I first visited Peru 20 years ago for work. In the days before smart phones, I moved with a guidebook in hand as I walked the streets of Cusco. My work schedule allowed me to squeeze in a quick day visit to Machu Picchu. I fell in love with the country and couldn’t wait to get back. Little did I know, I would get back with my entire, extended family.
Our adventure started in Peru’s jungle, where we spent 2 ½ days exploring the diverse region, learning about the native animals, the flora and fauna that call this place home. We learned that 60% of Peru is jungle. Before traveling to this region, be sure to have your yellow fever shot and malaria prophylaxis. Mosquitos are all over malaria is still present.
We travelled through Peru at the start of the rainy season, which usually runs from November to April. The heaviest rains start in January. Our visit was in December; while hot and rainy, the rain didn’t stop us from enjoying our time in the Peru jungle.
We flew from Lima on LATAM, the largest airline in South America, into Puerto Maldonado, our gateway to the Peru Jungle. More specifically, we were on the Madre de Dios River, a tributary to the great Amazon River. After landing, we were met from representatives of our hotel and guided to board a bus towards the river. It was great to have a bit of guidance as there were 11 of us and important for all of us to travel together, instead of scrambling to figure out taxis and try to figure out where to go, and make sure we all got to the same place. We passed through the large city of Puerto Maldonado, before arriving to a small port area. As we approached the docking area for our boat, we had our first glimpse of the massive, quick flowing, river, The Madre de Dios.
The river’s size and power of its currents surprised me. We boarded what locals call a motorized canoe, which is a longboat with a motor. The shape and size are remarkably similar to the longtail boats we took in Thailand. Strapping on our life vests, we took off down river towards our hotel. The Peru jungle was dense, green, and massive, with its looming trees shadowing the rivers edge. It was exactly like so many scenes of movies; all we could see was a brown, rapidly moving river, massive trees and the occasional home pocking through the Peru jungle. The entire ride took close to 30 minutes.
The boat docked at a set of stairs to our hotel, the Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion. The staff greeted us as we got off the boat, gave a brief introduction, and took us to our cabanas. Each was an individual wooden cabin, with screens throughout instead of glass windows. It gave us the feeling of being outside. In the center, was a king bed with mosquito netting, towards the back of the room was a large couch where we could sit, stare out the wall of windows, and relax by the sounds of the jungle. Another similar lodging experience to this is in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Same idea of only screens surrounded by jungle.
There are two sinks with counter space, a small toilet area with a whistle hanging to use for emergencies, I can only assume for snakes or tarantulas, and a nice shower. The lighting was low, with the only lights over the sink in the entire cabin. The humidity only added to the feeling of being part of the jungle and remoteness. A high thatched roof and a ceiling fan kept things bearable.
The electricity ran during the morning, then shut down in the afternoon from 3-5:30, restarted until 10PM, then shut down from 10PM until 4:30AM. We loved this as it gave us the opportunity to unplug, enjoy our surroundings and listen to the noises from the jungle. At night, a staff member would come around and light oil lamps at every cabana, leaving two outside and one inside in case you woke up in the middle of the night and needed some light to get around and check for critters. I was constantly checking for critters as I happen to have a terrible fear of spiders.
The hotel was all-inclusive (with alcohol extra). Breakfast and lunch were beautiful buffets with vegetarian options and local farm vegetables, chicken and fish. Dinner was a la carte, with options for everyone. When we arrived, we received a ticket for a complimentary pisco sour, the national drink. It went down fast, almost too fast. It tasted a bit like a margarita, but a bit more tart. The tasty and varied food is key — nothing else is around, so it is the only place you can eat.
The lodge has an eco-center, where we would meet our guides for daily outings. In addition to maps and books, several examples of things that crawl and slither are preserved in jars. Before each tour, our guide would give us a lecture explaining what we were going to do and see. While the excursions themselves were informative and fun, the lectures were dull, unengaging, and way too long.
