It’s a jungle out there: An adventure to Peru’s Amazon

The Peruvian Amazon is quickly becoming a hot-spot for travelers looking to experience one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.
The peque-peque that transported us down the Rio Tambopata. Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

We were in a wooden boat powered by a small motor, speeding down the winding waters of the Rio Tambopata. While my journey from Lima to Puerto Maldonado had started early in the day, it was now late afternoon, and the sun was setting behind a thick blanket of clouds, tinting them with varying hues of dark grey, blue and purple. Suddenly the boat came to a halt. Blending in with the fiery red clay, there it was, our first wildlife sighting — a capybara. Known as the largest rodent, these animals forage for thickets of aquatic plants growing along the river bank.

wildlifeOropendplas collect twigs to build their nests which hang in trees (left). Three monkeys howl above, warning us that we were in their territory (right).
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

Between the pair of colorful macaws soaring above my head to the leaf cutter ants carrying green foliage weighing fifty times their weight at my feet, the jungle erupted with life. I stood in awe as flocks of butterflies freely fluttered from flower to flower and as a family of monkeys swiftly navigated their way through the canopy above. Seeing this intricate ecosystem, where each life form depends on the other, made me realize just how interconnected we are to not only one another, but also all lifeforms that make up this great planet.

life in the amazon jungleThe Peruvian Amazon is bursting with life.
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

Queen of the Jungle

When we arrived to Refugio Amazonas, our base for this four-day foray into the world’s largest rainforest, we were greeted with what would likely be the dreams of a modern day Robinson Crusoe. Below the black velvet sky that glittered with stars was a state-of-the-art lodge. Armed with a small pot of rich hot chocolate to take off the chill of the long boat ride, porters showed us to our rooms, which gave no hint to our rugged surroundings.

Nor did the luxurious linens draping the queen-size beds; the hammock lazily hanging in the corner; the full bathroom tempting me with its warm-water showers. Where the fourth wall of my bungalow should have been was a blanket of black; beyond it the mysteries of the jungle just waiting to be discovered. But by this time we were under the cover of darkness, and I’m no after dark jungle explorer, so instead of traipsing into the night, I headed to the dining area for dinner.

beautiful propertyRefugio Amazonas may be tucked in the Amazon Jungle, but the rooms ooze comfort.
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

The Belly of the Beast

The thrill of travel for me is in the unexpected, and as an unwavering, strict vegetarian there is almost always an eating adventure to be had when traveling through South America. Sometimes it’s in innovative, tasty dishes and others it’s in anxious explanations that I can’t eat potatoes cooked in chicken broth. When it came to trekking through the Amazon for four days, I didn’t know what to expect so I stuffed my bags full of granola bars. All of my concerns diminished that first night when servers presented dinner. Onions, peppers and pineapple bathed in an oriental stir fry, sautéed with mushrooms and dished up over a bed of rice. It was so incredibly flavorful and filling.

I actually found that to be true about all of the dishes. Refugio Amazonas gets a steady stream of vegetarians, food allergy sufferers and picky eater extraordinaires. The chefs work around special diets with creative alternatives. For me, soy products and mushrooms were used in lieu of the chicken and beef the other guests ate, and rather than eating the evening soups which were sometimes made with a beef base, I noshed on salad drizzled with olive oil.

Basket lunchThe Amazon’s version of fast food.
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

I looked forward to each meal, which excited my taste buds and made me ask for seconds even when I was full. Because the lodge focuses on sustainability, most ingredients are sourced locally. Breakfast consisted of crepes with Nutella one morning and eggs with platanos fritos (known as chifles in Peru) another. Bread still warm from the oven, freshly squeezed papaya or mango or pineapple juice, yogurt with cereal and fruit salad were always on the menu. I welcomed my lunches of stewed squash locro and aji de tofu with open arms (and an open mouth), especially after a morning of romping around in the mud. As far as dinner was concerned, reminiscing about the vegetables bathed in an oriental sauce served atop fluffy rice is making me hungry. People without dietary restrictions will also eat well: pork adobo, ginger and garlic beef with rice and chicken cooked in Brazil nut sauce are the continual favorites.

