The Amazon is the obvious place to move on to from Huánuco and the surrounding area, unless you’re heading back to Lima and the coast. The spiralling descent north is stunning, with views across the jungle, as thrilling as if from a small plane. By the time the bus reaches the town of Tingo María, a possible stopover en route to Pucallpa, the Río Huallaga has become a broad tropical river, navigable downstream in shallow canoes or by balsa raft. And the tropical atmosphere, in the shadow of the forested ridges and limestone crags of the Bella Durmiente mountain, is delightful. From Tingo María you can continue the 260km directly northeast on the dirt road through virgin forest, going through the Pass of Padre Abad, with its glorious waterfalls, along the way to Pucallpa, jumping-off point for expeditions deep into the seemingly limitless wilderness of tropical jungle.
Once known as the “Garden City”, because of the ease with which gardens, tropical fruit, vegetables and wild flora grow in such abundance, the ramshackle settlement of TINGO MARÍA, 130km north of Huánuco, lies at the foot of the Bella Durmiente (Sleeping Beauty) mountain. According to legend, this is the place where the lovesick Princess Nunash awaits the waking kiss of Kunyaq, the sorcerer. These days the town welcomes more travellers than ever due to the decreased activity in the region’s cocaine trade. However, that said, even the road on to Pucallpa from Tingo still sees the occasional armed robbery of buses travelling by night.
Despite Tingo María’s striking setting, it is a tatty, ugly town, on which the ravages of Western civilization have left their mark. Dominated by sawmills and plywood factories financed by multinational corporations, with its forest of TV aerials sticking out from the rooftops, the town displays symbols of relative affluence, but the tin roofs and crumbling walls across the township betray the poverty of the majority of its inhabitants. There’s little for visitors to see, other than the Cueva de las Lechuzas (Owls’ Cave), the vast, picturesque home to a flock of rare nocturnal parrots (you’ll need a torch), 14km out of town. Tingo María’s major fiesta period is the last week of July – a lively and fun time to be in town, but on no account leave your baggage unattended.