One of the least-visited parts of the country, and a ruggedly beautiful one at that, the Pacific coast is where the jungle and ocean meet alongside grey-sand beaches, where you can go whale- and dolphin-spotting, or stay in small villages, the majority of whose residents are of African descent. You will need plenty of time and patience to explore this region, as the majority of the settlements, such as laidback El Valle, are reachable only by boat from the main port of Buenaventura.
A busy, gritty and charmless port city, BUENAVENTURA is the only gateway to the region, so you will end up overnighting here. The boats to various coastal destinations run from the muelle turístico (tourist wharf); the area around it is reasonably safe (which is more than can be said for much of the rest of town), and you’ll find a number of guesthouses and eateries nearby.
Buenaventura doesn’t lend itself to sightseeing, though if you’re a surfer it’s well worth visiting Ladrilleros, an hour’s boat ride north, where enormous 2–3m waves lash the shore during the August to November rainy season and where you can stay in a number of basic digs. To reach Ladrilleros, take a boat to Juanchaco, from where you can either walk the 2.5km or get a ride on the back of someone’s motorbike.
Way north up the coast, and near Bahía Solano, a town famous for sports-fishing and whale-watching, compact EL VALLE is a good spot for surfing, as well as visiting Parque Nacional Natural Ensenada de Utría, where it’s possible to see whales close to the shore during calving season.
In En Valle itself, there’s some good surfing, and between September and December it’s possible to see turtles nesting at Estación Septiembre, a sanctuary 5km south along the coast. You can also do a day hike through the jungle to the Cascada del Tigre, a splendid waterfall with a refreshing waterhole (guide necessary).