The following guest post is by Matthew Barker, an accomplished travel writer and photographer.
A trip to the jungle is often towards the top of a visitor’s Peruvian wish list. The problem, however, is that, unlike Peru’s other major travel destinations, the Amazon is remote, inaccessible and vast, meaning that many people are unsure of the best way to plan a trip to the jungle.
Fortunately, there are a few main options to choose from, allowing you to tailor your trip to suit the experience you are looking for.
Amazon Adventures on a Budget
Budget travellers who are seeking adventures off the beaten path are best suited to the central Amazon region. It is accessible by road and the tourist industry around Pucallpa is largely underdeveloped, with plenty of affordable tours and accommodations available.
Lago Yarinacocha and Rio Ucayali are the region’s highlights. From the Yarinacocha docks, you can contract a boat for anything from a one-day tour of the lake and its indigenous villages to a multi-day adventure into the wild hinterland. For a trip of several days, expect to pay in the region of $35 per day, which should include everything you need; food, camping kit and fuel.
Be aware that this is a basic and at times downright uncomfortable way to visit the Amazon. But for the adventurous at heart this is the best way to travel. Don’t expect to see much in the way of wildlife, other than the occasional monkey or sloth. Do expect an authentic experience and a chance to visit and live with villagers, hundreds of kilometres into the jungle, and experience everyday life without any other Gringos as far as the eye can see.
Peru for Nature Lovers & Amazon Wildlife Spotting
It may come as a surprise that the jungle is not packed with birds, monkeys and other wildlife just waiting to be spotted as you cruise down a river. The fact is, much of the rainforest that we get to witness has long since been disrupted, tamed and domesticated by human activity and therefore abandoned by all but the most tolerant of creatures.
For the best chance to witness the jungle’s more fascinating inhabitants, you will need to head to the remote Manu National Park, a huge and heavily protected biosphere north of Cusco in Peru’s southern Amazon.
Accessing the park isn’t cheap. It is forbidden to enter alone and without a guide, and permits, transportation and accommodation is usually organized by an agency from Cusco. The trade-off is the huge volume of biodiversity within the virgin forest, including a dozen species of monkeys and huge flocks of parrots and macaws that are attracted to the park’s several salt licks.
The park is well equipped for keen wildlife spotters. There are a couple of platforms for viewing the forest canopy, a number of night hides (protected by mosquito nets) from which you can meet the jungle’s nocturnal residents, plus about 50km of hiking trails.
Luxury Amazon Lodges & Cruises
The third main choice is the range of high-end lodges that surround the jungle towns of Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado, and the luxury Amazon cruises that depart from Iquitos. These are the best options for travellers looking for comfort, style and the most qualified and knowledgeable guides.
Jungle lodges are more or less equal in concept; they all tend to be a complex of stilted, palm-roofed platform buildings, linked by walkways across the shallow water. Bedrooms and guest areas are all protected by mosquito nets, and the lodges are essentially small all-inclusive resorts, providing all meals and guided excursions for the duration of your stay. Prices can vary significantly depending on the distance you travel from town (the further the better, for wildlife spotting), the quality of the food and accommodation, and the quality of the guides.
A number of luxury boats depart from Iquitos for multi-day cruises along the Amazon. These boats are the best option for visitors who would prefer to keep their feet dry and are happy witnessing the forest from a safe distance. Most cruises make stops along the way and include an on-board guide, but because these boats are larger and are unable to navigate the smaller channels, your wildlife- spotting chances are fairly limited.
Peruvian Amazon Tour Recommendations
Budget travellers can arrive in Pucallpa or at the docks in Yarinacocha and make their own arrangements with boat owners. Recommendations include Achiles Amasifuen, owner of the boat Ucayali Tours, and Miguel Tans, owner of the boat called Pituco.
For higher-end trips including lodges and cruises, browse the range of trips offered by a specialist in tours to South America and ask for advice on the various trips available.