Introduction

This once-tranquil fishing hamlet, 12km outside Trujillo, woke up one morning to find itself a brightly highlighted paragraph on Peru’s Gringo Trail. The village's fame came in large part from the long, narrow reed boats you'll see lining the Malecón. A small number of local fishermen still use these age-old crafts today, and you may even sight some surfing in with the day's catch. Though you can almost picture Huanchaco on postcards of days gone by, the beach is distinctly average. Nevertheless, the slow pace of life attracts a certain type of beach bum and the town has managed to retain much of its villagey appeal. Today, Huanchaco is happy to dish up a long menu of accommodations and dining options to tourists and great waves for budding surfers. Come summertime, legions of local and foreign tourists descend on its lapping shores, and this fast-growing resort town makes a great alternative base for exploring the ruins surrounding Trujillo.

Caballitos de Totora

Huanchaco’s defining characteristic is that a small number of local fishermen are still using the very same narrow reed boats depicted on 2000-year-old Moche pottery. The fishermen paddle and surf these neatly crafted boats like seafaring cowboys, with their legs dangling on either side – which explains the nickname given to these elegantly curving steeds, caballitos de tortora (little horses). The inhabitants of Huanchaco are among the few remaining people on the coast who remember how to construct and use the boats, each one only lasting a few months before becoming waterlogged. The fishermen paddle out as far as a mile, but can only bring in limited catches because of the size of their vessles (which now also integrate styrofoam for bouyancy).

The days of Huanchaco's reed boat fisherman is likely numbered. Recent reports say that erosion and other environmental factors are affecting the beds where the fisherman plant and harvest the reeds, and many youngsters are opting to become surf instructors, professionals or commercial fisherman rather than following in their father's hard-paddled wake.