Tambopata National Reserve
It’s easy to see a bit of the Amazon in Peru as a multi-day side trip from Cusco and Machu Picchu. And it’s worth the time and effort because you’ll encounter extreme ecological and biological diversity set against a majestic backdrop of Peruvian rainforest. Read our guide for essential facts and travel tips for your trip to Tambopata National Reserve.
At A Glance
Walk on platforms and bridges 30 meters above the ground, appreciate nature’s elegant majesty on rainforest trails and tranquil waterways, search for caiman and river otter, and cast lines for Amazonian fish such as piranhas. Rest in your hammock as the sun goes down and then head into the night, when many creatures of the rainforest become active.
At first, you’ll enter the rainforest and see only an undifferentiated mass of green. But a few days in the company of a naturalist guide will train your eye to spot species of plants, trees, and insects and tune your ear to hear the calls of diverse wildlife.
It’s no exaggeration to say a trip to the Amazon rainforest in Tambopata will likely change how you think about the earth and your place in it.
Indigenous Ese-Eja in Tambopata
The earliest evidence of human settlement in what is now Tambopata goes back 10,000 years ago.
The people of the Ese-Eja community have inhabited Madre de Dios Amazon region for thousands of years. Historically, they’ve lived by cultivating yucca (manioc), foraging for wild plants and fruits, and hunting for birds, tapir, and deer. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the community suffered the impacts of the rubber boom, the arrival of missionaries, and the implementation of national land reforms that severely delimited access to ancestral lands.
Today, some Ese-Eja communities collaborate with tour operators to run rainforest lodges and tourism programs.
The Tambopata region has been the target of extractive industries since the turn of the 19th century. Rubber harvesting, logging of mahogany and other precious hardwoods, and gold mining have each taken their toll on the rainforest ecosystem. Road building, such as the completion of the Transoceanic Highway to Brazil, has also had negative effects on the health of the rainforest ecosystem.
The Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone was created in 1990. It covers 1.5 million hectares (3.5 million acres) of primary rainforest and is now a main destination for ecotourism in the Amazon. The first lodges were established years before, including Explorer’s Inn in 1975 and Tambopata Research Center (TRC) in 1987.
The Tambopata Reserve encompasses the transitional zone between humid tropical and subtropical rainforest. Altitude varies from 200 meters in the lowland rainforest to 2,000 meters on the eastern flanks of the Andes. The border with Bolivia marks the eastern boundary of the reserve, while Bahuaja-Sonene is to the south.
Puerto Maldonado is the principal city and gateway into the national reserve and sits at the confluence of the Madre de Dios River and the Tambopata River.
The enormous tracts of protected jungle in this part of southern Peru host different habits where an unsurpassed diversity of flora and fauna thrive. Forests of old-growth Amazonian trees stretch for miles, bamboo groves flourish along riverbeds, and marshes in poorly irrigated parts join savannah, floodplain, and swamp landscapes.
Tambopata National Reserve is well-suited for rainforest tours with an emphasis on sustainability and conservation. Many lodges are owned by or operated in collaboration with local indigenous communities who can reap the benefits of tourism while also achieving sustainable development. The goal is to keep this natural area in pristine shape for future generations.
The continuing preservation of the rainforest is a complex problem that requires coordination and participation on many levels. A tour to Tambopata is a great way to see projects like these in action while contributing with tourism dollars to their success.
Sandoval Lake — Lago Sandoval
Sandoval Lake is among the main attractions in Tambopata. Birds of all sorts flit by, monkeys swing through trees, crocodiles, otters, and turtles swim and bask in the sun of this sanctuary located a short distance from the river. Sandoval Lake can be visited as part of a day tour from Puerto Maldonado or as a daytime activity from a nearby jungle lodge. Guests at the Sandoval Lake Lodge enjoy privileged access.
Clay Licks — Collpas
Located throughout the reserve, multiple natural clay licks attract birds and mammals. The most well-known is Tambopata Clay Lick (Collpa de Guacamayos) where different species of birds arrive after sunrise to feast on mineral salts. Green, blue, red, and yellow-colored macaws, parrots, and parakeets fly in by the hundreds, creating a colorful and cacophonous spectacle that’s truly a wonder to behold. If visiting a clay lick is your priority on an Amazon tour, check beforehand with your lodge to confirm that excursions are available.
Tree Canopy Towers in Tambopata
It’s one thing to explore the rainforest on the ground, where trees rise up like cathedrals draped in exuberant greenery. It’s a whole different world at canopy level, 25 to 40 meters above the ground, with endless rainforest extending before your eyes like a leafy green sea. Fruits and flowers attracts birds and small animals, which nest up here to stay safe from larger predators. Monkeys swing from branches, leaving a green rustles in their wake. You can witness the action by visiting Tambopata where a handful of lodges near Puerto Maldonado have canopy towers, platforms, hanging bridges, walkways, and ziplines.
Whitewater Rafting into Tambopata
Raft into the Amazon from Putina Punko in the Andes (between Cusco and Puno) down the Tambopata River into the reserve. Only a few tour companies offer this rafting trip. It’s physically challenging, and evenings are spent camping on the banks of the river. In exchange, you’ll get a privileged passage from mountains to rainforest in some of Peru’s most gorgeous and remote areas .
