Traditionally the home of the Matsiguenga and Piro Indians, the Río Urubamba rolls down from the Incas’ Sacred Valley to the humid lower Andean slopes around the town of Quillabamba. The river remains unnavigable for another 80km or so, with regular buses following a dirt road that continues deeper down into the jungle via the settlement of Kiteni, where the Río Urubamba becomes navigable again, to the even smaller frontier settlement of Ivochote. From here on, the river becomes the main means of transport, through the Amazon Basin right to the Atlantic, interrupted only by the impressive Pongo de Mainique whitewater rapids, just a few hours downstream from Ivochote. These rapids are generally too dangerous to pass between November and March.

Unlike the Manu Biosphere Reserve, most of the Urubamba has been colonized as far as the pongo, and much of it beyond has suffered more or less permanent exploitation of one sort or another – rubber, cattle or oil – for over a hundred years. In the last decade or so, the discovery and exploitation of a massive gas field is changing the river and communities fast, though this is still a relatively quiet and untouristed region compared with Manu or Madre de Dios.

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