I woke up to the sound of waves just outside my window. My eyes weren’t open yet, but I felt the tropical breeze give me a morning kiss. Slowly, as if curious, early sun rays filtered themselves into my cosy seaside cabin and a delicious smell of wood and saltwater gently filled my nostrils. I peeked lazily from under the covers and caught a glimpse of the deep blue sky. Waves splashed, I grinned – this definitely wasn’t Kansas anymore!
Unspoiled by mass tourism, the northern provinces of Peru are home to a coastline of tropical beaches where human impact is still minimal. Good food, great weather and no big crowds – it’s a dream vacation. But there’s one place in particular with an undeniable charm. Just 100 km south of Ecuador and in the province of Tumbes lies Cancas Beach, once merely a fishing village, nowadays a destination for low-impact tourism. Spend a few days there and you’ll understand why it’s been nicknamed “the Peruvian Caribbean” by the local media. What with hot temperatures and warm waters, it’s summer all year round in Cancas.
Located in Cancas, the Bali Hai Hotel is just one of those places that seems to be hidden from the rest of the world. Its design is based on simplicity and consists of ten Balinese-style cabins that blend in beautifully into a landscape of blue waters, white sand and chartreuse hills. These oceanfront little cottages have been built mostly out of wooden walls and traditional palm thatched roofs, but perhaps the most delightful detail is the unobstructed view provided by a glass wall and screen door facing the beach. Each cabin contains a small bedroom and bathroom along with a balcony and hammock which prove to be ideal for anybody who enjoys curling up with a good book while the sun sets. The hotel is dimly lit at night which makes it all the more romantic – it’s just you and the stars.
Staff at the Balihai is really friendly and keen on providing a good service. The hotel’s restaurant is also worth the mention since its menu is based exclusively on local ingredients. Forget haute cuisine and sophisticated dishes – the Balihai is all about enjoying simplicity. Fresh fish and seafood are bought daily from local fishermen in the villages of Cancas or Caleta La Cruz. All other ingredients are also bought from local markets, although sometimes fruit comes right from across the border with Ecuador. An exquisite and traditionally Peruvian ceviche, a delicious breaded fish dish and fish cooked in oriental sauce are just some of the menu’s highlights. Even though it’s not officially on the menu, the fish sandwich is also an excellent choice.
At the Bali Hai, there’s a time of the year for different activities. From March through August, when the sea is tranquil, snorkeling and kayaking are a must. Mirror-like waters in the early morning combine with the sea’s usual clarity and create a dream place to dive, swim or kayak: bursts of colour from schools of fish, sea turtles swimming gently, nearby squawks from pelican families… Note that it can get quite breezy in the afternoons, so you should probably be an early bird if you want to make the most of this. Whale Watching season starts in late August and goes all through September and October, when humpback whales are easily spotted from the hotel’s observation deck. Locals claim to have seen them swimming as close as 30 m off the shoreline! December through February, it’s a surfer’s paradise in Cancas. Big surf season usually brings waves as high as 3 m.
Whether you’re looking for a family vacation, a romantic getaway or just a few days of tranquility with good friends, Cancas is a perfect spot to enjoy nature and forget the urban buzz.
Getting to Cancas: LAN, TACA and Peruvian Airlines operate flights from Lima, Peru’s capital city, to Tumbes and Piura. Star Peru operates flights between Lima and Talara, also in the province of Piura. From any of the airports in those cities, it is easy to hire transportation that will take you to Cancas. You can also go by bus from Lima or any other major city in Peru, or drive your own car.
Where to Stay in Cancas: The Bali Hai hotel is on km. 1196.5 of the Northern Pan-American Highway. For more information visit www.balihaiperu.com/
A travel writer in the making, Marissa Duthurburu studies tourism and management at UPC in Lima, Peru. She enjoys traveling around the world and keeping journals during every trip. Her work has appeared on livinginperu.com.