Jordan and I spent the first three days of our trip to Peru and Bolivia in the Peruvian Amazon. If you’re planning a trip to Peru (or South America), this is something you won’t want to miss. In this article, I’ll break down your options for accessing the Peruvian Amazon, suggest options for where to stay, and what to pack!
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Where to Go In the Peruvian Amazon
You’ll have three options for getting to the Amazon while in Peru:
Iquitos: This city is in the northern part of Peru, and is the only one of the three regions that is actually on the Amazon River (the others are on tributaries). Iquitos is most easily accessed by flights through Lima, Tarapoto or Pucallpa. Otherwise, you can get there by a long boat ride (between one and four days!).
Tambopata Reserve: This region of the Amazon is in the southern part of Peru and accessed through the city of Puerto Maldonado. You can get to Puerto Maldonado easily on both bus and airplane (direct flights leave every day from Cusco).
Manu National Park: This area is also known as the Cloud Forest because it actually sits right outside of the city of Cusco. Believe it or not, this area is part of the Amazon, and you can still get great experiences with the flora and fauna, without having to divert very far from Cusco, if this is part of your greater itinerary. Additionally, this part of the Amazon requires no flight, rather the experience is more of a tour than lodging situation for the most part.
Each location will provide slightly different wildlife and plants for you to see, but wherever you choose to go, you will have an amazing adventure. Keep in mind that you will need to plan your trip far in advance, as lodges book up quickly, especially during peak season, and permits are required for entering the Manu National Park.
Where to Stay In the Peruvian Amazon
I’ve picked out a few of my favorite lodges - one in each of the regions listed above. These are all luxury lodges, and typically are “all-inclusive,” meaning meals, non-alcoholic drinks, tours, and on-site activities are included. What might not be included are alcoholic drinks, extra activities, like massages, etc. Each provides its own benefits, but one thing to really understand is that these lodges are all deep in the jungle, so it is important to adjust your expectations of luxury. These accommodations are extraordinarily comfortable, and the staff go above and beyond to ensure guests have a wonderful experience.
Iquitos: Treehouse Lodge
What makes Treehouse Lodge unique is the ability to stay in, you guessed it, a treehouse! You’ll sleep up in the canopy with an amazing view of the wildlife right outside your room.
As a guest at the Treehouse Lodge, you are in control of your experience - your group will be assigned your very own knowledgeable private guide. You can choose to pack your days full of expeditions or choose to have more downtime to relax and explore the canopy. All excursions are included, and there are so many options, like sunrise and breakfast with dolphins, piranha fishing, and nighttime caiman spotting.
At the lodge itself, you will get to explore the jungle canopy by way of the suspension bridges that are 50 feet up in the air. Enjoy night jungle walks when the Amazon basin comes to life. There is also a dreamy hammock loft above the main room where you eat your meals where you can play games or read a book.
The Treehouse Lodge’s private chef cooks up amazing local cuisine using locally sourced meats, fruits and veggies. They ensure there is something for everyone, and meal time is a delight after a big day of adventuring.
Treehouse Lodge is located on the beautiful black waters of the Yarapa River – a tributary to the Amazon River near Iquitos, Peru. This area is apparently a feeding ground for pink river dolphins and gray river dolphins, which means you’ll be able to see and take pictures of river dolphins on a regular basis! I think my favorite part of the Treehouse Lodge is Pablito: one of the local villages rescued a sloth (Pablito) that was injured, so you’ll have the opportunity to hold Pablito and learn more about him at the lodge!
Tambopata: Refugio Amazonas
Our travel agency set us up with accommodations at Refugio Amazonas, one of the three lodges of Rainforest Expeditions. To get there is a bit of a hike, but entirely worth it. We flew into Puerto Maldonado where Refugio Amazonas picked us up. We were brought to their office in the city, where we quickly packed just for our three days in the Amazon. (Side note: one of the best things we brought with us on this trip was the Matador Duffle bag - it packs up really small, and we used it many times in cases like this!) We then set out on a one-hour bus ride to the port at the Community of Infierno, and from there it was about a two-hour boat ride to the lodge.
At dinner that night, we were introduced to our guide, Freddy, as well as the other couple who we would be exploring with over the next few days. At each meal, Freddy would tell us what we would be doing the following time, when we needed to meet, what we needed to bring, and so on. It seems at busy times, they have fairly set schedules that they have each guest follow (we were there over Christmas, and the lodge was at 100% capacity), however, as we were leaving, we noticed some people customizing their schedules as they arrived.
You can expect to trek out to the oxbow lake to maybe see some river otters, caiman and definitely see very impressive, very large trees. You will also hike to a clay lick, where macaws of all types stop to have a morning bite. The lodge also has a partnership with a local farm, just across the river, so one of our treks was exploring this farm and tasting all the local fruits, which were amazing.
