Peru's tale of two beaches highlights economic inequality
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Peru's tale of two beaches highlights economic inequality

At the height of summer, Lima’s denizens ditch the capital for beaches clustered along its Pacific coastline. While an urban elite dash to luminous condos in gated communities, common folk flock to pleasure spots closer to home.

Playas Lima


Playas Lima[Click on photos to enlarge]

Lifeguards keep a watchful eye over bathers at Los Cocos and Agua Dulce beaches, though the workload differs.

At working-class Agua Dulce, in Lima’s Chorrillos neighborhood, as many as 40,000 people gather on a sizzling weekend. In comparison, relatively few Peruvians make the trip to Los Cocos, a private settlement 97 kilometers south of the capital, in Cañete province.

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A neat row of deck chairs lie vacant; an elderly woman reclines under an umbrella next to her family’s belongings.

Groups travel from the poor fringes of the capital of 9 million for a dip in the cool shallows of Agua Dulce (Fresh Water). For the Verga family, whose round-trip journey from the arid shantytown of Manchay costs 36 soles ($11), the day out is a luxury.

“I’ve come for years, but it’s the children’s first time,” mother Lisbet says, handing out containers of home-cooked chicken and fragrant rice to her mother and four kids.

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A young woman dozes in her towel; another poses before a backdrop of a cruise liner. A photo costs 3 soles ($1).

For years, Los Cocos was a wasteland on the coastal plains. Sold by the peasant community to developers decades ago, modern homes now cost up to $500,000. “Leisure homes got a boost when people had a little more money,” a sunbathing architect says. “It became an architectural laboratory.”

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A woman reads; children bury their mother in the sand.

Summer in Peru runs from December to March, with temperatures reaching occasional highs of 30 ºC (86ºF), burning off Lima’s persistent coastal fog. During these months, central Lima becomes a ghost town, drained by the weekend exodus.

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Vendors hawk their wares.

Authorized sellers wearing blue bibs walk along the beach with 50-sol ($16) hats and shawls. “Tourism has been good for us and brought jobs,” a vendor from the nearby Asia campesino community says. At Agua Dulce, a young boy pushes ice creams to customers, while another seller balances sweet pastries on his head.

“This is the beach of the people – anybody can come,” says Ramon Ballena, 45, a bracelet vendor, who can make 150 soles trekking up and down the 7-kilometer beach. “Monday to Saturday there aren’t many bathers, but when Sunday comes it explodes.”

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A solitary closed umbrella stands on the empty, clean beach; bathers vie for space.

South of Lima, along the Asia Boulevard, which boasts an open air luxury shopping mall with swanky restaurants and sports car showrooms, dozens of mini-villages abound.

Los Cocos has synthetic football pitches, an outdoor bar and crèche. “It’s quiet and relaxed,” a 43-year old IT engineer says. “There’s no trash or danger of robberies, you can leave your sunglasses and cameras without problems and let the kids wander off.”

By law, no Peruvian beach is off-limits to the public – properties must be at least 50 meters from the shore, with pathways allowing access – though no non-residents could be seen at Los Cocos. Anglers used to catch sole at Los Cocos but moved along the coast when the clubs arrived.

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A father drags his son on a body board; a girl holds on to an inflatable while children splash in the dirtier drifts near a fishing port.

All photos by Guillermo Gutiérrez

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