The journey from Ayapata to Puerto Maldonado was my most amazing and varied single day of travel ever. Seeing glaciers, tropical jungle and other magnificent landscapes all on the same day is hard to beat.
In late September 2016 Rocío and I wanted to get from Ayapata, Puno Region to Puerto Maldonado in Madre de Dios during daylight to view the scenery. There was no direct day transport, not even from Macusani. Using local advice, we reached our destination via the following steps:
- Ayapata to Macusani Bus Terminal: van
- Macusani Bus Terminal to Macusani Terminal Terrestre: mototaxi
- Macusani Terminal Terrestre to Lechemayo: van
- Lechemayo to Mazuko: mototaxi
- Mazuko to Puerto Maldonado: shared car
Ayapata to Macusani Bus Terminal by Van
A mountain with sheer cliffs towers over this building between Ayapata and Macusani
Despite it being less direct than a road to Ollachea*, I was not disappointed needing to return to Macusani. The two hour, nine sol (~$3) van journey featured mountains, waterfalls, stone corrals, potato fields, lakes and even glaciers.
*After having seen the natural beauty and history of the area I’m glad there is no direct road (there is a hiking trail though)
This mountain dwarfs the house, stone corral and dark brown potato fields
A llama grazes in the stone corral next to thatched-roof buildings while a distant waterfall comes down from mountains
A mountain-top glacier in the Cordillera Carabaya mountain range between Ayapata and Macusani
Stone corrals on lower mountain slopes between a lake and a glacier
Towards Macusani the road was being widened and paved. The road upgrade should bring economic opportunities to the remote communities, however, I do fear consequential environmental damage. I did hear that the area’s flamingo numbers reduced after road construction commenced.
Road construction workers in orange high visibility clothing rest during their lunch break
This woman alighted from the van in front of glacial mountains
Macusani Bus Terminal to Macusani Terminal Terrestre by Mototaxi
Mototaxis (tuk-tuks) queue adjacent the Macusani Terminal de Buses
Macusani has two passenger transport stations: Terminal de Buses on a hill east of the town centre and Terminal Terrestre in the north adjacent the Interoceanic Highway (Carretera Interoceánica). Ayapata vans use Terminal de Buses while those to Ollachea and Lechemayo use Terminal Terrestre. To transfer between terminals we took a mototaxi.
Macusani Terminal Terrestre to Lechemayo by Van
Between Macusani and Lechemayo the elevation, weather and scenery varies dramatically, from tundra to lowland tropical. This change occurs specifically between Macusani and San Gaban where the altitude reduces 3,735(!) metres in only 100 kilometres of extremely windy road.
Out of Macusani, the Interoceanic Highway follows a spectacular canyon with caves, waterfalls, steep canyon walls and the Macusani River
The Interoceanic Highway follows the Macusani River near the base of the canyon
Our van stopped in Ollachea for a short break. There we bought awesome-tasting fried trout, fried cheese and picarones, Peruvian style doughnuts. Although already at nominal capacity, the van picked up more passengers until we were packed tight.
Eating fried trout while squashed in a moving van is challenging
Lechemayo to Mazuko by Mototaxi
The only way onwards from Puno Region’s Lechemayo along the Interoceanic Highway to Madre de Dios Region was via mototaxi. Unsurprisingly, the mototaxi we took in the lowland tropics was open sided in contrast to the closed motoataxis in Macusani (see photo above).
In the mototaxi travelling along the Interoceanic Highway
Crossing a bridge over the Inambari River
On the way to Mazuko the mototaxi driver picked up another passenger who shared the front seat with her.
Mazuko to Puerto Maldonado by Shared Car
After a quick juice stop we boarded a shared car (colectivo) and departed for Puerto Maldonado. I enjoyed watching the jungle scenery go by in the fading light and passing through towns as the driver drove South American style around curves on the flat highway. Also South American style, a passenger travelled in the station-wagon’s boot part of the way.
Puerto Maldonado is the capital of Madre de Dios Region and the main city in Peru’s southern Amazon. Upon arrival we found a hotel and collapsed, exhausted by our epic road-trip. To think we were observing glaciers earlier that same day was fantastical.