Ancient Fishing Town is Cultural Base for Peru Volunteers
Volunteers in Peru lodge in Ancón, some 25 miles north of Lima, and a short van trip up the mountain to our partner community of Ventanilla. Originally a humble fishing village, it evolved in recent decades to become a quiet Peruvian resort town away from the urban throng. But 4,000 years ago, it was a center of activity for the indigenous civilization Ancón-Supe, one of the oldest on the Peruvian coast. Today, its pacific waters are attractive to people who like water sports and sailing, and draws Peruvian as well as international tourists. The Hotel Brisas, volunteers’ home base, is right in the center of Ancón and all the action. Here, alumnus Kurt Jaeger describes some of the free-time activities he’s enjoyed after a full day of volunteer service.
by Kurt Jaeger
Volunteers at La Comunidad de Niños Sagrada Familia, Global Volunteers’ community partner in Peru, stay in the historic seaside town of Ancón in Peru’s coastal desert region. While it is often cloudy and even foggy, because of the nearby ocean, it almost never rains. The annual rainfall is less than one inch with most of that arriving as a light morning drizzle during the wettest months. The nearby Pacific Ocean also affects the temperature in Ancón, keeping it at a mild 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit most of the year despite being only about 12 degrees south of the equator.
Ancón has been a popular seaside resort destination for Peruvians since the late 1800s. It reached a peak of popularity in the 1950s and 1960s when many of the oceanside buildings and houses were constructed. Today Ancón remains a popular destination for Peruvians even though many newer resorts have been developed farther to the south.
At the center of the tourist area is the Parque Central (Central Park), a large plaza adjacent to the beach where you can usually find all kinds of street vendors, musicians, and entertainers as well as families and other folks enjoying themselves. This is a great place to do some people-watching, shop for souvenirs or sample some churros from a street vendor. The area for several blocks around the park is set aside as a car-free zone where you can wander past the many old houses and shops.
At the west end of the Parque Central is the fishing pier known in Spanish as the muelle (moo-EH-yeh). This is the center of the fishing industry in Ancón, which has been a major site for fishing since before the Europeans arrived in South America. Some of the best seafood in the world is harvested by local fishermen who set out from this very spot to fish in the rich waters off the Peruvian coast. They bring in their fish every day to sell at the fish market located on the pier where many local restaurant owners buy it to serve in their restaurants (including those where we eat every evening!) The muelle isn’t just for fish though; it is also a local gathering spot where there is an outdoor stage and area for festivals and celebrations. When those activities are absent, there is often a local pick-up soccer match in progress.
Another activity you can find on the muelle are boat tours. Many of the fishermen offer tours of the bay and the local islands from their colorful wooden boats on their off-time. The islands and ocean just offshore from Ancón are a marine sanctuary where you can see all kinds of marine wildlife including sea lions, sea otters, penguins, and many different types of sea birds numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
A wide esplanade called a malecón in Spanish, starts just north of the Parque Central and runs along the seafront between the beach and the buildings for over a mile. One of the best ways to get to know the area is to take a walk along the malecón and take in the view of the harbor, the beach, and the many seaside buildings. If you get tired walking, for just a few soles ($1 – $4) you can hail one of the many pedi-cabs that roam all over the car-free zone and the malecón.
If you turn left (south) on the malecón as you are approaching the muelle and walk for just a block or so, you will find one of the best ice cream shops in town where you can sample all kinds of interesting local flavors. Just a short distance past the ice cream shop is the Casino Náutico de Ancón, a beautiful historic hall built in the nineteenth century for parties and social functions. It is still in use today.
Yet another interesting activity is a visit to the local museum. The location where Ancón is situated has been populated by humans for thousands of years and is a rich archeological site where many pre-Columbian artifacts have been found. You can see many of these historic objects, including ceramics, textiles, and mummies in the local Museo de Ancón. The museum also houses displays showing how the local population lived in pre-Columbian times. It is located just a couple of blocks from the Parque Central past the church opposite from the muelle. All within a short walk from “our” hotel, volunteers can quickly immerse themselves in the gentle, colorful and – on weekends – boisterous culture of coastal central Peru!
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