Birthday Road Trip to Chanchamayo and Oxapampa

Experiencing the High Jungle on the Valle de Chanchamayo, the coffee and chocolate from renowned Villa Rica and the beautiful nature and unique genius loci of the only Austrian-German colony in the world in Pozuzo, Oxapampa, was indeed the highlight of my 40th birthday celebrations.

The adventure began in Lima, by a splendid dinner at Maido, which offers a fusion of Asian (especially Japanese) and Peruvian cuisine and is listed among the 50 best restaurants in the world and 5 best restaurants in South America. The chef is famous Mitsuharu “Micha” Tsumura and the food truly is worth the money you pay for it.

On Sunday morning, the day of my birthday, we set off from Lima (altitude: 0, 24 °C) over the mountains and the top of Ticlio (altitude: 4,818 metres, 6 °C) to the Central High Jungle of San Ramón, Chanchamayo (altitude: 820 metres, 28 °C). The eight hours of the journey meant changing the layers of clothes frequently.

El Cóndor Pasa – The Sad Mining Story

The sceneries along the way are engaging but sadly spoiled by vast areas where mining industry is the prime. The energy of Tarma city is greatly influenced by it and the road, only two-lane, with frequent overtaking bans, gets difficult with all the heavy trucks on the way. One needs to be careful when going from La Oroya towards Tarma not to take the other road, which leads to Cerro de Pasco, one of the places in Peru badly influenced by mining impact; a three-hour ride from Cerro de Pasco, one encounters the town of Yápac, to which the plot of the famous Peruvian zarzuela (musical play) El Cóndor Pasa is located, telling the sad story of families of miners. The eponymous melody of the zarzuela by Daniel Alomía Robles and Julio de La Paz is considered the second national anthem of Peru. It is based on the traditional Andean music of Peru, which was declared an element of National Cultural Heritage in 2004. There are probably more than 400 versions of the piece by artists from around the world, at least 300 of which have lyrics.

Chanchamayo – San Ramón, La Merced, Perené

The main attractions of Chanchamayo are a varied flora and fauna, as well as various native communities, waterfalls and the coffee route.

One of the cool places to visit is the waterfall El Tirol, located about a 10-minut moto-taxi drive (3 soles per person) from San Ramón (the Rupa Rupa hotel).

Other two famous waterfalls are located further in the area of Perené, Catarata de Bayoz and Velo de la Novia – they are situated a five-minute walk from each other. To go to these, best spend a night at Tinkuy Eco Lodge, located near Perené, a lovely lodge with a clean swimming pool and well-equipped bungalows set amidst a farming land, with orange and avocado trees all around.

As for the native communities, people usually go to that of Pampa Michi or Asháninka Marankiari, where you can buy some artisanal products. Sometimes they have a short programme prepared for the tourists in their traditional clothes – a dance, a song.

Pampa Hermosa is a beautiful place, where an incredible variety of animal species (cocks of the rock, spectacled bears, toucans, tigrillos, etc.) and vegetables (orchids, ferns, giant cedars, etc.) are found in a unique environment. To get to the Pampa Hermosa National Sanctuary, depart from the city of San Ramón and continue through a 24 km carriageway crossing the bridge of Victoria and Lourdes to the town of Nueva Italia, from where you can start the route on foot.

The Profile of the Sleeping Native is located in the Vaquería sector, about 7.5 km from La Merced. From the viewpoint you observe hills that together form a face, a torso and the lower part of the body; some residents say that it is the profile of Juan Santos Atahualpa (the messianic leader of a successful indigenous rebellion in the Amazon Basin and Andean foothills against the Viceroyalty of Peru in the Spanish Empire).

The viewpoint of Cerro La Cruz offers some lovely views to the surrounding hills too.

In the area, you also find a number of ancient suspension bridges, such as e.g. Kimiri, which are frequently used until today.

Villa Rica

A zone renowned for its coffee and chocolate, it offers a lot to do and see.

Certainly start by a small chocolate factory called Kemito, located a few-minute-walk-away from the main square, where you get some free tasting and explanations and where you may observe chocolate making behind a huge glass window. Then make your way up to the viewpoint called La Cumbre, where you can taste some delicious coffee while admiring the views, seated in the middle of a lush forest.

Stop by at Laguna Oconal, where you can taste some artisanal ice cream, enjoy a boat ride or just meditate by the lake filled with waterlilies and other water plants.

Finally, make your way to some “finca”, a coffee farm, where you can go on a tour, by coffee and in some cases even spend a night over.

My partner and I have opted for the organic and biodynamic coffee farm of sustainable permaculture – Chacra De Dago in Palomar. Dago, the owner, and Nelly, his wife, are Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy enthusiasts and admirers of cosmic laws. They observe precise rules for sowing and harvesting their coffee and its processing (e.g. they put precious crystals in the soil). Their breeding animals are in paradise here: with a lot of space, clean and with great food – e.g. they feed their pigs with herbs.

There is a botanical garden and all food is homemade and excellent. They put fresh coca leaves in their salads, make their own kombucha, their eggs have beautifully yellow yolks, just a pleasure truly to take a breakfast, lunch or dinner here. Dago is involved in yoga (in the Paramahansa Yogananda line), has lived in India and other countries, and likes to talk about his encounters and experiences, as well as his belief in the Universe and human as a divine being.

Oxapampa

Located in the high jungle area, in a small valley between lush mountains, winding rivers and gurgling waterfalls, the town was founded by Austrian and German colonists escaping war and famine. In the early 1950s, Baron Damian Freiherr von Schutz-Holzhausen signed an agreement with the Peruvian government to allow 10,000 German settlers from Tyrol and Prussia to relocate to the Alto Huallaga area of ​​Peru. The colonists made a four-month trip from Germany to Lima, where their plans were thwarted by the emerging civil war and the discovery that the road to their new settlement had not yet been built.

Most of the colonists remained in Lima, but about 300 brave ones left for the port of Huacho, where they were placed in quarantine. From there, they crossed the Andes and walked through the dense jungle, making their way to the place of their new home. Only 170 colonists managed to get to the area of Pozuzo (the German settlers) and Prussia (the Austrian settlers; Prussia is situated right by Pozuzo). In 1891, several colonists left Pozuzo and founded nearby Oxapampa. Access to the city used to be difficult until the motorway allowed tourism in the 1980s. Oxapampa is now a popular destination with lots of activities and exciting traditions.

Today, the two cities have a unique and harmonious blend of Peruvian and German culture. Throughout the area you can see traditional German houses and shops offering dirndl and lederhosen to buy.

The great advantage of the area is also that they make their own beer which is not available in other parts of Peru – and it is draft beer (very uncommon otherwise in Peru)!

A blend of German and Peruvian cuisine is typical of the area, but sadly, commonly that means BBQs, salchipapas and broasters… do not expect much of healthy food…

People in the area make their own honey, cheese, yogurt etc. though, which is great. There is also a variety of fruits and veggies available and if you long for healthier food options, there is a nice pizzeria at the Oxapampa main square which offers also some vegetarian dishes and salads.

The whole area of Oxampampa – Pozuzo is clean, well-ordered, disciplined, peaceful, and safe. You don’t see any garbage lying along the roads or the streets and the municipality takes good care of all the parks and gardens in the town (accessible free of charge, unlike in other parts of Peru where you have to pay to enter the “viveros”).

In Oxapampa, rather than opting for a hospedaje in the town, we chose Illariy Tampu Ecoalbergue near Rancho Victoria in Chontabamba, to be able to go trekking immediately from our lodging. It was a great choice, amidst nature, and close to the Tunqui cave. Remember to bring a good torch when setting off to explore the cave (free of entrance), most Peruvian caves are not lit up.

Apotherapy is widely practised in the whole area, which is a form of alternative medicine with the help of bees (bee stings) and their products. It can be used as a treatment for specific problems or as a prevention. The discoverer of modern apotherapy is Austrian physician Dr. Philipp Terč, but its roots go back to Chinese, Korean, Russian, Egyptian and Greek traditional medicine. Apotherapy has been practiced since the time of Hippocrates and Galen. If interested, book a session for yourself in one of the apotherapy studios.

A trip to the popular holiday resort Laguna Verde Gramazu provided us with views of beautiful natural sceneries, but the resort is closed due to the rain season and honestly, is nothing much. On the way there though, you may stop to visit the Native Tsachopen Community. According to anthropologists, the community has lived in the area since 3,500 BC. The locals are very nice and beautiful, with truly exceptional features in their faces.

I recommend you to take a day trip to the Spring of Virgin Mary, where you find pools with water with healing effects, where you can bathe or meditate. Continue to the Waterfall of Río Tigre, which is quite splendid.

Pozuzo

From Oxapampa it is a two-hour drive to Pozuzo, passing national parks and waterfalls along the way. Sometimes the water crosses the road, in some places the road gets completely muddy, exotic birds and butterflies just fly by here and there, so the trip itself is quite an adventure.

If you happen to be in the zone in the dry season, do stop for a short hike to Sendero Túristico Lluvias Eternas. If you go in the rain season, however, do not intend it as you need to cross a river to get to the cave and the river gets dangerous with overflowing water that could sweep you down the waterfall beneath. Even the locals warned us not to intend. We did, nevertheless, but gave up seeing that crossing the river would truly be sheer madness.

In Pozuzo, I recommend you to stay in Albergue Nueva Patria, a low-budget yet beautiful accommodation in private bungalows right by the river of Huancabamba, amidst beautiful nature. It is located four minutes away from the little town of Pozuzo, where you can take a little walk to the hanging Bridge of Emperor Guillermo I., the main square and the restaurant El Típico Pozucino where you can get some good draft beer, spaetzli, schnitzel etc. To learn a bit about the history of the place, stop by in Schafferer Museum.

The best place to see in Pozuzo is definitely Agua Salada, also called Aguas Saladas or Pozas de Agua y Sal. This stunning place is formed by a small stream of turquoise colour which comes from underground sources. The water contains sulfur and salt as well as other minerals – hence its unique colour and its healing effects. Do go early in the morning to avoid clashing with the tours later on (they come in at arround 10 am, arriving from Oxampampa mostly).

This VIDEO depicts the best of Central Peruvian Jungle in the area of Chachamayo, Junín as well as the only Austrian-German colony in the world, Pozuzo and Prussia. Waterfalls, blue lagoons, beautiful landscape, farming lands, coffee plantations and artisanal chocolate, visits of local native communities, learning about their lives and arts, what more could one ask for?

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