The remains of the Cabeza de Vaca cult centre of the Tumpis people can be found at
, 5 km south of Tumbes, but were heavily damaged by both the 1983 and 1997/1998 rains. The Incas built their fort of San Pedro on the site of the Tumpis settlement. The fort was visited by Pizarro on his way from the coast along the Inca coastal highway up to Cajamarca.
Three protected areas consisting of three distinct environments form the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of northwest Peru. It is an area rich in wildlife and flora, but is little visited by travellers passing by en route between Peru and Ecuador. In a single day it is possible to visit all three areas and sample the rainforest, dry scrub and mangrove swamps.Santuario Nacional los Manglares de Tumbes
This national reserve was created to protect the mangrove ecosystem in the northernmost part of the Peruvian coast. It extends between the border with Ecuador in the north and Puerto Pizarro in the south. Of the 4750 remaining hectares, 2988 are protected. There are five species of mangrove, the main one being the red mangrove on whose roots the
live. At least 200 bird species have been recorded, eight of which are endemic, including the mangrove eagle. The mangroves are under threat from fresh water brought down by the rivers during El Niño and the expanding shrimp farming industry, though at 3000 ha it's small compared to that of Ecuador. The Río Tumbes is navigable by small boat to the mouth of the river, an interesting two-hour trip with fantastic birdlife and mangrove swamps. The mangrove swamps are full of pelicans; it's best to visit them at high tide. A few tame birds beg for fish on the beaches.
Parque Nacional Cerros de Amotape
Puerto Pizarro, a small, rubbish-strewn fishing port 13 km northeast of Tumbes, is another access point for the mangroves. Worth visiting from here is the research station where the
Río Tumbes crocodile
, a UN Red-data species, is protected. The crocodile is found at the river's mouth, threatened by shrimp farming, and in the Río Tumbes' upper reaches, threatened by gold-mining.
The Parque Nacional Cerros de Amotape was created to protect an area representative of the equatorial forest. It extends southeast from the south bank of the Tumbes river, towards the El Angolo game preserve northeast of Máncora. It covers 90,700 ha comprising seven different habitats, including the best-preserved area of dry forest on the Pacific coast. Species that may be sighted include the black parrot, white-backed squirrels, foxes, deer, tigrillos, pumas and white-winged guan. Permission to enter is needed from Inrena, which Pronaturaleza can arrange. There is no entrance fee. All water must be carried, which is why most visitors choose to visit by tour.Zona Reservada de Tumbes
The Zona Reservada de Tumbes (75,000 ha), lies to the northeast of Tumbes, between the Ecuadorean border and Cerros de Amotape National Park. It was created to protect dry equatorial forest and tropical rainforest. The wildlife includes monkeys, otters, wild boars, small cats and crocodiles. Access from Tumbes is via Cabuyal, Pampas de Hospital and El Caucho to the Quebrada Faical research station or via Zarumilla and Matapalo. The best accessible forest is around El Narango, which lies beyond the research station.