Pucallpa, in the Peruvian Amazon, is where the highway ends. From here the roadless expanse of the Amazon begins, extending far into Brazil. Fruits and vegetables arrive to the city from the Rio Ucayali and its tributaries and, what is not consumed here directly, are then filtered by road into the rest of Peru. While Pucallpa does not have a massive tourist lure (though there are a few tourists that make it here, mostly Peruvians), there is a considerable amount of interesting things going in and around the city, especially for the adventurous Foodie.
Mercado Numero 2: The gamut of Amazonian produce can be found here in the market in Pucallpa’s center. There’s fruits, juice stalls, butchers and bush meat, river fish, medicinal plants, Andean potatoes, small restaurants and food stalls, and a few handicrafts stands.
Aguaje and Tamarindo Drink Stalls: In the streets outside of the market and elsewhere in the center, you can find stands with big plastic jugs filled with macerated fruit. One, the orangish color, is from aguaje fruit from the Moriche Palm that has a strong, carroty flavor and is extremely high in beta-carotene. The other (though there are sometimes more) is made from tamarindo, which is sweeter and slightly milky with spicy notes. I prefer it far more than the aguaje.
Plaza del Reloj & Ucayali Riverfront: The malécon with most sweeping views of the Rio Ucayali has two interesting culinary things going on. First, right on the river, boats of bananas are pulling up and being unloaded onto trucks that will take off for the highway when full. For most visitors here, it will be the largest amount of bananas you will ever see in your life. The other interesting culinary goings on are the tented food stalls selling both typical dishes, fried chicken, fruit, and general knickknacks.
Shambo: Peru’s phallic jungle Popsicle is sold in storefronts across the Peruvian Amazon. They are made of all natural fruit pulp, purified water, and sugar. The especiales add cream in the recipe and cost .5 soles more (originals are just 1 sol). Flavors include Camu Camu, Aguaje, Coco, Cerveza, chocolate, vanilla, and many others from little known fruits. There’s a tiki bar like storefront right on the Plaza de Armas (Av. Grau 1048), though you can occasionally find roving vendors in the center.
Tingo Maria Cheese: Tingo Maria, a few hours west on the highway to Lima from Pucallpa, is in the buffer zone between the Andes and the Amazon and known for its cheese. It’s a simple white cheese, like most Andean regions have, though it is slightly less crumbly than normal Queso Fresco. It’s pasteurized like a cheese from Cajamarca. You can find it in some supermarkets, along the highway from Tingo Maria to Pucallpa, and from roving vendors in Pucallpa’s center.
La Chonta Restaurant: The best typical restaurant in Pucallpa is only open in the evenings. It has a big rainforest painted dining room, though I prefer sitting on the sidewalk where the food is grilled and all of the uncooked meats and fish and vegetables sit spread out on a table. Take a good look at what’s fresh, a Paiche I ate was a little bit skunky, though the rest of the dishes I ate were fine. Try the juanes, alligator anticuchos, majás (a large jungle rodent), zaino (collared peccary), venado (deer), or cecina con tacacho. Cáceres 389.
Calle Chifa: Though not the official name, this cluster of Chinese restaurants on the route to Yarinacocha – around Salaverry and Tarapaca – is the best place for Pucallpa’s international dining scene. All are standard chifas. There’s not Arroz con Paiche or anything like that.
Cebicheria El Escorpión: Most of the seafood comes from the coast at this small restaurant just off the plaza. They do have a paiche ceviche and chicharrón de dorado, though most of the menu is pretty standard coastal ceviche.
Tropitop: This fast food place with burgers and a few typical dishes right on the plaza is ok for a meal if you are with a picky North American eater, though I’m including it here because of the cremoladas. Lovely on a hot day (which is likely everyday in Pucallpa).
Yarinacocha Food Stands: Better than the more popular restaurants beside them, the food stands that line the Yarinacocha lakefront and sit in between the docks of the floating restaurants dish out some of the best food in Pucallpa. The greatest variety of freshly made typical dishes from the region can be found here: juanes, paiche ceviche, cecina con tacacho, a full range of fish from the lake that they will skin and cook on front of you, camu camu juice, and picarones. They also sell fruits, vegetables, and freshly caught fish if you have access to a kitchen.
Yarinacocha Floating Restaurants: The floating, thatched roof restaurants that line the waterfront are the most touristy restaurants Pucallpa has. Most are fairly average, over priced, and fill up on the weekends. The dishes range from typical to pizza. The view cannot be beat, however.
Where to Stay in Pucallpa: Peter Mathhiessen said in the book Cloud Forest that he could see the jungle from his room at Grand Hotel Mercedes (Portillo and Atahualpa). With the city’s considerable urban sprawl that is no longer the case, though the worn rooms are still among the city’s best and usually top spot for visiting journalists or researchers. Hospadaje Kombi (Ucayali 360) near the market has the same amenities as the Grand Mercedes and is half the price, though it lacks a pool and rooms are shabbier.
Getting There: LAN and Star Peru both have daily flights between Pucallpa and Lima, as well as between Pucallpa and Iquitos.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.