If there is a rainy day (we are in the rainforest, after all), the lodge offers cooking classes, games, and even has a spa for massages. While we did not indulge in the spa, we heard rumors that it was amazing.
One thing that sets Rainforest Expedition apart from others is the fact that they are committed to preserving the rainforest, both through having no carbon footprint, as well as partnering with scientists and universities to further our understanding of the species that live in the area. Every night before dinner, there is a lecture from a visiting scientist about the project they are performing to educate guests. We were able to learn about studying the Brazil Nut Tree, as well as various moths and how they are identifying species of moths at the moment.
We were blown away by knowledge and excitement of the guides, the level of service everyone showed, and our overall experience at Refugio Amazonas.
Manu National Park: One Earth Peru Tours
I think One Earth Peru, specifically the 5 day/4 night tour, would be a great option to experience the Amazon for a few different reasons! They pick up and drop off in Cusco, which makes it extremely convenient. Additionally, if you are planning to head to Machu Picchu after this (which we were), you might ask them to shave the last day-ish and drop you in Aguas Calientes! Easy-peasy!
One Earth Peru does not operate a lodge, rather this is a tour with some camping involved, so if camping is not your thing, this is not for you. This 5 day/4 night itinerary goes as such:
Day 1 | Cusco - Asuncion: As you begin the descent to the river, you will have the opportunity to see the Cock of the Rock, Peru’s national bird, amongst other animals. You will spend the night in a lodge in Asuncion.
Day 2 | Asuncion - Shipetiari: Reach Madre de Dios river, boat along the river with the opportunity to see local farms. Optional river rafting. You will spend the night at a lodge in Shipetari.
Day 3 | Shipetari: Visit with native community and hike to see wildlife. You will spend the night at a lodge in Shipetari.
Day 4 | Shipetari - Aguas Calientes (Shintuya): Boat upstream to the to campsite in Aguas Calientes, lots of wildlife along the way. You will spend the night at a lodge/campsite in Aguas Calientes.
Day 5 | Aguas Calientes (Shintuya) - Cusco: Wake early to go to Machuwasi oxbow lake, where there is lots of wildlife and great plants. Afterwards, you will continue back to Cusco.
This is longer than either of the other two (although the other two do have 5 day options), but you reduce the time flying to either Puerto Maldonado or Iquitos. Definitely one to consider!
What To Pack For The Amazon
We didn’t really know what to pack for this portion of the trip (and by that, I mean we didn’t know what we didn’t know), so like any unsuspecting tourists, we packed for a hot, humid situation - gym clothes. If you are going to the Amazon, please learn from our mistake and pay close attention to this packing list, as these are the things that helped us enjoy our trip so much more (or would have, had we had them):
- Loose, long sleeve clothing: I made the mistake of wearing leggings for our first trek, and mosquitoes bit right through them (I’ll spare you the picture of my mosquito-bitten legs, but it was not fun). Thereafter, I wore the only other pair of long pants I brought, my skinny jeans. While these were better, mosquitoes could bite through them, so I caution you to stay away from anything that is tight to your skin. Pants along the lines of hiking pants would work well. You can also get mosquito-repellent clothing that I think would be great if you’re like me and attract them like moths to a flame.
- Flashlight: Most of the lodges and tours in the Amazon will take you on night tours, meaning you'll need to be able to see. Jordan and I had our iPhone flashlights, which really didn't cut it. Even a small one will do the trick!
- Wool Socks: Being that you're in the Rainforest, everything is wet all the time. This includes your clothes (they'll be a little damp when you wake up in the morning). But the great thing about wool socks is they don't hold this moisture. My favorites are Smart Wool socks!
- Sunscreen and Mosquito Repellent: The sun is very strong in the rainforest, even though you are often covered by trees. Good sunscreen is essential. I also encourage you to invest in good mosquito repellent with DEET. Many of the lodges in the Amazon will ask you not to use repellent with DEET, as it is not great for the environment. Refugio Amazonas even provided us with natural repellent made from citronella oil, but as our guides told us, "mosquitoes laugh at that." DEET is absolutely necessary, and it needs to be above 15% at the least. I recommend Off! Deep Woods repellent, which is 25% DEET.
- Binoculars: Essential for seeing all the animals! Refugio Amazonas had pairs for rent for about 20 soles per day, which we did, but if you can find room in your luggage, and you already have binoculars, bring 'em along!
Of course, you’ll want to bring along your essentials, like toiletries, clothing for walking around the lodge (mosquitoes were not as bad there!), etc. But ensure you bring along each of the above, and you’ll enjoy your trip that much more!