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Madre de Dios, a Peruvian Region in the south-east of the country, with an area of 85,300 sq km, has a population of 99,452 inhabitants, of whom 67,632 live in its capital, Puerto Maldonado. It has three provinces Manu (Manu), Tambopata (Puerto Maldonado), Tahuamanu (Iņapari), with a total of ten districts. Within its territory are: Manu National Park, Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, Tambopata National Reserve and Alto Purus Reserved Zone. Its main resources include the production of chestnuts, rice, yucca, coconut, rubber and timber. The principal mining product is gold. It was founded as a department (now a Region), on December 26th, 1912. There are ethnic groups of Machiguengas, Mashcos, and Campas in the territory. Typical dishes are pataraschca, sopa de motelo, timbuche, masato and tacacho. The Anniversary of Puerto Maldonado is celebrated on July 12th. The Anniversary of Madre de Dios, the most important civic festival in the region, is held on December 26th.

It is a land of broad and slow-flowing rivers and beautiful lagoons surrounded by the most exuberant vegetation. Madre de Dios has the best soils in all the Amazon Rainforest, and its main source of income is the production of chestnuts and rubber. The region is also home to native tribes as yet untouched by the advance of civilization. The main groups settled in the region are the Huarayos, Mashcos, Piros, Amahuacas, Yamanahuas, Amaracaes and Machiguengas.

The city of Puerto Maldonado, Capital of the Region and known as the "Biodiversity Capital", is located on the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Tambopata rivers. It is a hot city, surrounded by impressive vegetation, with broad streets and many houses with palm-leaf roofs and kitchen gardens. It is the starting point for visiting Bahuaja-Sonene National Park and Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone. Its closeness to Cusco means it can be included within an interesting tourist circuit.

Isolated and exuberant, the small city of Puerto Maldonado was founded at the end of the 19th century and only during the 20th century was it gradually populated by Andean migrants from Cusco and Puno. Madre de Dios is a Region with abundant virgin rain-forest and associated landscapes; it may possibly be the most unspoiled and least eroded part of the Peruvian Amazon.

The petroglyphs and other interesting archeological finds on the banks of the rivers Shinkebenia and Palotoa, as well as in the Pantiacolla cordillera, are evidence of the presence of humans since ancient times. Later, the Tahuantinsuyo empire encountered fierce resistance from the warlike Mojos, inhabitants of the region.

Inca Empire dominance of this region was gradually limited, as from the time of the Inca Roca, to part of the upper valley of the Madre de Dios river (at that time known as Amarumayo). During the colonial period, some Dominican missionaries failed in their attempt to evangelize the region, the principal reason being the violence and resistance of the native tribes.

In 1566, Don Juan Alvarez de Maldonado, in command of a large expedition, penetrated the territory of Madre de Dios and sailed along its river. However, the biggest expedition was headed by Don Faustino Maldonado in 1860. This explorer, after sailing the rivers Ucayali and Urubamba, reached Cusco. After remaining two months in the city he began on his journey to Madre de Dios. Sailing the river Piņipiņi and then the Madre de Dios, he followed on up the Madeira aiming for the Amazon, to then go back to his starting point. Unfortunately he was drowned in the waters of the Madeira, at a difficult point known as the "Devil's Cauldron", and the expedition continued under the command of his son, who completed the planned route together with the survivors.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the rubber planters explored the territory of Madre de Dios, looking for rubber and shiringa trees. The most remarkable of these was Fermin Fitzcarrald, who in 1893 discovered the "Varadero de Fitzcarrald", now known as the "Fitzcarrald Isthmus". During the next two decades, numerous adventurers and traders exploited the forest along the new road and found plenty of rubber and gold. It is remarkable that only as from 1915, through the perseverance of the Dominican missionaries, did the local tribes start to accept civilization. But there are still today some tribes that remain totally isolated both physically and culturally.


Lake Los Castaņales, 11 kilometers from the city, is a favorite place for bathing in summer; Lake Valencia, 60 kilometers from Puerto Maldonado, almost on the border with Bolivia; and the town of Laberinto, a gold mining settlement known as a roistering spot, located 50 kilometers from the city. This city also has a conjunction of abrupt terrain with numerous micro-climates and a great variety of soils, encouraging the development of a diversity of life-forms.

Manu National Park was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1977, and is now divided into three management categories: Manu National Park (considered an "untouchable zone"); Manu Reserved Zone (suitable for eco-tourism); and Bajo Manu Cultural Zone (with a native population of 43,294 inhabitants).

Thanks to its natural isolation, the Manu shelters many species considered to be in danger of extinction both locally and worldwide, such as the jaguar, the spectacled bear, the river wolf, and black and white lizards. It is thought to house the greatest and most varied range of biodiversity existing on the planet. Located 650 kilometers from Puerto Maldonado, it has more species of plants and animals than any other similar-sized place in the world. In the biology station of Cocha Cashu alone, nearly a thousand species of birds and 200 mammals have been identified. In Manu, altitudes range from the 4,000 meters of the Amazon plains to a mere 200 meters, passing through the "kingdoms" of moss and rain, dwarf woods and mist woods.

Access to the area is both difficult and expensive. It is most advisable to arrive from Cusco in organized package tours.

The Reserve has an extension of 1,478,942 hectares, and is located straddling the departments of Cusco (60%) and Madre de Dios (40%). In its diverse habitats and forests, there are 750 species of birds and more than 11,000 species of butterflies with world records among zoological groups.

The reserve also houses 181 species of trees on dry land, 155 in alluvial forest and an amazing collection of fauna (monkeys, otters, four species of felines, etc.). In the area of the river Tambopata,Lake Sandoval or Peque Peque and the canoeing circuit, considered to be one of the most exciting and beautiful in Peru, are worth visiting. Heath National Pampa Sanctuary (102,109 hectares) has a very strange flora and fauna: the "maned" wolf, the most corpulent canine in South America, and the marsh deer, whose only habitat is this reserve. The drive takes six to eight hours.

Tres Cruces is a high look-out point, famous for its spectacular dawns and for the event of the "white ray", which gives the effect of three suns shining simultaneously. This light phenomenon occurs during the winter solstice (June 22nd).