From Puerto Maldonado, lodges are located south along the Tambopata River or east along the Madre de Dios River. Only two accommodations — Sandoval Lake Lodge and Tambopata Research Center — are within the boundaries of the reserve. Others are located on the edge of smaller private reserves. Day tours visit the principal sights around Tambopata such as clay licks, canopy towers, and lagoons. The following are our recommended Amazon lodges in Tambopata and Madre de Dios.
About 45 minutes by boat from Puerto Maldonado
In a place like the Amazon where nature rules, the high-end amenities and rustic chic feel of Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica gives new meaning to the phrase “jungle experience.” Enjoy a spa treatment infused with exotic native ingredients and dine on tasty cuisine at the lodge’s two-story pavilion. Cabanas and suites are spacious and come with complimentary ecologically friendly toiletries. The modern comforts at Reserva Amazonica are just a stone’s throw from jungle exploration. At 103 ft (32 m) above the ground, the lodge’s tree canopy bridge literally lets you walk through the treetops!
About 25 minutes by boat from Puerto Maldonado
Surrounded by unspoiled wilderness and within walking distance of the secluded Lake Sandoval, it’s hard to beat the location of Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion. All of the 6 rooms and 19 private cabanas are spacious and have views of the forest. When guests aren’t out exploring with their guides, they can mingle at Casa Grade. Here, meals are served on the first-level dining area and the second level has a scenic lounge.
About a 2-hour transfer (drive + boat) from Puerto Maldonado
Posada Amazonas is jointly owned by the native Tambopata Ese’eja community and Rainforest Expeditions. The lodge’s open-air design spreads over a single level property and extends into all of its three-wall guestrooms that open into a windowless veranda for close contact with the jungle environment. All classic, superior, and superior rooms have furniture made with materials from the jungle. Enjoying a hearty, buffet-style meal in the dining space and then grab a drink at the bar in the evenings.
See all Puerto Maldonado Lodges
The Amazon has a warm, tropical climate with high humidity. Average temperatures range from 25°C (77° F) to 42°C (107°F). Seasons are measured by amount of rainfall, which varies from high water levels to low water levels.
Low Water Season
May through October are the months with the least rain 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 into 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
High Water Season
The Amazon is a rainforest, so really there’s a 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: Seasonal 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 to/from Puerto Maldonado
- Yellow Fever: Proof of yellow fever vaccination is not required for entry into Peru. However, Peru recommends yellow fever vaccination for travel to jungle areas below 2,300 m (7,546 ft) of elevation. You should be vaccinated at least 10 days before travel.
- Malaria: In general, the risk of malaria in travelers visiting Peru is low. There are less than 5 cases reported in the United States each year that were acquired in Peru. Chemoprophylaxis (anti-malarial medication) is recommended for visits to regions below 2,000 m (6,561 ft), including the cities of Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado. Consult with your physician or a travel medicine specialist to clear up any concerns.
- Mosquitos are a pesky annoyance in rainforest regions. Protect yourself from itchy bites by wearing long and loose clothing. Apply insect repellant with Deet and use the mosquito net hanging over your bed.
- Drinking Water: Lodges in Tambopata provide bottled water and filtered water that’s safe for drinking. A reusable water bottle is always handy in the jungle.
On rainforest trails, the best way to avoid stings and bites is to keep to the center of the trail. Don’t touch trees or branches and be careful not to stand in the middle of a path of marching ants. Stay close to the group during excursions. You’ll have a better chance at spotting critters with the help of the guide and you don’t want to get lost in the vast rainforest. Turn off your camera flash because it disturbs wildlife.
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: Waterways connect Puerto Maldonado to lodges and remote indigenous communities in the Tambopata region.
From Puerto Maldonado To Lodges
Many jungle lodges are only accessible by river transport from Puerto Maldonado. Lodge representatives greet travelers at the airport. After a preliminary stop at the lodge’s Puerto Maldonado office where extra belongings are checked into storage, guests are driven to the port to board the boat that will take them along the river to their 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 is it like to stay at a jungle lodge?
Lodges vary widely in style and amenities. Some resorts such as Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica verge on the luxurious (by rainforest standards) while other wildlife-focused lodges are remote and rustic. Many Puerto Maldonado lodges are eco-friendly, which means no electricity. Kerosene lamps provide nighttime illumination. WiFi, if available, is usually spotty and slow. A surprising number of jungle lodges actually have hot water for showering.
In general, days at jungle lodges begin early and are filled with different activities. Some excursions, like extended hikes, are more physically demanding than others. Expert guides are always there for your safety, to answer questions, and to point out unique plants and animals you might otherwise miss. 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 more enjoyable. 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.
What’s the best way to avoid mosquito bites in the jungle?
- Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight pants and long sleeve shirts. Wear shoes rather than sandals.
- Apply insect repellent containing DEET to areas of exposed skin. For extra measure, spray it on your clothing. Before you travel, consider soaking your clothes in repellent solution, usually good for a few weeks and several washings.
- 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.
What should I bring to the Amazon?
For a jungle tour, it is important to pack light and bring only the necessary equipment and clothing. Keep in mind that space on the river boat to your lodge is limited.
Basic packing list:
- Long pants and shirts (made of light, quick-dry material)
- Rain gear
- Water resistant shoes (especially during the wet season)
- Head lamp (and extra batteries, just in case)
- Insect repellant
- Sun protection (hat, sunblock, glasses)
- Binoculars for better wildlife viewing
- Reusable water bottle
- Local currency for small purchases and tips