Long before European explorers arrived to South America, indigenous tribes inhabited the Amazon of present-day Peru. These peoples were mostly nomadic and survived by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild foods. Archaeological evidence of the oldest known Amazonian settlement dates back an estimated 11,000 years.
1450-1535 AD: The Inca Empire comes in contact with indigenous jungle cultures. Some tribes were conquered and integrated into the expanding empire. Others successfully warded off the Inca incursions and their ferociousness in battle became a detail weaved into oral traditions in the Andes and Amazon.
16th century: Spanish explorers write about their first expeditions into the jungle. Some were sent to settle the area, but often failed. Others set out in search of the fabled jungle city of gold, El Dorado. Catholic missionaries also set out on a mission to spread Christianity among remaining jungle communities.
19th century: Opportunistic businesses began to exploit natural resources from the Amazon under that assumption that it was all inexhaustible. In southern Peru, the city of Puerto Maldonado developed as a frontier town as demand for natural rubber took off. Later, timber, animal products, and fertile land for farming was later exploiting. Disease spread rapidly among the indigenous people and resulted in a high mortality rate and rapid depopulation.
Puerto Maldonado Today: The southern jungle of Peru is a hotspot for nature lovers and thrill seekers. Travelers can get to jungle lodges in the nearby Tambopata National Park the same day they arrive to Puerto Maldonado by plane.
What are the main threats to the Amazon Rainforest?
The bounty of natural resources from the Amazon and the challenge that comes with controlling activity within its remote regions makes the world’s largest rainforest susceptible to exploitation from the outside world. Photos depicting large plots of trees burned to the ground and once pristine rivers now flowing black with oil are snapshots of the devastating environmental destruction taking place in present times.
Despite the establishment of national reserves in southern Peru during the 90s, illegal mining and logging continue to threaten the region’s delicate jungle ecosystems. The completion of the Transoceanic Highway (a paved road connecting Puerto Maldonado to the outside world) also poses questions about the pros and cons of increased accessibility to the already at-risk region.
Fortunately, major players in ecotourism and research are driving forces behind efforts to save the Amazon and grow awareness for conservation programs.
The Amazon rainforest drapes a tropical green blanket over a significant part of South America. It covers the entire eastern part of Peru (about 60 percent of the country’s national territory) and extends into parts of Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela.
Southern Amazon in Peru
Puerto Maldonado is the capital of the Madre de Dios department in southern Peru. As the largest city in the region, it is a hub for travelers exploring this remote part of the Amazon.
The Madre de Dios River and its tributaries feed the southern jungle of Peru and its thriving ecosystems. One of the most important tributaries, the Tambopata, begins near the city of Puerto Maldonado about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the Peru-Bolivia border and meanders its way south through the Tambopata National Reserve and the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park.
The enormous tracts of protected jungle of southern Peru host of different habits where an unprecedented number of flora and fauna thrive. Old-growth Amazonian trees stretch for miles and miles, bamboo groves flourish along riverbeds, and marshes the form in poorly irrigated parts join savannah, floodplain, and swamp landscapes.
Low-lying jungle dominate the southern Peruvian Amazon. The elevation of Puerto Maldonado is 180 m (600 ft) above sea level.
The Amazon has a warm, tropical climate with high humidity. Average temperatures range from 25°C (77° F) to 42°C (107°F).
May through October are usually the driest months in the Amazon. Between June to September there are periodic cold spells called friajes that can drop the temperature to 10°C (50°F) for a couple days at a time. Friajes are cold fronts the blow up from Patagonia and then whip down over the southern jungle from the Andes.
- Pros: Trails less muddy, higher probability of seeing parrots and macaws at the clay licks
- Cons: Hotter temperatures, sunny days usually see less bird activity, amphibians harder to spot
The Amazon is a rainforest, so really there’s chance of rain throughout the year. But more constant rains that define the region’s wet season begin in November and continue to April. November and December usually receive the most rainfall.
- Pros: Temporal wetlands make it easier to see reptiles and amphibians, cooler temperatures
- Cons: Muddy conditions, less likely to see birds at the claylicks, higher chances of flight delays
Jungle Communities & Puerto Maldonado
The Amazon jungle covers more than 60 percent of Peru, but the sparsely inhabited region is home to only 5 percent of the country’s entire population. Many indigenous communities live throughout the Peruvian Amazon. But the realities of their daily lives vary greatly. Some live nearby main jungle cities, like Iquitos, Pucallpa, and Puerto Maldonado, in homes with electricity and television. Other communities reside in remote Amazon regions only accessible via riverboat.
For tribes living in previously remote jungle regions of Peru, the growth of Puerto Maldonado has not come without challenges and injustice. Mining and logging have destroyed and polluted the environment. Also, the deep-seated culture of political corruption and unregulated businesses have interfered with the fair allocation of monetary aid to benefit local communities and eco-friendly projects.
