Throw Out the Guide Book for Tingo Maria

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South America » Peru » Huánuco » Tingo Maria
October 6th 2011
Published: December 7th 2011
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Most travellers use a guide book, which is not surprising and understandable. I was using Footprint's South American Handbook until it mysteriously disappeared on a bus in Bolivia. The problem I have with guidebooks on occasion, is that some people use them as if the word inside is the gospel, using the book for every single restaurant, hostel and any other choice they make.

The book is called a guide book and not an instruction book, it is meant as an aid. It is obligated to warn people of possible problems, even when they are not a common occurence; there are even current guidebooks out there for backpacking Afganistan, how safe can that be at the moment? Travelling should be an adventure that comes with some risks and so with this in mind I found myself on a bus along with Ryan and Tansie, heading towards Pucallpa with a planned stop over in Tingo Maria. These are places Lonely Planet advises are dangerous to travel by road due to hijacking and drug trafficking. Fortunately and not surprisingly we encountered zero problems and plenty of good people and cheap travel options.

When we jumped off our bus, we were surrounded by touts who tried to sell us onwards bus and taxi tickets, it took a while for them to realise that we were actually spending a night in Tingo Maria and wished us ´bueno viaje´.

We wandered down the street until we came upon a Hospijae and without really worrying about the state of it, we checked in as it was only 10 soles, almost a third of the cost of a hostel in Lima. It wasn't a lovely place, but the owner was extremely friendly, giving us each a fresh peeled orange to eat before we left to start our day. We went to a small tourist office in the centre of the town where somehow, they managed to rustle together an English speaking guide for us. They seemed very pleased to have some gringos in their office for a change.

We set off in the back of our guides moto-taxi, the three of us squashed into the small space and we left town to start our tour of the National Park's highlights. Tingo Maria is an Andean crossing away from the coastal desert where Lima lies and after crossing the mountain range and despite being geographically close to Huaraz, we were in the hot and humid sweat of the jungle.

We stopped at a crude shack and walked behind it, crossing the Rio Huallaga by a rickety bridge that we only noticed on returning had a notice instructing only one person at a time to cross. Safely across we found a small shack where we paid our park entrance fee before we started up a jungle trail. We followed the trail, led by our guide listening to information he supplied us about the insects, animals and flora within the proximity of the jungle. Eventually we came to an opening which revealed a magnificent waterfall, surrounded by beautiful birds and greenery. The change in landscape from the arid nature of the desert and the metropolis of Lima was magnificent, it was a beautiful place. We dived into the water and swam for a while, interrupted for a while for an underwater hunt after I idiotically went head first into the water whilst wearing my glasses, loosing them in the process. My eyesight is extremely, extremely poor and to say that trying to find my glasses underwater with my natural vision was difficult, would be a huge understatement.

We left the waterfall after a decent period of time and walked back down to the moto. The three of us were covered in sweat by the time we returned, the temperature here was nicely into the 30's, I may not have had sun at the beach, but I was definitely getting it here.

The tour continued and we visited two more beautiful waterfalls, following more windy jungle paths that we certainly wouldn't have been able to find on our own.

After the waterfalls we drove back through the town and started up a steep road that was in the early stages of construction. We were splattered smoke and tar spray before we finally made it to the made entrance of the National Park. We had arrived here to see one sight in particular, the Cave of the Owls, although from my limited vision of the park, it's somewhere that could occupy far more time than a meagre hour long visit. It is somewhere that I wish I could have dedicated far more time to, it was an impressively beautiful park.

We walked down a long path and followed some stairs up to the entrance of the cave which was a large opening with stalagtites and stalagmites protruding like teeth. When inside we were slowly walked towards the end of a boardwalk path being stopped on the way to see various rock formations that ranged from crocodiles and other animals to the unsurprising ones shaped like various genitals.

At the end of the boardwalk we stopped and our guide used his lamp to show us the bats and birds that live inside the cave. The deep darkness in front of us was made far eerier when the creatures inhabitating the cave began to wail louder and louder. The noise was tremendous. I have a video of the blackness taken for the craziness of the cave that I will attempt to extract the audio from. The so-called owls are not in fact owls as advertised, they are in fact oilbirds and we caught glimpses of these shiny creatures in the various spots of our lamps.

After we left the cave we headed back towards town stopping en-route at a mirador of the 55,000 populated town and the snaking river around it. It was a particularly beautiful town from above, simplistic structures and the mountainous jungle surrounding gave it a very similar appearance to Rurrenabaque in Bolivia.

We had one more stop, the standard cross the sat over the city and another viewpoint. This one wasn't at as good an angle as the previous and so I spent my time there being amused by a pair of bouncy dogs.

Back in town we asked our guide if he knew of a good place to eat and so he took us to his preference, being surprised to find out it was actually where we ate breakfast in the morning. He ate with us before we said our goodbyes. He was extremely grateful to recieve a tip from us and gave us a big thank you before saying goodbye.

We returned to our hostel with a couple of bottles of wine and spent the evening relaxing and chatting on the balcony which overlooked the river. We reflected upon what had been a pretty great day with no problems which we had been threatened with before heading to bed, ready to rise early the following morning for our onwards journey to Pucalllpa.

Tingo Maria was one of those surprisingly excellent places. It's not especially recommended by guidebooks due to alleged problems in the area with drug traffiking and hijackings, but we encountered nothing but a beautiful location and fantastic friendly people. Go there!

Additional photos below
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4th June 2012

Great review
I've been living in peru for 4 months and have been fascinated with Tingo Maria. Your blog has reaffirmed that i want to make it there!
7th June 2012

RE: Great review
Thanks for the comment Ryan! It was a great little spot and the locals were great only wish we couldn't had another night there. Happy travels :-)
2nd May 2015

I spent a few weeks over the last 5 years in Tingo Maria, You are very accurate. I love this little town. I always see warnings about this city due to its past during the 80's and 90's and the drug cartel had a hold on this city and its people, that's all changed. I was there when US and Peruvian military had closed the airfield and had military helicopters flying every hour to find and destroy coca fields. the threats of hijackings and drugs are more likely in a lot of US cities then here. although there still is a military presence in TM, its more a good feeling then not. When traveling in and out of TM you might have experienced a check point, and me being a Gringo on a motorcycle, I experience a few stops, but nothing dramatic being I was with others that are native to TM. All of my traveling, I never met nicer people then the people of TM. the last few times I went to TM I stayed in a Hotel on the edge of the city and the Jungle named Hostal Suites, its new construction and the people are the sweetest people you will ever meet. clean and comfortable rooms. the woman who works there, (if she still does) I believe she lived next door, after my 2nd day being there, she baked me cookies and bring them over..........and OMG!!!! they were the best cookies I ever ate. my next return 6 monthes later, and they remembered me, my name and everything I like. Now when I go, its like I have a Peruvian family. Tingo Maria is without a doubt a natural Beauty.

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