
While I have only briefly scratched the surface on some of the more well known surf spots in Lobitos and the North of Peru there are actually limitless numbers of epic uncrowded spots along the entire Pacific Coast of Peru just out there waiting for you (especially if you have your own transport). I’ll leave it to you to research and score these waves but let me just say that Chicama was the second longest wave I surfed in Peru. Get out there and explore and you will be justly rewarded for your efforts. [Continued below]
GETTING TO LOBITOS
From Lima you can fly to Talara or to Piura in around 90 minutes while by bus which will take a mind numbing 16-18 hours. From Piura a two hour bus journey will get you to Talara. If you are coming from the north, take a 90 minute bus ride from the Eppo Bus Station in Mancora to get to Talara.
If you are coming from Huanchaco/Trujillo take the 8 hour overnight bus from Trujillo to Talara with either Cruz Del Sur or ITTSA buses (ask for the North serving Terminal).
Finally to get from Talara to Lobitos there are three options, a Taxi, a Moto taxi or Lobitos shuttle buses. If you arrive at the airport of Talara, taxi’s and moto taxi’s will try and charge you more than usual to get to Lobitos (30 minutes away) starting at around 50 soles. If you do not wish to pay this, ask them to take you to the Lobitos bus stand and from here you can catch a bus to Lobitos for 3 soles per person. If you are arriving by bus into Talara, the taxi will try and charge you 40 soles, a moto taxi will go for around 25 soles. If you do not wish to pay this, ask them to take you to the Lobitos bus stand and here you can catch a bus to Lobitos for 3 soles per person. [Continued below]
WHERE TO STAY
In Lobitos there are dozens of accommodation options scattered throughout Lobitos to cater to all budgets ranging from comfortable but basic surf resorts, Bed and Breafast’s to Hostels for those on a tighter budget.
While I was in Lobitos I stayed at El Cuartel de Lobitos, set inside an old military barracks. This basic hostel always had a great crew of friendly surfers from around the world and as a massive bonus it is located directly in front of one of the best surf spots in town, Piscinas. If you prefer somewhere a little more private and low key maybe try Hostal Casa De Darwin (Darwin Atalaya Obando) which includes an in house surf photography service. [Continued below]
LOBITOS, WHY THE HELL NOT?
If you are one for adventure and wish to steer well clear of cliche surf trips to the likes of Hawaii, Indo or Fiji then why not step off the well beaten path and head to the Northern deserts of Peru in search of the unique ghost town of Lobitos and the amazing waves hidden there. If you are adventurous and make the trek to this isolated ghost town you will undoubtedly score some of the best waves of your life and thus creating memories that will last a life time.