By Naomi C. Kumar
The Amazon is hailed as the most biodiverse place on Earth – hundreds of birds, mammals and insects call this tropical rainforest home. After Brazil, Peru contains most of the deep jungle. In fact, more than half of Peru is the Amazon! Travelers here often want to see the coastlines of Lima, the mountains of Cusco or the lake of Puno, but many miss this not-so-hidden treasure.
If you like the comforts of hotel life, or even indoor life, the rainforest is not for you. This may seem an unnecessary disclaimer, buts many people think they’d like to spend some time in the great outdoors only to find themselves in sincere withdrawal from the modern world.
Most jungle tours go to Iquitos, Manu National Park or Tambopata. I was told during my year living in Peru numerous times that Iquitos is by far the most beautiful, but it is also the most remote and thus, the most expensive. The major airlines do not fly to and from Manu; on your own, you are looking at taking a bus. Even with a tour, it’s typically either ground transport both ways, or ground in and small plane out. Puerto Maldonado, the jumping off point for Tambopata, on the other hand, is easily flown to from Lima or Cusco. Therefore, it is often the go-to destination for visits to the Amazon.
Whichever jungle bliss you choose, a word of warning if you have the option: do NOT go during rainy season! Rainy season is between November and March, with the worst months being January and February. Landslides are frequent each year and if you have the bad luck to be caught behind one (as I was) you may find your journey to your final destination daunting and dangerous. The rains in the biggest rainforest in the world are not to be taken lightly; the weather may severely affect whether or not you get to your adventure and, if you do, which activities you will be able to do on your tour.
Prices and options vary from place to place, and Cusco is full of travel agencies to help you find the tour that is best for you. If you don’t choose to go with a packaged tour, take your time choosing a lodge which can help you with day excursions. Tour or lodge, it can be helpful to make your choice before you leave home so that you don’t find your first option already booked during the dates you have available to travel.
Iquitos cannot be reached by bus; you’ll have to take a flight from Lima then a boat to reach the jungle and your lodging. Buses from Cusco to Manu National Park can take up to twelve hours. The road has improved over the years but you still may end up sitting in non-air conditioned bus in the hot rainforest before you can keep moving. On the plus side, being more remote and unspoiled, you may get to see more wildlife than you can in Tambopata.
In light of all this, many travelers have chosen the Puerto Maldonado option. Our four day/three night tour to Puerto Maldonado was $200/person including a one-way bus ticket, lodging, meals and activities (don’t be afraid to haggle prices!). Activities usually include canopy walks, zip lining, piranha fishing, kayaking, and plant/animal walks.
If you’re travelling with lots of baggage, make sure to bring a backpack for this trip – the narrow river boats, with or without motors, do not allow for large amounts of luggage to be carried. You can typically leave extra luggage at your tour company’s office in Puerto Maldonado, or at your hotel in Cusco or Lima if you’re going back from where you came.
Several Puerto tours take you to Lago (Lake) Sandoval, which is part of the river and has lodges in the rainforest. Many of the tour guides there descend from Amazonian tribes and have incredible knowledge of different plants, animals and insects.
Be sure to bring a rainjacket/poncho (one that can cover your neck – an insect similar to a mosquito lives there but if you squash it, it will release urine on to the skin that is infectious for humans), long hiking pants, a hat, sunglasses and plenty of undergarments; you will sweat uncontrollably and will welcome a fresh pair of clothes. Bring bug spray with DEET, as well as sunscreen. Most tours will provide you with Wellington style boots to wear throughout your time there.
Electricity is limited – usually one hour in the afternoon and two hours in the evening so be sure to bring extra batteries if you can. Each day in the jungle feels like four days because of the amount of activities packed into the trip. If you know that you may get tired easily, ask for the itinerary for every day so you can choose to sit something out if you are feeling sick or tired and then can enjoy the activities that you’d really like to participate in.
Although the Amazon is wild, it is a spectacularly vivid display of life, color and cultures and it is absolutely worth seeing during your travels.
Originally from the Washington DC-metro area, Naomi currently lives in Cuzco, Peru. She went there to get certified to teach English and to improve her Spanish, not to mention explore a beautiful country and continent while she’s at it. Travel writing has always been a dream of hers and she wrote this piece for Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge offering a great getaway in the Peruvian Amazon.