Peru travel blog by Mark Berman -
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From the photos, the journey between Tingo Maria and Tarapoto looks like a pleasant drive through the jungle and cloud forest, which it is, but it could have
been much different! This road is notorious for bandits and robberies and is known as one of the most dodgy routes in Peru. This is the heart of Peru's drug
production and trafficking activities. The threat must be real, there were men with guns at several points along the road who were acting as security from
something that's lurking out there in the jungle. I took my chances, what were the odds, flying wasn't going to be an option!
Co-op Taxi from Tingo Maria
I decided in Tingo Maria that
I would do the trip in 3 legs by staying a night in Tocache and Juanjui, however in the end I did it in 2, staying just in Tocache. How long does it take?
From Tingo Maria to Tocache is around 2hrs 20mins, Tocache to Juanjui (the worst and most dodgy part) is around 3hrs 20mins and from Juanjui to Tarapoto
takes 2hrs. That's 7hrs 40mins all up! Transport is by car with a company and an experienced driver, these companies are easily found in the city streets. When
the car has 4 passengers they leave and of course the best seat is the front, which I got on both legs of this ride (for photography). The cost for the whole
trip from Tingo to Tarapoto is about $90 Soles ($27USD).
The Journey Leg 1
So now I will give you a rundown of how the journey plays out. A sealed road out of Tingo Maria into
a tropical region of palm trees, banana palms and rice paddies. Bridges over rivers, secluded wooden houses hidden among tall trees, small towns, plenty of
houses and people, long stretches of road, open and wide views, a police checkpoint, road sealed all the way to Tocache, problems on this leg are unlikely.
The Journey Leg 2
OK, Tocache to Juanjui! I chose to leave early in the morning while the bandits would still be hungover, on the road by 6:30am. It's a journey of about 100kms
in total, doesn't seem like much. Within 40mins in the town of Pizana is where things start to get a little dodgy, sealed road becomes a gravel road and remains
a gravel road until Balsayacu, 43kms before Juanjui. This gravel road takes 2hrs and goes straight through the middle of the Pacota Forest (Bosques de Pacota). This road
is extremely remote with less people and only the occasional community of houses. Winding road climbing into the dense green hills, cloud forest, blind corners,
isolation, no police, random people (security) on the roadside with guns, a perfect place to be held up by bandits! I was glad when the road became sealed and
we raced through to Juanjui in 40mins from there.
The Journey Leg 3
By the time we arrived in Juanjui I was thinking I might as well keep going. Tarapoto was only 132kms away!
Bellavista (36kms) and Picota (73kms) are a couple of notable towns along this road and yes it's sealed! This leg has some nice open views of the terrain and
river and less dense forest around. Crop fields and livestock, watery rice paddies, large birds like the spoonbill, jabiru and white storks can be spotted.
Picturesque rows of palm trees backed by distant hills, trees with bright yellow leaves scattered around, this is the easiest and fastest leg, bandits unlikely.
The Black and White
So in conclusion, the road between Tingo Maria and Tarapoto is what it is, you would never travel the middle
section at night and if you do by day you will most probably be fine, but on the other hand, there is a risk of being robbed and losing all your valuables.
This is the story in black and white of the road from Tingo Maria