Our first tour was through some of the resort’s trails. We were instructed to keep off them unless with a guide. The rationale wasn’t given, though my guess is that our untrained eyes would not spot a snake or other poisonous creatures and plants in our path. We were shown some of the flora and fauna that was in the region, what not to touch (like the thorns on trees that can cause swelling and itching for days). We came across rather large bugs, as well as some beautiful butterflies dancing in flight at the base of a rather large Cieba tree. The Peruvian jungle is dense, but the trails gave us a nice view into plant life within.
Nighttime River Tour
In the evening it was dark, with no light pollution. The canopy of the trees hid any light we may have gotten from the moonlight. We gathered together in the eco-lodge of the hotel and were given a lecture on the Amazon caiman, a creature living in the waters of the Peruvian jungle, resembling both crocodiles and alligators. From the resort’s dock, we boarded our longboat, strapped on our life jackets and took off down river.
The river’s currents are fast. Falling in without a life jacket would not be an easy swim to shore, and likely far worse. We set out with a guide and captain who held a large light in search of caiman and other creatures. We came across a few, getting to see one up close. We also stumbled upon a rather small, but beautiful eagle on the shores of the riverbank. The hour-long tour gave us the opportunity to experience the river at night, listening to the sounds of the Peruvian jungle.
This was a busy day and–by far–our favorite activity in the Peru jungle. Our morning started at the crack of dawn, literally, with a 5:30am wake-up knock on our door. It was raining hard as we made our way out of the cabanas to the restaurant for breakfast. It was our hope that the rain would stop by the time breakfast was over. This was not the case; we left breakfast with the continuous rain pelting us as we headed over the eco-center. We were given the option of wearing Wellington rubber boots. I chose to go with my hiking shoes as I figured they were waterproof, I couldn’t have been more wrong. They were water resistant, but with the amount of rain, they proved to not be waterproof, and, before long, my feet were wet.
We boarded a long boat, rode about 20 minutes, and arrived at the Tambopata National Park. The rain had not stopped but it didn’t stop us from hiking 2 miles down a long boardwalk, through jungle, to Lake Sandovil. The hike gave us an opportunity to observe the dense jungle surrounding, explore some areas that were flooded from the rains, while other areas still dry. We caught glimpses of birds and the occasional bug and lizard. Despite the rain, we were still careful to apply insect repellant, as the rain doesn’t stop mosquitos
We were soaked, all of us. My feet were wet throughout, but fortunately most of my core was still dry thanks to a good raincoat. I can’t say the same for my legs; I could feel the water dripping down into my shoes and socks. It was a bit of an unpleasant feeling, but one I had to deal with. As we approached the lake area, we came across a small dock with canoes. One of the family members that owned the park area was bailing the water out of the canoes. He walked around barefoot, completely comfortable with his surroundings. I was stuck on the fact that he was barefoot, here I am complaining about my wet feet, and this man was barefoot and must have been used to it. We sat in a covered area, out of the rain. As we were ready to board our canoe, the rain stopped for a bit, eventually starting again as we were on the canoe in the middle of the lake.
A couple of us had paddles and we rowed our canoe out from a lagoon area to a wide-open lake. We encountered a red howler monkey staring down at us from the treetops as well as a couple of birds hiding in the roots of the trees. Once we hit the lake we paddled close to the tree line in order to get a better glimpse of wildlife. We came across a couple of rather large Caimans and some beautiful birds. We fed some piranhas, and witnessed monkeys in trees. Despite the rain, it was one of the best tours we did in the Peruvian jungle. The sounds and sites were stunning, being out on the lake was so relaxing, and discovering new wildlife was thrilling.
Inkaterra Canopy Walk
The afternoon was a much different journey. Luckily, the rain had subsided and we were once again in dry clothes, except for my hiking shoes, which would now be wet for the next 3 days. We once again boarded the longboat for a 20-minute ride to a canopy walk at a different Inkaterra hotel. It is a walk at the tops of the trees of the Peru Jungle. The adventure started with a climb up a high tower to a bunch of connected hanging bridges. We were able to climb to the top of the tower, which poked out of the treetops, giving us a 360-degree view of the river and the surrounding rainforest.