Fortunately, the Ese’Eja community from the Madre de Dios region is a shining example of an indigenous tribe that is thriving, despite modern influences and past injustice. Since 1996, the Ese’Eja and Rainforest Expeditions, a Peruvian ecotourism company, have been partners in the ongoing operation of the Posada Amazonas jungle lodge. The Ese’Eja own the lodge and it’s managed by Rainforest Expeditions (for a limited time). The ecotourism project has created jobs for many local people and earnings from the lodge are reinvested into community projects job creation and it are just part of. Posada Amazonas also helps keep the Ese’Eja culture alive through sharing their culture and way of life with excursions. Learn more about the award-winning Posada Amazonas lodge.
The budding ecotourism sector in Puerto Maldonado is multilingual. Hotel staff and travel guides can usually speak English, sometimes French, German, etc., in addition to Spanish. On a visit to an indigenous community, you’ll hear their native language.
Tipping is a great way to show your appreciation to the naturalist guide(s) and lodge staff who made your trip to the jungle a memorable one. It’s customary to tip at the very end of your stay at a jungle lodge. Of course, tip at your own discretion.
Things to Do
A multi-day adventure at a jungle lodge is one of the best ways to capitalize on the outdoor highlights of southern Peru’s Tambopata and Manu National Parks. In company of a guide, travelers can experience an array of jungle activities and excursions.
Large flocks of macaws and parrots congregate around exposed sections of riverbeds, called clay licks, to nibble at the clay and socialize. Why do the birds eat the clay? Some scientists theorize the clay contains sodium and other minerals that they may need but don’t get from their food. Others think that the birds ingest the clay to help neutralize the toxins they eat from certain plants. To observe these beautiful birds in clay-eating action, guides may point out claylicks along the river while traveling in boat or take you to a protective dry-lead camouflage covering.
Oxbow lakes are unique habitats to Peru’s southern Amazon basin region. These lakes are formed as bends in the river are slowly cut off from the main water flow over hundreds of years. Get an early start to your day and explore the lake waters aboard a paddle-driven boat. With luck on your side, caimans, several species of birds, and resident families of giant otters are among the wildlife you can see!
Gain new perspective of the Amazon on a visit to the jungle canopy. The startling diversity in flora and fauna varies not only by habitat but also by distance from the rainforest floor. The canopy bridge at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica jungle lodge swings 31 meters (103 feet) above the rainforest floor.
Guided jungle walks are a chance to soak in the surrounding nature you at a slower. Some trails meander old-growth forests of towering trees, others explore shin-deep waters. Along the way, your expert guide will point out hidden wildlife and share knowledge about the native vegetation.
Many jungle lodges work closely with local communities. Posada Amazonas is a popular jungle lodge near the Tambopata National Reserve that’s owned in partnership between the native Ese’eja community and Rainforest Expeditions. Visiting a local farm or traditional community clinic offer great insight to how locals live in harmony with the Amazon.
In the Amazon, “jungle lodge” often replaces the word “hotel”. Many of these remote lodges offer all-inclusive tour packages (accommodation, meals, guided excursions). Amenities vary from lodge to lodge.
The following are lodges in Puerto Maldonado our team recommends.
Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica
45-minute boat transfer from Puerto Maldonado to the Lodge
Reserva Amazonica is located along the river, on a 40 square mile (103.6 square kilometer) private ecological reserve adjacent to the Tambopata National Park. Offering 30 private cabanas, 3 suites, and a unique canopy tree house that sits 90 feet above ground and can accommodate 2, the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica provides comfortable accommodation amidst spectacular scenery. All guestrooms and common areas were built with local materials and high-pitched palm-thatched roofs in local Ese-Eja and Machiguenga native styles. Each room is attractively furnished with log chairs, comfortable beds covered by mosquito netting, and a small porch with 2 hammocks. The rooms have no electricity, but after dinner, guests can return to their cabanas across tree-trunk boardwalks to find the entryways and bathrooms lit with candles and kerosene lamps. Reserva Amazonica is a perfect place to relax and enjoy everything the Amazon Rainforest has to offer.
Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion
A 20-minute boat transfer from Puerto Maldonado to the Lodge
The Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion lodge in the diverse Puerto Maldonado area is one of the best value options to be had in the Peruvian Amazon. The lodge is located just adjacent to the Tambopata National Reserve and the famous Lake Sandoval, allowing it to provide some of the most thrilling Amazon excursions in Peru. Rooms are basic but spacious, and the charming cabañas offer a sitting area outfitted with relaxing hammocks in which to whittle the days away. Professional and knowledgeable guides are available to lead and educate you every step of the way during your fascinating rainforest excursions, offering you with valuable history and context about the jungle environment and lodge itself.
Posada Amazonas Jungle Lodge
A 45-minute boat ride from Puerto Maldonado
Posada Amazonas is a comfortable, low profile, 30-bedroom jungle eco-lodge owned jointly by Rainforest Expeditions and the Ese’eja Native Community of Tambopata. Each quaint room features three bamboo-walls that act as mesh nets to allow a refreshing cross-breeze through your private accommodation. The fourth side of the charming room is wide open to provide an amazing view of the Puerto Maldonado tropics and to let guests enjoy the natural wonders of this region unobstructed. Because of its accessibility, opportunities for excellent wildlife observation, and comfortable accommodation, a stay at Posada Amazonas is the ideal introductory nature tour to the Amazonian rainforests.
