Madre de Dios
Madre de Dios, Peru is a large department (or state) in the wild, southeastern part of the country. Its name means “Mother of God” and is a common Spanish synonym for “the Virgin Mary”. The rather generic name given to the Madre de Dios department in Peru is a reflection of how little was known about the region during the Spanish colonial era. Whereas some departments were assigned the same name used by the Incans, neither Incan people nor Spanish colonists settled in the southeastern Amazonian lowlands so the department was simply named in honor of one of the most revered figures in Roman Catholicism (the principle religion of the Spanish colonists).
In a sense, this name befit a wild, untamed wilderness of dense rainforests, trackless swamps, and meandering rivers flanked by unforgiving jungle as it was believed that outsiders only survived in such a place by the grace of God. In modern times, the Madre de Dios department has become much more accessible while still retaining its wild character.
Huge tracts of unbroken rainforest are protected in national parks, reserves, and by several Peruvian rainforest lodges. The lack of roads and low population also keeps many parts of Madre de Dios intact and devoid of development. Nevertheless, a recently constructed road that connects routes to the Pacific with routes to the Atlantic Ocean has brought more colonists to the region along with associated deforestation, hunting, and mining activities that could pose a threat to the rainforests of Madre de Dios, Peru.
The Three provinces of Madre de Dios
There are three main provinces within the department of Madre de Dios, Peru. They are:
: Bordering Bolivia to the east, this is the most populated of the three Madre de Dios provinces. Its capital, Puerto Maldonado, is also the capital city of Madre de Dios. It is the largest city in the department and in the Amazonian lowlands of southeastern Peru. The population of Puerto Maldonado has increased to nearly 100,00o as thousands of people from highland regions have moved to the city. Most are drawn to Puerto Maldonado in search of jobs and a better life.
is also home to extensive areas of lowland rainforests that host some of the highest biodiversity indices in the world. The three lodges of Rainforest Expeditions are found in Tambopata, along the river of the same name.
: Located in the northern reaches of Madre de Dios, this province borders Brazil to the north and Bolivia to the east. It’s a wild, frontier zone of rainforests, thick bamboo groves, and has just 7,000 inhabitants.
: The name of this westernmost Madre de Dios province is associated much more with the national park of the same name rather than the province itself. This is due to Manu National Park’s fame as being one of the top biodiversity hotspots on Earth. A massive biosphere reserve that protects habitats ranging from treeline vegetation to lush cloud forests and dense, lowland jungles, the wildlife of Manu has been featured in many documentaries and magazines.
Despite the wild, untamed nature of Manu province, around 17,000 people make their home there. These include a number of indigenous people (some of whom make very little contact with western peoples), farmers, miners, and ecotourism operators.
The city of Puerto Maldonado has a hot, wet climate all year round, apart from in June and July, when temperatures can fall thanks to the “El friaje” phenomenon caused by winds blowing from the South (Patagonia) up to the Amazon. The rainy season lasts from November to April. In the towns and villages in the province of Manu the climate is temperate and wet, with high humidity and fog in the mornings; there is more rain in these highland rainforest areas than in the lowland rainforest areas.