Madre de Dios is a department with abundant virgen forest, it might possibly be the most pristine area of the Peruvian Amazon. The region houses native tribes for still faithful to their traditional ways of life, the main groups being the Huarayos, Mashcos, Piros, Amahuacas, Yamanahuas, Amaracaes, and Machiguengas.

It boasts innumerable microclimates and soil varieties which have facilitated the development of a great diversity of life forms. Madre de Dios posseses some of the best soils of all the Amazon Jungle, historically allowing for the harvesting of rubber and brazil nuts. (Unfortunately, rubber has been tapped out and recent European Union legislation put the nut collectors out of work.) Other main sources of income also rely upon the natural wealth of the region: logging, dredging for gold, eco-tourism, and boat building. The land's wide unhurried rivers and beautiful lagoons give rise to exuberant vegetation along their edges.

The tropical Amazon Basin in which Puerto Maldonado is located is hot and humid year-round. The average annual temperature is 79°F and annual rainfall exceeds 3.3ft. During the October to April wet season during which road travel can become impossible and during which there may be floods, though this rarely affects the main part of the town, which is on elevated ground. At times, polar winds blowing in from the Andean south can cause a natural phenomenon that the locals refer to as a surazo or friaje which can make temperatures drop as low as 46°F for several days.

As part of a rainforest exploration committee commisioned by the Peruvian Government in 1901, Don Juan Villalta led an expedition along the Tambopata River, founding Puerto Maldonado in 1902. When the Madre de Dios Department was created ten years later, Puerto Maldonado was designated as its capital, although it would not become a formally recognized city until 1985. Fitzcarrald is often associated with the founding of Puerto Maldonado, but actually died before this point. He did however, explore the area relentlessly in search of gold based on rumors from the local ashaninka and Machiguenga tribes, eventually discovering the area where the rivers meet (where Puerto Maldonado now stands) and opening up the area for rubber extraction.

A remote frontier settlement which attracted only gold seekers, rubber collectors, loggers, and game hunters, Puerto Maldonado has modernized over the years and now has a population of over 30,000. León Velarde, the main avenue, has bars and restaurants where travelers can sample exotic drinks and listen to the ever-popular chicha music. Brazil nuts, gold, and lumber are important industries as well as farming and ranching along the roads or principal rivers, and ecotourism and conservation-related industries.

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