Approximately 2 hours by boat from Puerto Maldonado
The Inotawa Lodge, built by a Swiss-Peruvian family on the border of the Tambopata Candamo Reserve, is considered by its owners to be more than a lodge: “it’s a tribute to nature, whose beauty and majesty inspire us to love, respect, and preserve it.” The large and comfortable rooms are ideal for relaxing and enjoying the natural surroundings, and by adapting the traditional native style of construction, they keep visitors in permanent contact with the rainforest.
See all Puerto Maldonado Lodges
- Vaccines: The US Travel Advisory recommends malaria medication and the yellow fever vaccine before traveling to rainforest regions. Consult your doctor before traveling to the Peruvian Amazon to determine the best option for you. Cases of yellow fever or malaria are very, very uncommon in and around Puerto Maldonado.
- Mosquitos are a pesky annoyance in rainforest regions. Protect yourself from their itchy bites by wearing long shirts and pants. Apply insect repellant with Deet and use the mosquito net hanging over your bed.
- Drinking Water: Our recommended lodges in Puerto Maldonado provide bottled water and filtered water that’s safe for drinking. A reusable water bottle is always handy in the jungle.
Transportation to Puerto Maldonado:
- By Air: The Puerto Maldonado airport is small and a short drive from the town plaza. Flying is definitely the most convenient and time-saving transport option. LAN Airlines, Star Perú and TACA offer service to Puerto Maldonado. Flights are daily. A nonstop flight to Puerto Maldonado from Lima is 1 hour 30 minutes. Puerto Maldonado is a direct 55-minute flight from Cusco.
- By Road: The recently completed Transoceanic Highway now connects Cusco to Puerto Maldonado on a mostly comfortable, though winding, paved road. What was once an arduous 15-hour drive has been shaved down to about 10 hours. Taking the bus from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado is a good option for travelers with a longer, more flexible travel itinerary.
- By Boat: The waterways connect Puerto Maldonado to jungle lodges and remote indigenous communities.
From Puerto Maldonado to jungle lodges
Many jungle lodges are only accessible by river transport from Puerto Maldonado. Lodge representatives greet travelers at the airport and then accompany them all the way into the jungle. This usually includes a quick stop at the lodge’s office of Puerto Maldonado where extra belongings are checked into storage, then driving to the port, and finally getting on the boat that will take them along the river to their jungle lodge. River boats are typically open-air with a covering, much like a pontoon boat. Most lodges are located between 45 minutes to 3 hours away. The very remote Tambopata Research Center lodge is about a 7-hour journey along the river.
What to bring
For a jungle tour, it is important to pack light and bring only the necessary equipment and clothing. Space on the river boat to your lodge is limited. Amazon bound travelers will likely make a stop at their lodge’s office near the Puerto Maldonado airport where they can safely store the belonging they don’t need.
Here’s a general packing list:
- Long pants and shirts (made of light, quick-dry material)
- Water resistant shoes (especially during the wet season)
- Head lamp (and extra batteries, just in case)
- Insect repellant
- Sun protection (hat, sunblock, glasses)
- Binoculars are an added plus
- Reusable water bottle
- Local currency for small purchases and tips
What is it like to stay at a jungle lodge?
Lodges range drastically in style and amenities, from the luxurious jungle resort Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica to the rustic and remote Tambopata Research Center. Many Puerto Maldonado lodges are eco-friendly, which means no electricity; offering instead kerosine lamps for night time illumination. WiFi, if available, is usually spotty and slow. A surprising number of jungle lodges actually have hot water for showering.
Days at jungle lodges usually begin early and are filled with different activities. Some excursions, like extending hikes, are more physically demanding than others. (See Things to do section for more information about the different tour options.) Expert guides are always there for your safety, to answer questions, and to point out unique plants and animals you might otherwise overlook. In the evenings you can relax in a hammock and listen to the sounds of the jungle.
Ask your travel advisor for details about a specific jungle lodge.
When is the best time to visit the Amazon?
The Amazon is a year-round destination. There are pros and cons to visiting during each season, and the “best time” to visit really depends on your preferences or interests. If you don’t like the idea of walking in mud, then visit during the dry season. To avoid hotter temperatures, the rainy season is a more enjoyable time. Animal activity varies throughout the year and is a good way to narrow down specific travel dates for your jungle adventure. For example, opportunities to see macaws and parrots at the clay clicks are higher during the dry season.
See the Weather section for more details about the pros and cons for each season.
What’s the best way to protect myself from mosquitoes in the jungle?
- Dress in lightweight pants, long sleeves, and wear shoes rather than sandals.
- Apply insect repellent containing DEET to areas of exposed skin; for extra measure, spray it on your clothing.
- Note that insect repellants with a high concentration of DEET should not be applied to children under the age of two because of the increased risk of neurologic toxicity.
- At night, sleep under a mosquito net and make sure the edges are tucked under the mattress.