You’re going where? seemed to be the collective response from friends each time I mentioned our upcoming visit to the Arennas Resort in Mancora. Entirely understandable given the rather off-grid location of our destination along the northernmost coast of Peru. Unless of course you’re among the legions of wealthy Limeños who retreat here to escape the urban bustle of Lima, or are part of the jet-setting South American crowd of pleasure seekers, flocking to its remote beaches. In which case you’ll know this laid-back, unassuming small town just south of the Ecuadorian border is celebrated for being the surfing capital of Peru.
I probably spent more time on this one aspect of our Christmas travel plans than the whole of our trip combined. Those of you who read the blog will know our penchant for spending holidays with sand between our toes. This year, having skipped our usual bolthole of Southeast Asia in favour of South America, finding a Highlife-friendly resort as part of our Peru and Argentina itinerary was admittedly a struggle. As a fan of Starwood properties, the obvious choice seemed to be the Paracas Resort, a seafront Luxury Collection hotel located 300 km’s south of Lima. Our initial idea was we’d rent a car in Lima and then drive down to the resort, spending our days lying in the sun with the prospect of doing day-trips to see the nature reserves on Islas Ballestas, Pisco and potentially even the Nazca Lines.
But while the Paracas is without a doubt an impressive all-suite resort with great outdoor spaces, the problem I had was not being able to see beyond the disappointment of the brown sand and murky waters of its beach. While I can appreciate most people probably don’t go to Peru in search of a beach holiday, the heart wants what the heart wants. As lovely as the resort looked, my unwavering wish to experience a resort which captures the breezy nature of beachside living we were so accustomed to in Asia, meant it just wasn’t right for us.
The Arennas Resort
A chance encounter with one of the Tourism Peru reps attending World Travel Market eventually led me to the Arennas Resort, a newly opened luxury resort on the expansive Las Pocitas beach in Mancora. With a mere 22 rooms, this stylish boutique property has more than a nod to Polynesian island living in its architecture and design, capturing the casual ease of the area with a touch of sophistication.
As the team organised our transfer, they were ready for our arrival and we were shown to our room as soon as check-in formalities were completed in the semi open-air reception area. The Arennas Resort’s public areas include an indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar area, a reasonably sized outdoor pool, lots of small chill-out areas and two rows of semi-detached suites nestled among tropical gardens. The rolling lawns make way for the spectacular beach, which is quiet and well-maintained by the hotel staff.
On arrival we were upgraded to one of the resort’s junior villas, which have an outdoor private pool, four poster bed and a spacious bathroom, dressing area and outdoor shower. All suites in the resort have a private outdoor patio area with seating, while the frontline suites have the added benefit of uninterrupted views of the beach and crashing ocean. We enjoyed sitting on our terrace tremendously, watching the cornucopia of wildlife dash by as we enjoyed the atmospheric sunsets with a sundowner to hand.
Inside, the beds are comfortable with good quality linens and towels. We didn’t like the lumpy pillows, which made for a restless night’s sleep. Though efficient, housekeeping lacked attention to detail and the practice of limiting bottled water per room was a little mean, especially as the minibar was also not stocked adequately. The bathrooms had reasonable water pressure and could have done with some effort to make them more luxurious in keeping with the rest of the resort. The biggest issue we had with the rooms was the lack of wi-fi availability. There is connectivity in the resort the closer you get to the public areas and restaurant, but even this can be patchy at best, so beware if you need to maintain constant contact with the outside world.
Out and About
We barely left the Arennas Resort the whole week we were there, and our days involved a routine of sleeping, eating, beach or pool time, followed by cocktails and more eating. It’s worth noting the sun is very strong out here. There’s a constant blowing breeze, which makes it even harder to gauge how much time you’re spending in the sun so remember to slather yourself with sunscreen regularly. The beach though glorious, is quiet and lacks any atmosphere due to a lack of cabanas or beach beds set up by the hotel. We mainly lounged by the pool, running off for a quick dip in the very cold ocean. If you’re intending to surf, I would recommend packing a half wetsuit. You can spend hours walking along the shoreline, admiring the beach houses and other resorts along the way as we did practically every day. The resort doesn’t have a spa, but you can book a massage, which are conveniently delivered on your terrace or on the beach.
Having had all our meals at the resort, we pretty much tried everything on the menu and quickly figured out it was best to stick to seafood and local dishes. I unfortunately contracted some kind of food-born illness, which practically wiped out two days of our stay as I couldn’t muster up the energy to make it beyond the bed (and toilet). We did venture into Mancora town in search of some industrial strength tranquilizers, and I wish I could say I was charmed by the experience. There’s very little to see or do here, but thanks to a sympathetic chemist, I did manage to procure enough medication to make amends. Hoorah for feeling better!
Did I enjoy our week at the Arennas Resort? Yes and no. On the positive side, the long walks along the beach, glorious conditions for kite surfing and the peacefulness of the surroundings teamed with the quiet serenity of the resort made for an enjoyable few days. I don’t think I could have done any longer, as the boredom of being rather isolated eventually starts to grate.
The issue of catching a stomach bug aside, I wasn’t a fan of the food. The breakfast was pretty monotone and the rotating evening menus lacked any real diversity and sometimes even flavour. For the prices being charged, the value equation of what’s on offer across the whole resort needs re-evaluating. We were well looked after, so no complaints there, yet despite the staff being really well intentioned, everything moved at a slow pace. The issue of wi-fi not being available in all the rooms, and the painful, unnecessarily long-winded check-out process was also a low point.
Getting there is also a bit of an ordeal. Your best bet is to fly into Talara, which then requires a 1.5 hour drive along dusty, barren roads winding through alienesque terrain. We booked our transfer through the Resort and I’m glad we’d done so as Talara airport consists of one outbuilding and very little else in the way of facilities or transportation options. It’s an expensive ordeal, but comfortable enough. LATAM is the only airline which services this part of the country, and in my view foreigners get a bum deal on domestic airfare. We paid in excess of £550 ($690 USD) for two return tickets in economy from Lima, but the price tag could also be reflective of it being high-season during the Christmas period. It’s worth noting that Mancora is almost equidistant to both Talara and Tumbes airports, giving you a choice of where to fly. Piura airport (at 115 miles distance) makes for a third option if you don’t mind the longer transfer time.
On paper at least, the Arennas Resort may have ticked all our requirements to make it the perfect option for a beach resort getaway. However as we found out, it needs time to achieve a more polished level of service delivery and improvements in the hard product. The economics of the trip alone just wouldn’t measure up for a return visit anytime in the future. Go here to unwind for a few days after doing the cultural sights of Peru (as was the case with many of our fellow guests) or to get your surfing fix as the conditions were pretty much perfect every day.
Resort – 6/10
Experience – 7/10