I’ve been to the first seven of the top ten Peruvian cities ranked by population. They are in order: Lima, Arequipa, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Piura, Iquitos and Cusco. Of the remaining three, Huancayo (8) and Pucallpa (10) are on my ‘to do’ list. There are a lot of things to see in Huancayo but I’m a little concerned because of the elevation (10,700 ft). I struggled with the altitude in Cusco and recently in Arequipa, though curiously I had no problem in Cajamarca although that was several years ago and maybe something in me has changed…besides age that is. Pucallpa interests me because it’s a ‘jungle’ town. I have a fascination with those towns – the ambiance and lifestyles that seem to me to be different from the costal and mountain towns. One of Maribel’s sisters lived in Pucallpa for several years and insists that there is nothing to see there but it’s been my experience that every city, town and village I’ve visited has one or several unique things worth seeing. Chimbote (9) may be the exception.
I’ve ridden through Chimbote on a bus probably a half-dozen times. The first time I saw it I thought to myself, “This is one ugly city!” That impression has not changed. I’ve done internet searches and talked to friends in an attempt to find something to justify a visit but have come up empty. One friend remarked, “If you like the smell of rotting fish, Chimbote is the place for you!” That may be an exaggeration. Probably what I’ll do is try to locate a decent hotel (I’m told there are none) and schedule a visit as sort of a quest to find some redeeming quality in that town. It’s got a population of 320,000…there’s got to be something!
LAN Peru airlines will fly you from Lima to fourteen of the top thirty cities. I’ve flown to nine of those destinations. One of those I haven’t been to is Puerto Maldonado (ranked 30). It’s a jungle town located at the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios Rivers. It is said that remnants of the Shining Path – a terrorist group is still active in and around the town though they concern themselves these days with illegal drugs rather than blowing up buildings and people. I don’t know how true that is. Puerto Maldonado has some good hotels and eco-river lodges. Pristine nature is the main attraction.
The remaining three cities with airports are Tacna (11), Puno (20), and Tumbes (23). A visit to Puno could be in my future. It’s got Lake Titicaca and several other attractions going for it. But there’s also the altitude factor. As for visiting Tacna and Tumbes…maybe, maybe not. I haven’t heard anything bad about those towns, but I haven’t heard anything good either.
What I like to do when first arriving in a town is to find a shaded bench in the principal park (not easy to do) and simply sit and observe. You can learn an awful lot about a town from that bench. The first over-all impression is that it looks like every other town. I’m talking about the towns of comparable size. For example, to me at first glance there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Cusco and Arequipa. Same goes for Lima, though of course everything there is on a grander scale. It’s only after I settle in and start looking at detail that I notice the slight differences in building architecture and color. Each city seems to have its own color preferences. The businesses will offer different products and services depending on the local economy. Clothing will be different, determined by climate and culture. Mannerisms and speech will be different; sometimes dramatically so…people in Iquitos and Tingo Maria sometimes sound like they’re singing rather than talking.
Taking in the sights and attractions is enjoyable, but for me discovering the differences…digging under the skin to find out what this town and its people are about is my motivation. Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado are jungle towns, and when I finally do visit them they will at first look like Iquitos and Tarapoto, until I narrow my focus and start seeing and enjoying the uniqueness.