Peru // The jungle //

Pongo de Mainique

The road continues down into the jungle from Quillabamba via Kiteni to the village of Ivochote (6hr), the staging point for the awe-inspiring Pongo de Mainique rapids – possibly the most dangerous 2km of (barely) navigable river in the entire Amazonian system – are hazardous at any time of year, and virtually impossible to pass during the rainy season (Nov–March).

As you approach, you’ll see a forested mountain range directly in front of you; the river speeds up, and as you get closer, it’s possible to make out the great cut made through the range over the millennia by the powerful Urubamba. Then, before you realize, the boat is whisked into a long canyon with soaring rocky cliffs on either side: gigantic volcanic boulders look like wet monsters of molten steel; imaginary stone faces can be seen shimmering under cascades; and the danger of the pongo slips by almost unnoticed, as the walls of the canyon will absorb all your attention. The main hazard is a drop of about 2m, which is seen and then crossed in a split second. Now and then boats are overturned at this dangerous drop, usually those that try the run in the rainy season – although even then locals somehow manage to come upstream in small, non-motorized dugouts.