The Amazon Basin spans over 5,500,000 sq km across 7 countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, and Venezuela. It is the largest rainforest in the world, and its vast diversity of flora, fauna and wildlife in the Amazon make it one of the world’s top destinations. The Hollywood depictions of Amazonian creatures also add to the allure, albeit exaggerated. Note: Apparently piranhas will only attack humans if the piranha is starving and you are alone and bleeding in the water. So just try to avoid all those things.
This is not to say the jungle is fluffy and safe — within just a few days we encountered plenty of lethal and poisonous creatures. But with a good guide and a healthy dose of respect for the forest, you should be able to make it out fine. A nice dousing of insect repellent helps too, along with the required yellow fever vaccination and malaria pills.
In Peru, jungle covers 50% of the country. I chose to spend a few days in the Southern Amazon, mainly due to its proximity to Cusco where I would be traveling to afterwards. I booked a jungle tour via G Adventures at their G Lodge located in the Reserva Nacional Tambopata.
As I flew into the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado to begin my tour, I caught my first view of the Amazon Basin: wide brown rivers snaking through the dense greenery. It could have been the chocolate river at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but stocked with piranhas and anacondas…
While the Rio Tambopata does contribute to the Rio Amazonas eventually, the wildlife does differ in different parts of the Amazon Basin. If you want to visit the actual eponymous river to see pink dolphins, you need to go to northern Peru (or Brazil which I hope to do eventually!). Iquitos is the most popular starting Peruvian city for Amazon River cruise adventures, and is only accessible by air or river.
If you are an avid bird watcher, the Tambopata Reserve will be heaven as the reserve is home to one of the largest natural clay licks in the country, the Colpa de Guacamayos (Macaw Clay Lick). It attracts hundreds of birds and supposedly Nat-Geo-awesome to see. My tour didn’t include this unfortunately, but there were several rescued macaws at the lodge that enjoyed playing with visitors.
The lodge was built to be environmentally sustainable and ecofriendly, which to me loosely translates to: they recycle a lot and there is no electricity (and definitely no internet). But the lodge did have a full bar, hot water, and cozy rooms with plenty of mosquito netting. Electricity was available but only for a few hours a day in the bar area so every night after dinner guests would congregate to drink, play cards, and charge their electronics.
My favorite part about the lodge was the food — all meals were included and the Peruvian fare the kitchen whipped up was delicious. For longer hikes, they will give you a packed lunch and I loved the juanes. This jungle dish is growing in popularity across the country; it has chicken with rice, olives, boiled egg wrapped in banana leaves like a giant tamale.
I especially loved the fresh fruits and juices which were provided by a local farm across river. We would later take a tour of this farm one afternoon. Sampling the fruits was the best part!
The other activities we did included lake tours, jungle hikes, night walks, and a caiman (alligator) night search. There was also a very refreshing (read: cold) creek nearby to swim in and for an additional 10 usd, you can climb the tree platforms to do a canopy walk.
I spent 4 relaxing days at the Tambopata Lodge but I admit it was a bit too relaxing… I got quite bored after a day 2. Most tours only spend 3 days which I think is plenty in the rainforest. I needed a bit more activity but that is what my Inca Jungle Trek is for next week!
My camera has an awful zoom so I stole my tourmate’s animal photos to add to this blog post– so most of the gorgeously detailed pictures here of the wildlife are courtesy of Norbert… thanks buddy!
Follow this link to see more photos taken of the inhabitants of the Tambopata Reserve.
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