Tumbes Swamp Sanctuary in Northern Peru


The mangrove jungles of Peru’s northern coast have a diversity of species almost matching the Amazon.
The Santuario Nacional los Manglares de Tumbes (National Sanctuary of the Swamps of Tumbes) covers 2,972 hectares of shoreline around the Rio Tumbes. This estuary is a rich ecosystem of swamps, brackish channels and waterways, mangrove tangles and jungle.
The Sanctuary is within the larger National Forest of Tumbes which spans 75,000 hectares all the way to the border with Ecuador. The Sanctuary is 20 kilometers north of the city of Tumbes.
This close to the equator the sunlight is blinding, and combined with the heat and humidity it is like landing on another planet. I was there in February, the peak of the wet season when humidity is at its highest.
When the sun abruptly drops over the horizon a cacophony of insects, frogs, monkeys and other jungle life begins a nightlong serenade of awesome volume and intensity.
All the life forms in the swamp evolved to tolerate and thrive in a mixture of salt and freshwater.
Birdlife includes the Fishing Eagle, Sea Crow, Blue Heron, White Heron, White and Red Ibis. More than 150 different species inhabit the tidal mangroves.
Howler monkey - Matthew Barker
Howler monkey – Matthew Barker

Other creatures of the mangroves are the rare Swamp Bear, which is actually a Raccoon that lives off fish and crustaceans. Mantled Howler Monkeys can be sighted in the trees, but most likely you will hear their territorial calls. Howler Monkeys are among the world’s loudest creatures with cries reaching 150 decibels that can be heard for miles. They are most vocal at sundown and sunrise.
The rare Tumbesino Crocodile was hunted almost to extinction for its hide. It swims in both the fresh and saltwater, going out beyond the estuary into the Pacific Ocean to nest on beaches during the mating season.
Turtles, both freshwater, and sea turtles, as well as sea snakes are some of the other reptiles of the estuary.  Swordfish, Sole and 105 other saltwater fish are found in marine and intertidal zones.  There are 200 different species of Oysters, Mussels, Snails and Crabs.
The King Prawn, which lives in the muddy bottom, was harvested extensively before the Sanctuary was established. Over-harvesting led to depletion of stocks and damage to the habitat.
The coastline to the south of the Sanctuary, and south of Tumbes has been transformed into a network of manmade lakes and ponds used for farming shrimp. These aquaculture ponds line the coastal desert for fifty kilometers. Shrimp farming has quickly become the region’s biggest industry.
River Boat - Matthew Barker
River Boat – Matthew Barker

To visit The National Sanctuary Swamps of Tumbes it’s best to take a boat tour. The hotels at Mancora and the other beach resorts can hook you up with tour operators. A three-hour boat ride is standard, but for a few Soles more you can experience sunset in the mangroves. Puerto Pizarro, 13 kilometers from Tumbes is the tour boat port. Between April and October, the dry season, you can access the Sanctuary by land and even camp overnight.
Wear sun block and a hat; the glaring sun reflected off the water can be dangerously intense. Bring some insect repellent; the mangroves are good mosquito habitat.
Andrew Kolasinksi is a professional journalist and travel writer, based in Canada and making frequent trips to Latin America. He writes on behalf of Aracari Peru Travel, a specialist in cultural and custom Peru tours.