When I decided to travel to Tumbes, I knew I would be visiting lots of beaches like Máncora, Punta Sal, and Cabo Blanco, but I also wanted to be sure to round out my trip with a tour of ancient ruins and a foray into a fascinating ecosystem: mangroves.
Since Tumbes has a subtropical climate due to its proximity to the equator, it is the ideal location for mangroves, known as manglares in Spanish. Mangroves grow in low-oxygen soil along the coastline where water moves slowly so that the roots can grow in the sediment.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about mangroves before visiting the Santuario Nacional Los Manglares de Tumbes at Puerto 25. Puerto 25 is one of the primary entrance points into the mangroves; the other is Puerto Pizarro. Despite my interest, I almost didn’t make it there due to timing, but I’d befriended a couple in my hostel who worked on reforestation in the Amazon and they convinced me to join them on the tour of the manglares before catching my bus back to Lima.
Tours are simple: you arrive to Puerto 25 by private car or a tour agency and head out into the water with your guide on these simple rowboats, just like the fisherman do. What’s nice about the tours is that they are run by locals with a strong connection to the ecosystem, as many people continue to fish for the shellfish that thrive in this environment.
On our tour, I learned more about the mangroves as well as the animals who call this ecosystem home. The environment is incredibly peaceful; your guide paddles you slowly through the rivers, giving you a chance to observe the roots of the trees up close and take in the birds flying through the air.
Our guide spoke frankly and honestly about the challenges that they faced in protecting this ecosystem, which had become a dumping grounds for garbage over the years. Since the mangrove forests extend into nearby Ecuador, there is a cross-border alliance working to clean up the rivers and waters in this natural reserve and educate people about protecting plant and sea life in this region, but there is still a long way to go.
Thankfully, nature is resilient, and as you can see from these little seedlings, there is still plenty of hope for the mangrove forests!
Such a unique type of forest, isn’t it? The roots stabilize the coastline and reduce erosion, and these stilt-like roots help the trees stay above the daily tides as they come in and out, although it’s hard to imagine rising and falling tides in such a still environment!
After paddling through different channels, we got out of the boat to follow the educational nature walk set up by the Peruvian parks service. There is a bridge that leads deeper into the mangrove forest, where you can feel what it’s like to be surrounded by the tallest mangrove trees and learn about the birds and other animals that live in this type of ecosystem.
Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a selfie to remember my visit to this very different type of landscape.
I may love gardening and plants and hiking in green forests, but I had never seen anything like this before! Although mangroves do not have the visual wow factor of other forests, such as those in Valdivia in southern Chile, closely observing these tangles of roots does make you appreciate nature’s amazing diversity and adaptability!
From there, we continued our loop back to where we had started, now all a little bit quieter, just taking in what it felt like to be on the wide brown river in this humid, jungle-like environment.
And no sooner did we arrive back on shore than the skies opened up and the rain started pouring down around us! Thankfully, there is a little restaurant on site where you can eat the freshest fish in the area. My companions ordered up a feast and I swung in the hammock, appreciating the last few hours I would spend in the laid-back northern Peru vibe, at least for now!
Recommendations for Puerto 25 (Tumbes) and Santuario Nacional Los Manglares de Tumbes, Peru:
- Go! As with many places in Peru, the more tourists visit this nature reserve and appreciate the ecosystem through tours with locals, the more protection manages to come through from the local governments.
- You can visit Santuario Nacional Los Manglares de Tumbes through tours departing from Puerto 25 or Puerto Pizarro, a beach and artisan fishing port that can be reached by public transportation from the city of Tumbes. The hostel I stayed at in Zorritos arranged for their dedicated driver to take our group to Puerto 25, which is a little more relaxed, as you can see from the photos.
- We visited on a very humid, cloudy day and we just missed being caught in a downpour; you might think about bringing a dry bag or at the very least a plastic bag for your camera equipment. I always carry a reusable vinyl bag which provides adequate protection from the rain.
- You can read a little more about mangroves in English here.
- At Puerto 25, there are bathrooms and an on-site restaurant with delicious food prepared from that day’s catch. As I mentioned, there’s even a hammock set up inside!
[Puerto 25, Tumbes, Peru: February 3, 2016]