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Peruvian Middle jungle towns

Chanchamayo: San Ramon, La Merced, Oxapampa, Pozuzo - and the Satipo region

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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from: Dilwyn Jenkins: The rough guide to Peru; Rough Guides, New York, London, Delhi; 6th edition September 2006; www.roughguides.com

Regions Chanchamayo and Satipo

Chanchamayo Valley marks the real beginning of the central selva directly east of Lima. Buses depart daily from the capital to the valley towns of San Ramon and La Merced. Separated by only 10km of road, some 2500m below Tarma, they are surrounded by exciting hiking country. Getting there from La Oroya, the road winds down in ridiculously precipitous curves, keeping tight to the sides of the Río Palca Canyon, at present used for generating hydroelectric power. Originally a forest zone inhabited only by Campa-Ashaninka Indians, the last century saw much of the best land cleared by invading missionaries, rubber and timber companies and, more recently, waves of settlers from the Jauja Valley.

Satipo, a small frontier town , is a few hours deeper into the rainforest and, although there's really little tourism infrastructure here yet, it's a reasonable base from which to explore (p.532).

San Ramon
[between Lima and La Merced]

The smaller of twin settler towns, SAN RAMON, is probably a nicer place than La Merced to break your journey, though the latter is the communications hub and better for road connections deeper into the selva.

Accommodation in San Ramon

Calle Progreso is pretty basic.

Hotel Conquistador
[Jirón] Progreso 298, T. 064-331157, Fax 331771
one of the best hostels in San Ramon

[Hotel] Progreso
Calle Progreso

El Refugio Hotel
Avenida El Ejercito 490, T. 064-331082
3 star hotel with private bathrooms and fans [ventilation] provided

Hostal Golden Gate
Carretera Marginal Km 102 at Puente Herrera [Herrera bridge], T. 064-531483
also offers private baths.

Gat Gha Kum
Carretera Central Km 96 in the Zona Salsipuedes, T. 064-331538
small, somewhat remote, but arguably the most attractive hostel in the San Ramon area

Hospedaje El Rancho
Calle Tulumayo s/n Playa Hermosa, T. 064-331076

Food in San Ramon

Restaurant Chanchamayo's
Avenida San Ramon s/n
serves some of the best-quality regional and international (p.532) food, including steak and fries

Chifa Siu
Calle Progreso 440
for Chinese food

Broaster Chanchamayo
Calle Progreso 380
chicken is delicious and worth stopping for (p.533).

La Merced

Buses from Lima are several daily and need 5-6 hours (p.568).

The town

The market town of LA MERCED, some 10km further down the attractive valley, is lager and busier than San Ramon, with more than 12,000 inhabitants, a thriving market, and several hectic restaurants and bars crowded around the Plaza de Armas (p.533).

Tours around La Merced - the bus terminal and bus connections

Buses leave more or less constantly from the Terminal Terrestre in La Merced, where it's just a matter of checking out which bus, combi or car is going where, and when (p.533). To Satipo are several buses daily, a trip of 2-3 hours. To Lima are several buses daily, a trip of 5-6 hours. To Pucallpa is a bus weekly via Puerto Bermudes [along the Pachitea river], a trip of 24 hours (p.568).

Accommodation in La Merced

Accommodation in La Merced is plentiful.

Casa Blanca
Carretera Central Km 100.2, T. 064-331295
perhaps the best of accommodation in La Merced, on the entry into town from San Ramon; here there's a large pool (also open for general use, $1.50), a good restaurant and brand new comfortable rooms.

Hotel Reyna
Jirón Palca 259, T. 064-531780
which has twenty clean bedrooms, some with private baths

Hostal El Rosario
Avenida Circunvalación 577, T. 064-531358
smaller and less central.

Hostal Los Victor
Jirón Tarma 373, T. 064-531026
on the Plaza de Armas, has rooms with or without baths and is one of the better budget options.

Food in La Merced

Shambari Campa
Jirón Tarma 389
serves some good local dishes

Broaster Chanchamayo
Jirón Junin 580
good for chicken

Restaurant El Gaucho
Avenida Ancash s/n
good for meat (p.533)

Attractions around La Merced

Waterfall El Tirol 5km: Also nearby, about 5km from the town, the Catarata [waterfall] El Tirol waterfalls have a 35-meter drop into an attractive plunge pool.

