Puerto Maldonado  began as a rubber boomtown in 1902 after a mule road was built from the coast to the headwaters of the Río Tambopata. After the rubber craze ended, gold mining and logging took its place and continues today, though fortunately tourism and Brazil nuts are increasingly important. The wide avenues of Puerto, as locals call the city, quickly peter out into mud lanes and ramshackle rows of wooden buildings. Instead of cars, mostly scooters and three-wheeled motocars buzz the streets.
Puerto Maldonado  is smaller and infinitely more relaxed than the Amazon megalopolis of Iquitos . Most travelers fly into Puerto Maldonado  and transfer immediately to one of two dozen lodges in the area. Avoid staying the night in Puerto, as the jungle is more interesting.
There were two explorers with the last name of Maldonado who explored the Madre de Dios. The first, Juan Álvarez Maldonado, was a Spanish explorer who came here in 1567 in search of gold. He was the first to make it all the way to the Río Heath, the present-day Bolivian border, but he lost 250 Spaniards to disease and Indian attacks in the process. He returned to Cusco  months later, half-crazed and in rags, and claimed to have found a sophisticated, wealthy jungle city known as Paititi.
Though the legend of Paititi grew, the memory of Maldonado’s hardships prevented the Spaniards from returning to the area for nearly three centuries. In the mid-19th century Colonel Faustino Maldonado returned to make the first map of the area. But he perished, along with his valuable journals, in a rapid on the Río Madre de Dios. He carved his name on a tree trunk at the junction of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios Rivers, where the town named in his honor is located today.