Green: It Isn’t Just a Color

The journey to Refugio Amazonas is definitely a river less traveled. The only way to reach this secluded lodge nestled on 200-hectares of the Tambopata National Reserve is by plane (90-minutes from Lima to Puerto Maldonado), then bus (45-minutes from the headquarters to the dock), then boat (2.5-hours from the dock to the lodge). Because it rests on sacred land, all of Rainforest Expeditions’ properties hold themselves, and therefore their guests, to a high standard of ethical and sustainable travel. A generator, turned on only once per day for a few hours, powers outlets to recharge electronics and lights. The lodge provides all guests with deluxe, hand-made, organic bath products that are environmentally friendly. Nearly everything used from meal preparation to cleaning is reusable or biodegradable, and what isn’t is recycled. Rainforest Expeditions even works with local families to be sure they share the benefits of ecotourism. Women from surrounding villages make artisanal goods like Jequirity bead bracelets and men harvest Brazil nuts that grow naturally.

going greenSustainability is an important pillar to Rainforest Expeditions.
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

The amenities at the lodge are akin to those at a four or five star hotel. A bar serves up ice cold cervezas and pisco sours, along with soda and wine. The gift shop features items you may have forgotten at home (hello bug spray and flashlights!), as well souvenirs crafted by the hand of locals. A full time massage therapist kneads out the kinks guests may have accumulated during long plane rides and hiking the Inca Trail. The hammock garden is a great place to relax in the sun.

hammock gardenThe hammock garden was the perfect place to relax and unwind.
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

Plan an Adventure

Trips with Rainforest Expeditions to Puerto Maldonado are available year round, even though the rainy season (November to January). During this time, you not only see an increase in irritating insects, but the unexpected rains can also lead to transportation issues like flight cancellations and bus and boat delays. Cusco continues to get rain through April which also affects flying as many planes fly to or over Cusco.

peopleMy jungle buddies and me. I journeyed the Amazon with my mom, who is a great travel mate.
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

The season affects animal activity. Wet season means blossoms on fruiting trees which provide food for many jungle animals, The dry season brings animals that might normally stay deep in the forest to the river bed. Extreme heat changes the way animals act, as does cool weather. The reality is, there is never a shortage of sightings, but rather different opportunities to see flora and fauna. High season is typically June to October as the weather tends to be sunny and dry.

spying wildlifeSpying on monkeys and birds hiding high in the canopy.
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

Don’t Become a Bug Magnet

Doctors recommend getting a yellow fever vaccine at least ten days before your trip and taking a program of antimalarial medicine, beginning several weeks before arrival and continuing it throughout your time in the jungle. Wearing long sleeves and pants and applying bug spray throughout the day can reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases as well.

rio tambopataThe Tambopata River.
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

The Shirt Off Your Back

Most travelers will also be visiting the capital and Machu Picchu, two places with entirely different climates than the jungle. For this reason, they will likely have lightweight linens for Lima and coats for Cusco. Upon arrival to Puerto Maldonado, but before heading to Refugio Amazonas, guests can repack a bag with only what they’ll need in the Amazon and securely store the rest of their bags at the Rainforest Expeditions office.

Packing Tips

  • Pants with pockets and shirts with long sleeves
  • Shorts and shirts with short sleeves
  • A polar fleece (check weather before departing; it dropped to 40°F (4°C) when I was there)
  • A rain jacket or poncho
  • Hiking boots or good sneakers that you don’t mind getting dirty
  • Bug Spray and sunscreen
  • A hat and sunglasses
  • A bottle to fill with water
  • Camera equipment (for me it is my phone, DSLR, go-pro, tripods, camera gear, etc…)
  • A backpack to hold all your camera equipment
  • Toothbrush and basic toiletries, but not in soaps or shampoos as Rainforest Expeditions has environmentally friendly products on-site

 collageVisiting the Amazon was one of the single most amazing travel experiences I have ever had. Plan your own adventure!
Photo: Terra Hall/Peru for Less

Plan your own Amazonian adventure to Peru

Ready for your next adventure? Contact us today to speak with an experienced travel advisor and add a trip to Peru’s Amazon to your Peru itinerary!