After taking in the view, we descended some stairs to the bridges. It was important to walk in the center of the bridge and hold on to the sides. It was one person at a time. The bridges shook a bit and walking was not so easy. However, being that far off the ground was unbelievable. We caught a glimpse of some monkeys and some birds, but the best part was being so high up in the canopy.
By the time we were ready for the night walk, we were exhausted but excited to see what lurks in the jungle at night. The walk was through the hotel grounds and took about an hour to complete. Our guide met us at the eco-center and we all brought headlamps and the guide carried a flashlight.
Immediately out the door of the eco-center were some monkeys in the trees above. They were Owl monkeys; they had large eyes (hence the name) and typically come out at night. One was carrying a baby. In total, there were 7 of them. It was a great way to start the hike. As we carried on, we were looking for snakes, but didn’t find any. We did however come across a tarantula and many other spiders. As I previously mentioned, I happen to be deathly afraid of spiders, but still managed to get close to them to get a great shot. We also saw many bugs, but not much else. However, it was exciting to hear the sounds of nature at night and be able to walk through the jungle so late.
We left early in the morning. It was hard to say goodbye to this beautiful region. I could have spent hours just sitting and listening to the Peru’s jungle. It is peaceful and the wildlife surrounding is amazing.
We were shuttled back to the town of Puerto Maldonado by boat and picked up by a van. Before arriving to the airport we made a quick stop at a butterfly house in Puerto Maldonado. Not a very thrilling visit, as we all just went in watched some butterflies fly around and left. No information or details about the location were given and although it seemed to be a well-run place, it was a very bland and somewhat boring visit.
What to Wear and Bring to the Amazon
When going to the Amazon it is important to remember that it is hot, rainy, and humid. Therefore, cotton is a not a clothing choice I would recommend as it doesn’t dry well. Once clothes get wet in the rain forest–and they will–it takes forever for to dry. I would recommend bringing synthetic clothing for activities. They should be long pants and long sleeved as bugs are always around, especially mosquitos. Although it’s hot, it’s better than being bitten up by the bugs. Having a good rain jacket is also essential as it rains a lot and often in the rain forest. Bug repellent is a must too to help keep from getting eaten alive, as the bugs will find you and not leave you alone. Another must have is a headlamp, as it gets very dark at night.
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Some of our recommendations for women are :
- Lightweight and quick drying, these pants are also somewhat stylish and can easily be worn to dinner if you are a light packer.
- Another great example of a quick drying shirt much needed in the Amazon.
- I love these socks as they keep your feet both warm and cool depending on region and are quick drying as well.
- Cushiony and comfortable shoes, however not waterproof, but water-resistant.
Recommendations for men:
- A great travel pant that can be worn not only on the trail, but also in the city and out to dinner. Easy drying, comfortable and packs small.
- Every guide in Peru was wearing this pair of shoe, so was my husband. He wore them throughout the entire trip.
- A great base layer this shirt is perfect to wear alone or as a layer. Quick dry and easy to pack.
Recommendations for kids:
- A great easy fit and quick drying, also convertible to shorts and easily washed.
- Any of the Underarmour long-sleeved shirts are great for traveling as they are can fold small, synthetic, easily drying. The short-sleeved shirts are also a great choice if kids want to wear a rain jacket on top. Great for layering as well.
- Great for keeping the kids dry in the rainy rain forest. Lightweight and quick drying.
Recommended travel items for the Amazon:
- The best options for the nasty mosquitos that will find any bit of uncovered skin.
- This lightweight headlamp is great for adults and kids alike. The lamp also adjusts to face straight out or point down. Just be careful as it is bright and kids will undoubtedly shine the light in your eyes more than once.
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