Botanic garden "Jardín Botánico" 15km: Close to La Merced, the Jardín Botánico El Perezoso ["The sloth"], 15km from town, is said to have some 10,000 species of plants; it requires about two hours for a thorough visit. To get here it's ten minutes in a car to the Pueblo of Playa Hermosa, then a pleasant 45-minute (2km) walk along a dirt tack surrounded by orchids and lianas (p.533).

Tours from La Merced

For local tour companies, the best options are Peruvian Discovery, Jirón Arequipa 161, 2nd floor, T. 064-532605, e-mail: siremartinez@hotmail.com, offering all inclusive packages

or tours to a variety of waterfalls, as well as Oxapampa, Chanchamayo, the Huagapo cave, Satipo, Villa Rica, Pozuzo and Tarma;

or Selva Tours, Jirón Tarm, T. 064-335275, e-mail: selvatour1@hotmail.com, who mainly cover Oxapampa, Pozuzo and the Perene Valley (p.533).


History: Rubber boom - paved road - new settlers coming - indígenas Ashaninkas are driven away - and new paved roads

A real jungle frontier town where the indigenous Ashaninka Indians come to buy supplies and trade, SATIPO is accessible by a three- to four-hour bus ride east from La Merced. First developed around the rubber extraction industry some eighty years ago, it now serves as an economic and social center for a widely scattered population of over forty thousand colonists, offering them tools, food supplies, medical facilities, banks and even a cinema. With the surfacing of the road all the way from Lima, a veritable carpet unfurling through the jungle valleys, many more recent settlers have moved into the region, but the rate of development is putting significant pressure on the last surviving groups of traditional forest dwellers, mainly the Ashaninka tribe, who have mostly taken up plots of land and either begun to compete with the relative newcomer farmers or moved into one of the ever-shrinking zones out of contact with the rest of Peru. You'll see the tribespeople in town, unmistakable in their reddish-brown or cream cushma robes. Satipo is the southernmost large town on the jungle-bound Carretera Marginal, but the road is continuing further and should soon reach Puerto Ocopa [Ocopa port] - a passable dirt track already does, and buses travel along it - from where it's possible to get river boats down the Río Tambo to Atalaya (p.534).

Accommodation in Satipo

Hotel Majestic
Jirón Colonos Fundadores 408, T. 064-545762
the best accommodation of Satipo. It has wonderfully cool rooms but no hot water.

Hostal San Jose
Avenida Augusto B. Leguia 684, T. 064-545105
is quite large and the beds are clean

Hostal Palmero,
Calle Manuel Prado 228, T. 064-545020
has over 40 beds and is bearable but noisy

Other basic accommodation is available around the market area and along the road to the airstrip (p.534).

Satipo market

The town also boasts a couple of small airstrips and a bustling daily market, which is best at weekends (p.534).

For money change or ATM, the Banco de Credito is opposite Café Yoli on [Jirón] Manuel Prado (p.535).

Food in Satipo

Café Yoli
Jirón Manuel Prado 234, between the plaza and the market
is great for coffee, juices, snacks and breakfasts

Restaurant Turístico Oasis
Jirón Junin 628, T. 064-545915
wide range of jungle cuisine available in a large, ethnically decorated place where you can also buy local crafts, mainly of Ashaninka origin.

Laguna Blanca
Avenida Marginal via Río Negro
one of the better restaurants around Satipo

More plantation than jungle around Satipo

The town sits in the middle of a beautiful valley, though today the landscape around the town is more orange plantation than virgin forest; the best way to get a feel for the valley is by following a footpath from the other side of the suspension bridge, which leads over the river from behind the market area, to some of the plantations beyond town. Here you can see the local agriculture at closer quarters, as you pass some rustic dwellings (p.534).

Satipo frontier settlements and bandits

Further afield, local colectivos go to the end of the Carretera Marginal into relatively new settled areas such as that around San Martín de Pangoa - a frontier settlement that is frequently attacked by armed bandits or terrorists who live on coca plantations in the forest (hence the sandbags lined up outside the police stations). The only reasons to come here are en route to Puerto Ocopa (p.534).

