Amazonian Adventure: Welcome to the Jungle

Visitors to Peru are often focused on trekking to, or visiting Machu Picchu, yet Peru has plenty of variety to offer away from the high Andes mountains. In the tropical lowlands near its border with Brazil, the Amazon forest ignores country borders and spills into Peru.

 

 

The confluence of the Rio Madre De Dios (which flows into the Rio Madeira and joins the Rio Amazonas at Manus in Brazil) and the Tambopata River meets at the city of Puerto Maldonado, the gateway into the squawking, screeching, chattering Tambopata National Reserve, and a trip up the Tambopata River takes visitors to the few wilderness lodges deeper in the jungle.

TAMBOPATA NATIONAL RESERVE

 

 

Tambopata National Reserve protects just over a million hectares of some of the wildest, least impacted habitats in the world, spread across dense rainforests, bird-filled marshes and tropical savannahs that have existed anywhere from 30 to 50 million years.

In terms of wildlife, at least 670 bird species have been identified here, including exotic species like tinamous, macaws, and hoatzins. The mammal inhabitants include jaguars, giant anteaters and the Amazonian tapir, in addition to over 100 species of reptiles and amphibians.

Lake Sandoval

On a day trip from Puerto Maldonado you can visit Lake Sandoval, a pristine oxbow lake only 30 minutes by speedboat away. On arrival, the access track to the lake follows an easy 3km trail where you may encounter primates like squirrel monkeys, red howler monkeys, brown capuchins, and saddle-backed tamarins.

Following the 3km hike, you can board a canoe (provided free for visitors), and paddle yourself around the lake on the lookout for giant otters, caiman, proboscis long-nosed bats, freshwater turtles and a plethora of amazing birdlife. 

Tambopata River

A must-do is to stay at one of the wilderness lodges along the Tambopata River. As you board the riverboat for the approximate 4-hour journey up the Tambopata River into the primary rainforest of the Tambopata Reserve Zone, one of the first animals you will see along the river banks will be small family groups of capybara, the largest member of the rodent family – they look like huge, overweight guinea pigs. Their young are a favourite meal of the local jaguar population, which are somewhat reclusive, but are still seen by some lucky visitors.

Vultures wheel overhead, but they are too far away for a good photo. 

The guides give plenty of sage advice about sunscreen, insect repellent, and hydration, along with, “Don’t worry about the piranha, they stay in the still backwaters; it’s the electric eels and stingrays you’ve got to watch out for”.

Travelling up the river, you will encounter the small caiman which are prolific and easily seen basking along the shoreline or in the shallows. The smaller spectacled caiman and the much larger black caiman are the most commonly seen, but the rarer and much sought after anaconda are much more of a challenge to spot.

Bird life dominates the sky and trees, with flocks of mealy parrots taking over trees; pairs of scarlet macaw and blue-and-yellow Macaw flashing colours in the sky; and toucans completing the exotic bird collection. 

At the El Chuncho Macaw Clay Lick, approximately 1 hour further up river from most lodges, is an area where the river bank is rich in mineral clay very much prized by the macaws and other parrots. 

At dawn, the birds descend on the clay bank, known as a “clay lick”, to eat the clay. Over a period of a couple of hours, thousands of parrots of all different kinds gather in the trees near the clay lick, waiting to be sure they’re safe from predators, before swooping in and landing on the cliff to eat their fill. It’s an early start, but well worth the extra trip up river.

Jungle Walks

Accommodation options in the Tambopata National Reserve are basic jungle lodges, with many providing walking tracks into the jungle, allowing you to explore on your own or take a guided walk. 

The guides know where to look and what to look for, so it’s a good idea to take a guided option to start with before you explore by yourself. 

Red howler monkeys are heard long before you see them, if you see them at all. Their jet-engine-like howl is very distinctive, and will lead you to them. If you are lucky, you may find yourself between the alpha male and the rest of the band, who will have little fear of running and climbing right past you to reunite with the alpha male.

After dark, the forest comes alive with creatures of the night, including huge tarantula spiders. Clinging to tree trunks near the bark under which they hide during the day, these amazing spiders are as big as a man’s hand, but quite shy and not in the least bit aggressive. Also be on the lookout for the large, bright green tree frogs (some of them poisonous) and the many large insects that inhabit this forest.

Best Viewing Time

Dawn and dusk are the great times of change in the forest, when day and night creatures change shift, when a great deal of feeding goes on, and when some of the more reclusive animals such as the sloth can be spotted moving about. 

 

 

This time of day is also ideal for spotting the many varieties of butterfly that inhabit the jungle, which often flutter about in large groups near the ground, sampling the mineral clays; or capturing the owls as they begin their hunting.

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY Linda Cash

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