I did the trip along the Tarapoto to Tingo Maria road a few weeks ago (March 2010) and it was fun and free of problems. However, there is good news and potential bad news for anyone thinking of doing the same. The good news comes first…
Tarapoto to Tingo Maria, Peru – The Good News
Paving projects along the route seem to be going pretty well. I went with Pizana Express (shared cars – recommended) and the travel time was approximately 12 hours (9-10 hours is certainly possible with few stops). Considering that it used to take 18-20 hours, this is a pretty significant improvement. Due to the rough conditions along the unpaved sections, buses are still rare along the route – at the time of writing, I’m not sure that any buses run all the way between Tingo Maria and Tarapoto.
Furthermore, the large suspension bridges along the route seem to be unstable. At least, passengers have to walk across and meet up with their vehicle on the other side. It’s actually quite nice to get out for a walk along these bridges; the scenery is spectacular and it’s a good opportunity to stretch your legs.
Once this route is paved in its entirety, the travel time is going to be minimal. Rough guess: 6 to 8 hours. Estimated time until completion: this is Peru, so who knows? Perhaps 1 or 2 more years for it to be totally paved and effectively secured against landslides etc.
Tingo Maria to Tarapoto, Peru – The Bad News
So we were a couple of hours away from Tarapoto on the return trip. There was me thinking “Why does Lonely Planet Peru always say that this road is so damned dangerous?” Then Fredson (our driver – highly recommended if you can find him at the Pizana office) totally ruins my plans for writing a glowing review of the Tarapoto to Tingo Maria road.
We had just stopped at the Pizana office in Juanjui; Fredson came back to the car and told us that we had missed a bandit roadblock by less than 30 minutes. Cars travelling only slightly behind us had been stopped (with a tree placed across the road, I think) and the passengers had their belongings stolen. No-one was harmed in any way.
Should You Take the Road Between Tarapoto and Tingo Maria?
I can’t say that the route is totally secure. These things can and do happen on Peruvian roads, so it’s up to individuals to decide whether to take the trip from Tarapoto to Tingo Maria or not. Would I do it again? Certainly, and without any doubts. Plenty of people do this trip every day and this is the first robbery I have heard of in the last year. The amount of police and ronderos guarding the middle section, however, does show that this particular area has problems.
I recommend Pizana Express for anyone planning on doing this route. Their cars are frequently in contact with each other and the drivers seem to know what they’re doing. If you can track down Fredson in Tarapoto (ask at the Pizana office, Jr. Jorge Chavez 1221), he’s the man to go with. If you have any experience with this particular Peru road, please leave a comment below.