Tours from Satipo into the jungle

Satipo is an ideal town in which to get kitted out for a jungle expedition, or merely to sample the delights of the selva for a day or two (p.534). There aren't many tour operators working in this part of the Peruvian jungle yet, more will inevitably follow given the stunning eco-tourism potential of the region (p.535).

Port town Puerto Ocopa

Puerto Ocopa is the end of the road and a port where riverboats can be caught for traveling deeper into the forest, or to visit some petroglyphs and waterfalls on the Río Mazamari (ask at the Restaurant Oasis for details), which is also a popular fishing spot (p.534).

More tours from Satipo

Highest waterfall of Perú in the Otishi national reserve: The mountain ranges south and east of the Tambo and Ene rivers, respectively, have recently been made into the Parque Nacional de Otishi. On the Río Ene side of this new national park, the highest single drop waterfall in Peru - las Cataratas de Parijaro [Parijaro waterfalls] - is a veritable jewel even among Peru's vast collection of impressive natural assets.

The remote nature of this site and the total lack of infrastructure makes it very difficult to reach as an independent traveler, but the UK-based Ecotribal (Lima, T. 01-222-5708 or, in the UK T 0044-07968-731247, www.ecotribal.com) operates eco-adventure tours in the region, including treks and river rafting to the Parijaro waterfall, on the edge of the Parque Nacional de Otishi in collaboration with the local Ashaninka communities (bookings should be made six months or more in advance of the departures which are usually in July or August). The local company Satipo Adventure, Jirón San Martín 828, T. 064-546113, e-mail: satipotours@yahoo.es or satipoadventure@hotmail.com run conventional trips in the forest immediately around Satipo (p.535).

Bus from Satipo to Huancayo: Instead of retracing your steps via La Merced and San Ramon, you can follow a breathtaking direct road to Huancayo - Los Andes buses do the twelve-hour journey daily (May-Oct) (p.534).

Flights from Satipo: For the adventurous, a flight to Atalaya, deeper into the central selva, is an exciting excursion, though this is way off the tourist trail and any potential visitors should be warned that facilities are few and it's real jungle frontier stuff. Two commercial air-taxi companies fly most days, or on demand if you can pay the $400 per hour air-taxi rate, to both Sepahua and Atalaya (p.534).


Settlers on the Río Chontabamba - Amuesha natives fighting for their land against the settlers

Pretty well off the beaten track, some 78km by road north of La Merced, and nearly 400km east of Lima, lies the small settlement of OXAPAMPA, dependent on timber and coffee for its survival and situated on the bank of the Río Chontabamba. Most of the forest immediately around the town has been cleared for cattle grazing, coffee plantations and timber. Furious over the loss of their lands, the indigenous Amuesha Indians are battling for their land rights on local, national and international levels.

Strongly influenced culturally and architecturally by the nearby Tyrolean settlement of Pozuzo, this is actually quite a pleasant and well-organized frontier town, with a surprisingly good place to stay, the Hotel El Rey (p.535).

Tours around Oxapampa

Waterfall El Encanto 12km: Only 12km from town you'll find the Catarata El Encanto (The Spell or Enchantment Waterfalls), which has three sets of falls; rainbows frequently appear and there  are deep, dangerous plunge pools.

Parque Nacional Yanachoja Chemillen with Yanesha natives 25km: Just 25km from Oxapampa lies the Parque Nacional Yanachoja Chemillen, a 12,000-hectare reserve dominated by dark mountains and vivid landscapes, where grasslands and cloud forest merge and separate. There are quantities of bromeliads, orchids, cedars and even the odd spectacled bear, some jaguar and around 427 bird species here, including a large variety of hummingbirds. It's also home to around sixty Yanesha Indian communities.

Vila Rica plantation center 72km: The town of Vila Rica, some 72km [south east] from Oxapampa, lying at 1480m in the ceja de selva, offers overland access to the Pichis and Palcazu valleys, the region's principal producers of coffee, pineapple and coca.

Safety information
Visitors to the Oxapampa and Pozuzo areas are recommended to check in advance of going with their embassy or the South American Explorers' Club in Lima who should have the very latest on what's happening in this region and whether or not it's safe to travel here (p.535).

(Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm, Wed until 8pm; e-mail limaclub@saexplorers.org, see p.124) has good information, including maps, listings and travel reports, available to its members (p.88).

