The Amazon in Peru is huge; it covers almost 60% of the country and boasts the best opportunities to spot incredible wildlife. It is also a great destination not only for nature lovers but also for families with kids and teenagers who will love activities like river kayaking or adrenaline-pumping canopy zip lines.
Puerto Maldonado is a laid-back town in the southern Amazon jungle used as a starting point for entering the Tambopata National Reserve or Manu National Park. The town itself is good-sized, with lively Peruvian nightlife and a palm-fringed plaza.
Take a canoe for a couple of hours up the Tambopata River from Puerto Maldonado to reach the this amazing place. Staying in a natural lodge, you will see an impressive array of wildlife such as macaws and parrots flocking to feed from clay licks and the shining eyes of caimans in the river at night. This is definitely the fastest way to immerse yourself in jungle life.
You will need at least a week to get into the heart of the best-preserved part of the Amazon in South America, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Split into three zones, the largest is the natural zone, covering 80% of the park and limited to scientists and researchers. The remaining area is divided into the reserved zone and cultural zone, both of which accessible to tourists. The cultural zone is home to native tribes, some of whom still live in traditional hunter-gatherer communities. In both the reserved and cultural zone, you will be able to spot wildlife such as capuchin monkeys and turtle. This is the best choice for real nature lovers but requires a much longer journey from Puerto Maldonado.
There are a multitude of options near Iquitos; travel to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve for guaranteed wildlife spotting or stay a little closer to Iquitos and enjoy the Manatee Rescue Center and the chance to stay high up in the jungle canopy at The Treehouse Lodge. The rivers in this part of the Amazon are also home to pods of wild dolphins, including the elusive pink Amazon River dolphins. If you’re lucky, you will see the extraordinary sight of these huge freshwater dolphins gliding in and out of the water.
Is the largest national reserve in Peru. After a 6-hour journey from Iquitos, you’ll reach the edge of a national reserve twice the size of the Yellowstone National Park. It’s home to wild lagoons, abundant wildlife and indigeneous populations. Travelling by boat along a water mirror, you might spot pink river dolphins and monkeys flinging themselves around in the trees above.
Located near Iquitos makes for a fascinating visit. It is home to manatees that are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. It’s home to both baby and adult manatees that you can feed and stroke. These gentle, strange animals grow up to 450kg in weight and look unlike anything you normally see in the water.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend a night 65 feet up in the jungle canopy with monkeys and birds right outside your door. Lying in bed, you’ll hear the strange noises of the teeming wildlife of the jungle around you. At dawn, you’ll awake to the soft sunlight filtered through the trees with monkeys swinging around.
Both are Amazonian cities that act as a gateway to your journey into the jungle and immersing yourself in the astonishing flora and fauna of one of the world’s largest tropical rainforest. But let’s have a closer look.
Puerto Maldonado has the benefit of being just a 55-minute direct flight from Cusco.
Once you are there, it will take only 35 minutes to get to the port to board the boat that will take you to your selected accommodation. Compared to Iquitos, the travel times here are shorter and likely, a better option if you have limited time.
Iquitos is the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon and is located in the north of Peru. If you are visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu, then it will be necessary to fly back to Lima to catch your flight to Iquitos. The size of the city also means that you must delve deeper into the jungle to see the best of the wildlife, meaning Iquitos is best suited to longer trips of 4-5 days.
The biodiversity in Puerto Maldonado is still stunning, but under threat from increasing mining and logging in the local area. This is a result of a new road which runs from the Pacific coast of Peru to the Atlantic coast of Brazil, linking Puerto Maldonado to the outside world.
In Iquitos, you’ll be able to see more unique freshwater wildlife such as river dolphins and manatees. In Puerto Maldonado, you’ll get the chance to see more land-based wildlife, including beautiful macaws and parrots and perhaps mammals such as jaguars or monkeys.
Both areas have great jungle lodges that go from authentically basic huts to beautiful, luxurious private bungalows. They all offer a range of excursions lead by local guides. The lodge chef will conjure up three meals a day, which you can enjoy to the sound of toucans and parrots soaring overhead. You’ll spend most of your trip in one of those lodges a few hours from the city, but both cities also have a range of pleasant hotels if you need to spend a night. Iquitos is a surprisingly large city, with roads buzzing with motorbike taxis and some beautiful architecture. The highlight of Iquitos is the riverfront, with calm water and trees stretching as far as the eye can see.
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