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The city of PIURA feels very distinct from the rest of the country, cut off to the south by the formidable Sechura Desert, and to the east by the Huancabamba mountains. Francisco Pizarro spent ten days in Piura in 1532 en route to his fateful meeting with the Inca overlord, Atahualpa, at Cajamarca. By 1534 the city, then known as San Miguel de Piura, had well over two hundred Spanish inhabitants, including the first Spanish women to arrive in Peru. As early as the 1560s, there was a flourishing trade in the excellent indigenous Tanguis cotton, and Piura today still produces a third of the nation’s cotton.

The city has a strong oasis atmosphere, entirely dependent on the vagaries of the Río Piura – known colloquially since Pizarro’s time as the Río Loco, or Crazy River. At only 29m above sea level, modern Piura is divided by a sometimes dry riverbed. Most of the action and all the main sights are on the west bank. With temperatures of up to 38°C (100°F) from January to March, the region is known for its particularly wide-brimmed straw sombreros, worn by everyone from the mayor to local goat-herders. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to see these in Semana de Piura (first two weeks of Oct), when the town is in high spirits.

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