Translated as “red earth” from Quechua, the city of Pucallpa is the second largest jungle city of the Upper Amazon of Peru. A bustling port town, it is the center of the Shipibo Conibo peoples who were originally settled there by the Franciscans in the mid 19th century. Located on the Ucayali River, a major tributary of the Amazon River, Pucallpa is a bustling port town that has specialized in lumber and petroleum exportation and exploration and has been an important commercial trade route with Iquitos and the Amazon river. Very different in atmosphere from its touristy neighbor, Iquitos, Pucallpa is growing into its own as an authentic destination to experience indigenous culture and traditions.
If you are visiting Santuario, an afternoon touring Pucallpa on the way in or out of the region is an interesting diversion. You can talk a tour of the Plaza the Armas and stop by the popular local café C’est Si Bon for a smoothie made from creamy guanabana (that is reputed to possess powerful cancer fighting properties) or camu-camu (a fruit claimed to have ten times more vitamin C than oranges). Or grab an ice cream made from Amazonian fruits such as lucuma or aguaje to bring with you on a stroll through town to the Plaza del Reloj and to the bustling port to view all the fishing boats.
A fifteen-minute trip by motor taxi from the main square of Pucallpa, you can find the small municipality of Yarinacocha, an indigenous community settled on a large lagoon formed by an old meander of the Ucayali River. Here at the port, you can hire a boat for an interesting day trip to visit local indigenous villages.
A lunch on a nearby floating restaurant such as the Anaconda is a must to sample delicious river fish such as donsella while gazing out at the Yarina lagoon where you may spot the occasional pink dolphin.
You can also sample exotic Amazonian fare in the little grill houses along the boulevard such as tacacho, local pork-based specialty. Pucallpa is well known for its juanes, parcels of rice, chicken, eggs and olives cooked in a banana leaf, and named for the region’s premier religious festival of San Juan, their patron saint.
If the thought of all that carne makes you queasy or you are on dieta, you might also try to local vegetarian restaurant, El Paraiso, in the square in Pucallpa.
Yarina is also a great place to do a bit of souvenir shopping. There are several markets that sell local crafts and the highly distinctive Shipibo Conibo artesanias such as quene embroidery, ceramics, and beadwork that make excellent gifts to bring back home.
Staying in Pucallpa
If staying in Pucallpa, we recommend two good comfortable affordable guesthouses: The Sol de Mayo and Gavilanes Hotel (in Yarinacocha) and The Manish Hotel. Both offer comfortable beds, AC and hot showers, internet and restaurants. They both average about 100 soles per night.
For more of a “hotel” experience, you might also try the Ucayali River Hotel. There are plenty of cheaper options in Pucallpa also for the budget traveler.