Puerto Maldonado - Capital of Biodiversity
Puerto Maldonado is the gateway to jungle gems like Tambopata National Reserve and Lago Sandoval, but most people pass through in a hurry, never getting the hang of the town and hating every minute of it. If you take a second to think about where you are, this humid, lawless jungle frontier town is a very cool place to explore.
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Up until the road from Cusco was finally paved a few years ago, Puerto was the most rural place in all of Peru. That´s because of the rapids downstream on the Madre de Dios that cut it off from river traffic with the rest of the Amazon Basin. The town is situated at the junction of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers, and its central area is the part of town stuffed deepest into the corner where the two rivers meet. A good home base is the Hostal Tambopata, on 26 de Diciembre just a block from the Plaza de Armas. There are also a bunch of budget hostels close to the plaza if you follow Avenida Leon Velarde, one of the main streets. These are on a busy street, and will be better if you value being in the action over peace and space.
The Plaza de Armas becomes a lovely carnival of strolling families around twilight and into the warm nights. Children play in it, teens skateboard around and wonder if they´ll ever make it out of this town, and vendors sell quail eggs, ice cream, weird tapioca jellies, and tons of other treats. As the night wears on, the only gig in town is Tekila, a 3-story bar on the Plaza de Armas. Motorcycles pile up on the corner of the square in front of it by midnight, and the place can get packed.
Puerto Maldonado is unique among jungle cities in that street food stays available through dinner, generally not a big meal in the culture of the selva. The market is on the corner of Fitzcarrald and Ernesto Rivera, and stays open, eateries and all, late into the night. The blue tower further down on Fitzcarrald can be climbed for just 2 soles until 8:30 p.m. (but there´s no point after dark); next to it is a good supermarket, El Pacifico. Another cool attraction in town is the Golden Gate-like suspension bridge over the Madre de Dios. Completing it was the final piece of the Pan-American Highway, which now links the Atlantic and the Pacific through miles and miles of Amazon jungle - and is paved. The bridge is another reason Puerto is newly in the spotlight.
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Sure, maybe you shouldn't stay a while just for the sake of it - but while you're in Puerto Maldonado, you may as well enjoy it. Look with, an open mind, and you´ll find a crazy, cool, exotic town with thejungle in its blood. Maybe it´ll get into your blood too.