The 135 kilometers between Huánuco and Tingo María takes about two hours and ascends the Cordillera Carpish before plunging into the cloud forest. Tingo María is gradually shaking off its ill-fated reputation as one of Peru’s biggest drug-trafficking hubs.
Tourism started to pick up in the late 1990s due to this town’s extraordinary natural surroundings, including waterfalls, an amazing population of birds, and the Parque Nacional Tingo María, which was established in 1965 and is Peru’s second-oldest park.
The whole Huallaga region still has its share of coca plantations, but tourism is growing quickly.
The main attraction is, without doubt, Parque Nacional Tingo María, 12 kilometers southeast of the city, with almost 4,800 hectares of protected montane cloud forest that lies around the mouth of the Río Monzón, a tributary of the Huallaga. The park has lots of caves, and the most popular to visit is the Cueva de las Lechuzas (US$3 park fee), or Owl Cave, which paradoxically is inhabited by oilbirds instead. The best time to visit the cave is early in the morning or in the afternoon. Taxis or mototaxis will take you for US$3–5.
Additionally, Tingo María has, at least, a dozen waterfalls that can be visited and accessed by mototaxis, including Cueva de las Pavas (8 km south), Santa Carmen (30 meters high, 13 km south), and Velo de las Ninfas (15 km south). About 20 kilometers north of Tingo Marí, on the newly paved Carretera Marginal heading to Tocache, is Laguna El Milagro, a lagoon in the middle of a beautiful high jungle setting where you can either take a canoe ride or a paddle boat (US$1.50/30 minutes).
The Market in downtown Tingo María (between Alameda Perú and Tito Jaime Fernández) is an interesting place to observe (and buy) jungle products such as fruit, river fish, bush meat, and other exotic products.
Tingo María’s downtown has a variety of low budget hostels, most of them clean, with private bathrooms and fans. Hostal León (Monzón 311, tel. 062/56-4223, www.hostal-leon.com, US$14 s, US$16 d) is a very good choice.
Eco Albergue Villa Jennifer (Km 3.4, Sector Monterrico, Castillo Grande, tel. 062/962-603-059, www.villajennifer.com, US$32 s, US$39 d with breakfast) is undoubtedly the best option in the outskirts. Owned by a friendly Peruvian-Danish couple, Graciela and Erlan Ohlsen, this place has a swimming pool, delicious food (try the banana lasagna!), and hectares of green to stroll and relax.
If Tingo María is the first jungle town you go to, be ready for the explosion of fruits and fish you have as eating options. Explore your senses.
D’Tinto & Madero (Alameda Perú 391, 2nd Fl., tel. 062/56-3012, US$3–10) has picuro a la parrilla, which is grilled picuro (also named majás), a medium-size rodent, or grilled deer, as well as beef, lamb, chicken, and pork.
El Viejo Madero (Raimondi 599, tel. 062/56-2891, US$3–6) has very good pastas and pizzas.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition