The Pongo de Mainique, the fearsome whitewater gorge of Peru
14 October 2022
Pongo de Mainique comes from the Quechua word “pongo” or “punku”, which means door or entrance, towards a new wide horizon. It was formed in many years by the passage of the waters of the Alto Urubamba River, obtaining erosion in the rocks making its way and flowing into the Lower Urubamba area.
It is about the rupture of the Cordillera del Vilcabamba through which the waters of the Urubamba River run; This famous river is born in the snowy mountains near Cusco and its waters irrigate the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The Pongo de Mainique is the gateway to the Megantoni sanctuary of which it is a part.
Its mountains are part of the eastern chain, and it is there where it ends, to give rise to the Amazonian plain, dividing into two types of relief: the Upper Urubamba (mountains), and the Lower Urubamba (plain).
- The Pongo de Mainique is a 3 kilometer river crossing with steep falls and torrents, which separate the upper Urubamba from the lower Urubamba. In other words, it leaves behind the last eastern Andean foothills and enters the immense jungle plain.
- Its name is related to the Quechua word 'Punku' or 'Puerta', in Spanish. Due to its difficult currents, the Incas believed it to be sacred and impenetrable.
- The Pongo de Mainique has a large tributary of water that makes it navigable. However, during the rainy season (between January, February and March), the strong eddies and torrents make it a dangerous passage for boats.
- The pongo de Mainique has a width of only 45 meters. Its mountainous and green cliffs located on its sides reach up to 1,200 meters high. This overwhelming geography makes it an exceptional landscape. It is as if it were a gorge between the mountains where the river crosses!
- On the river tour you can see up to 30 waterfalls.
- In the rainy season, the Pongo de Mainique is considered one of the most dangerous river crossings in Peru.
- Crossing the pongo de Mainique, you reach the lower Urubamba, a lowland jungle area where the waters are more navigable. This area is protected by the State of Peru. It is called the Megantoni National Sanctuary.
This beauty is located in the interior and extensive district of Echarate (Pangoa sector), province of the Convention and region of Cusco, Peru.
The Pongo de Mainique begins at the mouth of the Yoyato River, until it reaches the Toteoroato River ravine (Snail River).
- The Pongo de Mainique was formed millions of years ago as a result of erosion and the force of the powerful waters that forged their way through the chain of forested mountains.
- This area was inhabited by various tribes many centuries old. Currently, the Machiguenga communities inhabit part of this jungle area as well as the Camisea, Manu, Picha and Timpía regions.
- According to the Machiguenga worldview, the pongo of Mainique was a sacred place that gave rise to origin because it was the door that communicated the mountainous worlds with the jungle ones. Likewise, it was believed that the pongo gave rise to its ethnic group. The Incas, aware of the importance of pongo, also considered it a sacred place.
- These Amazonian ethnic groups had a commercial exchange with the Incas who inhabited the upper Urubamba. The products that the Incas obtained from the pongo of Mainique are the coca leaf, cocoa and various fruits.
- Due to the biological and cultural importance of the pongo de Mainique and the forested areas that exist there, in 2004 the Peruvian authorities created the National Sanctuary of Megantoni, which had the function of conserving natural life as well as the native peoples that live there.
The National Sanctuary of Megantoni
- The National Sanctuary of Megantoni is an area protected by the Peruvian State. The reason is its great biodiversity as well as the original ethnic groups that inhabit its area. It covers a territory of 215,868 hectares, including incredible natural geographies such as Pongo de Mainique, Angel Lake and more.
- It was created on August 18, 2004. In addition to the Machiguengas in Megantoni, there are indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation, such as the Nanty, the Kugapakori and more.
- The tourist route through Megantoni runs along the banks of the Urubamba River, including the Pongo de Mainique. The route also includes a visit to the pre-Hispanic path of Lambary as well as the Pongoa petroglyphs and, of course, a great diversity of flora and fauna.
- In the Megantoni National Sanctuary, 32 species of large mammals have been detected, as well as 1,400 plant species, 32 amphibian species, 19 reptile species, 378 birds, and much more.
- The most representative bird species are the macaws, the mountain turkeys, the black partridge, the cock of the rocks and more. The most amazing species of mammals are the spectacled bear, the river wolf, the gray maquisapa, the black machin, the puma and more.
- Among the 32 species of amphibians, there are 12 new species discovered by science. Orchids and ferns are the most famous plant species in the park. Research continues to search for new species to discover.
- It is at an approximate altitude of 462 meters above sea level, is 50 meters wide and 2 km long.
How to get there?
Take a bus from Cusco to Quillabamba (approx. 8 hours), where we will board vehicles that will take us to the Port of Tintiniquiato, (approx. 10 hours) this is where you take the boats that take you to Pongo de Mainique (approx. 2h ).
In another case, you must take a small plane from the imperial city of Cusco, and after 50 minutes you will arrive at the community of Timpia. From there you have to take a short 10-minute walk to reach the pier, then take a 15-minute boat ride to reach the Machiguenga center.
Hire a travel agency: Definitely the safest and most recommended option would be this, because they take care of the transfer to this archaeological zone in a better way and solve any inconvenience in a better way.
What do we see in Pongo De Mainique?
- It has a landscape with an abundance of waterfalls and waterfalls on both walls of the canyon that through time have done an impressive job of wearing down and polishing the surrounding rocks.
- Here lives the Maeni (in native language Matsigenka), name by which the spectacled bear or Andean bear is known, from which the name of the place comes.
- In the northern part of the pongo on the left bank, a rock formation can be seen that presumably has the shape of the face of a monkey. On the right bank is the Tasorinchi viewpoint, from where you can see the entire Amazonian plain and the path of the Lower Urubamba River; the access to this place is found at the mouth of the Oseroato River.
- The pongo divides two geographical reliefs, one of them is the upper Urubamba which is characterized by presenting mountain ranges covered with dense vegetation, the other side is the Lower Urubamba which presents a flat relief, Going through the Pongo is a fascinating experience for the lovers of adventure and nature.
- On the journey you can see numerous waterfalls and interesting fauna, among which the Military Macaw, various herons, Spectacled Bear and a great variety of monkeys such as the Machín Negro, Maquisapa, Choro stand out.
We can visit this wonderful "Pongo de Mainique" from Monday to Sunday, throughout the day, without time restrictions; but it is highly recommended to visit in the morning.
The tours to Pongo de Mainique that depart from Cusco last several days.
The 4-day and 3-night tour that starts in Cusco and includes the Megantoni National Sanctuary costs between 400 and 600 dollars per tourist.
It is also possible to go on your own. For this it is necessary to organize on your own: transportation Cusco – Quillabamba – Echarati – Ivocote. Also the rental of a boat with a local guide. Many tourists choose to camp on the banks of the river or in a local town.
- The Mainique pongo has a hot and humid climate with temperatures reaching a maximum of 32ºC. and a minimum of 17ºC.
- The rains can occur in any month of the year. However, they are more frequent in December, January, February and March. It is in those months, the rainy season, that the waters of the pongo become dangerous.
- The rest of the year, from April to November, it is advisable to visit it with a guide who knows the route well.
What is the best season to visit the Pongo De Mainique?
It is recommended to visit in the months of May to October, which are times of drought, it does not rain, therefore, the river is very navigable; in rainy seasons, it increases the waterfalls and is much more colorful, it causes cloudiness, the river increases its flow, making it difficult to navigate, access to the plain through this area is restricted.
How to get?
To travel to Pongo de Mainique from the city of Cusco you can perform the following steps:
Take a public transport bus from Cusco to Quillabamba. The trip takes approximately 7 hours. The cost is 30 soles on average (10 US dollars).
In Quillabamba you must take another public transport to the town of Ivochote, in the district of Echarate. The trip takes approximately 5 hours. The cost is 30 soles on average (10 US dollars).
Finally, in the town of Ivochote, you must take a boat that will take you to the Pongo de Mainique (2 hour boat ride). The cost of this last trip is negotiable with the owner of the boat.
What to pack?
- Light clothing.
- Rain jacket or poncho (rainy seasons).
- Video or photographic camera.
- Hats or hats for the sun.
- Mosquito repellent.
- Purifying tablets.
- Cookies, chocolates, candies, snacks.
- Mineral water.
- Extra money in soles.
Enjoying the wonders of the incredible Peruvian territory always is and will be a fantastic adventure that will take us back in time and space, relax us, and make us feel that mystical and spiritual sensation.
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