About an hour's drive north of the beach resorts of Máncora and Punta Sal is Tumbes, the last city on the Peruvian side of the Peru–Ecuador border. Tumbes played a major role in Peruvian history: it was here that Francisco Pizarro first glimpsed the riches of the vast Inca Empire in 1528, prompting his return with his conquistadors in 1532. After Peru became independent, tensions with neighboring Ecuador were high—it wasn't until 1941 that Tumbes became part of Peru after a military skirmish—but things are now tranquilo, as Peruvians say. Still, hot, muggy Tumbes is unlike anywhere else in the country. The coastal desert that follows the Pan-American Highway all the way from Chile here peters out; in its place is a landscape that is decidedly more tropical, with mangrove forests and banana plantations. For most visitors, Tumbes is just a transit point to or from Ecuador or a quick stop before an early flight. The city has few attractions or comfortable places to spend the night. But for those with the urge to explore, there are several excellent national parks and plenty of inexpensive shellfish—as well as an atmosphere you won't find anywhere else in Peru.
If you find yourself crossing the border at Aguas Verdes, be extra aware of your belongings. Like many border towns, it has its fair share of counterfeit money, illegal goods, and scams to bilk money out of foreigners.