People are fishing with a fork. In Codo de Pozuzo there is enough fishes carachama (rich fish but only for soup) and doncella (for eating).


Tyrolean stile town, German language and German habits in Pozuzo

Some 80km down the valley from Oxapampa, along a very rough road that crosses over two-dozen rivers and streams, POZUZO's wooded chalets with sloping Tyrolean roofs have endured ever since the first Austrian and German colonists arrived here in the 1850s. This town is a peculiar combination of European rusticism and native Peruvian culture. As part of the grand plan to establish settlements deep in the jungle - devised by President Ramon Castilla's economic adviser, a German aristocrat - eighty families emigrated from Europe in 1857. The local dance and music is still strongly influenced by the German colonial heritage. Many of this unusual town's present inhabitants still speak German, eat schitellsuppe, waltz very well and dance the polka.

Accommodation in Pozuzo

The Hostal Tyrol and Hotel Maldonado are the best places to stay. There's not a lot to see here apart from the nineteenth-century Capilla San José de Pozuzo, located on the plaza. The church is a wooden rectangular structure containing wooden images of the Virgin brought from Germany.

Trucks from Pozuzo leave every couple of days from opposite the Hotel Bolívar in Oxapampa; buses and colectivos for Pozuzo can also be picked up on the plaza in Oxapampa or the bus depot in La Merced (p.536).


Tingo María

from: Alan Murphy: Peru Handbook; Footprint Handbooks, 2nd ed. 1999

Map of the town of Tingo María with
                          tourist information Map of the town of Tingo María with tourist information

Hotels (squares):
1. Hostal Marco Antonio
2. Hostal Mieses
3. La Cabaña
4. Viena

Eating (points):
1. Gordon's Café
2. Marco Antonio

Tingo María with 20,560 inhabitants on 655 meters (phone code 064) is on the middle Huallaga, in the Ceja de Montaña, or edge of the mountains. The climate here is tropical, with an annual rainfall of 2,642 millimeters. The town can be isolated for days in the rainy season. The altitude, however, prevents the climate from being oppressive. The Cordillera Azul ["Blue Mountains"], the front range of the Andes, covered with jungle-like vegetation to its top, separates it from the jungle lowlands to the east. The mountain which can be seen from all over the town is called La Bella Durmiente, the Sleeping Beauty.

The meeting here of Sierra and Selva makes the landscape extremely striking. Bananas, sugar cane, cocoa, rubber, tea and coffee are grown. The main crop of the area, though, is coca, grown on the chacras (smallholdings) in the countryside, and sold legitimately and otherwise in Tingo María (p.458).

Little zoo and botanical garden
A small university outside the town, beyond the Hotel Turistas, has a little museum-cum-zoo, with animals native to the area, and botanical gardens in the town. Entrance is free but a small tip would help to keep things in order (p.459).

NB: Danger of theft
Watch out for gangs of thieves around the buses and do not leave luggage on the bus if you get off. Note that this is a main narco-trafficking center and although the town itself is generally safe, it is not safe to leave it at night. Also do not stray from the main routes, as some of the local population are suspicious of foreign visitors (p. 458).

[Thanks to salary cuts of the Peruvian government and privatization and shut down industries by privatizations people are so poor that theft or prostitution sometimes is the only income].

Tours around Tingo María

Owl cave 6km: Six and ha half kilometers from Tingo, on a rough road, is a fascinating cave, the Cueva de las Lechuzas ["Owl cave"]. There are many owl birds in the cave and many small parakeets near the entrance. Take a motorcycle-taxi from town, US$1.75. It's US$0.45 for the ferry to cross the Río Monzón just before the cave and entry to the cave is US$0.90. Take a torch, and do not wear open shoes. The cave can be reached by boat when the river is high.

Gorge Cueva de las Pavas 13km for swimming: 13 kilometers from Tingo is the small gorge known as Cueva de las Pavas, which is good for swimming.

El Velo de las Ninfas ["veil of the nymphs"] is a magnificent waterfall set in beautiful jungle, with lagoons where you can swim.

Cuevas de Tambillo 10km for swimming: 10 kilometers away, on the Huánuco road, are the Cuevas de Tambillo, with beautiful waterfalls and pools for swimming.

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