For the uninitiated it is quite a revelation to arrive at Pucallpa (pu-kal-pa), the capital of the department of Ucayali, after miles of lush jungle travel from the raw and rocky Andes. The sight of the sweeping Río Ucayali pushing its way through Amazonian hinterland is impressive. You feel as if you have reached the coast. In fact you can reach the coast – eventually – in Brazil via the Río Ucayali and its major partner the Río Amazonas.
Pucallpa is the Amazon region’s only town to be linked to Lima by a paved road. For that reason it is an important river port for the distribution of goods along the broad Río Ucayali. It’s a fast-growing place and a busy and lively river port. Bedeviled by dust and hovered over by flocks of ominous-looking vultures, the town nonetheless comes to life at night when people flock to meander around the Plaza de Armas.
Travelers come to Pucallpa in search of that riverboat north to Iquitos or beyond, to visit the local indigenous communities or to simply relax for a few days at a comfortable river lodge a short ride north of the town. While the town has a frontier feel to it with its mix of modernity and shantytown simplicity, it is nonetheless a friendly and engaging place and worth a day or two to pause and take stock.