When planning this trip to Peru, I knew that Machu Picchu would be on there but I had no idea that the Amazon would be on the itinerary. Years of playing The Amazon Trail surely didn’t help as I always thought the Amazon was only in Brazil. I was quickly proven wrong in my research and discovered that both the river and rainforest extended out to a large part of Peru.
With only two weeks to work with, I struggled with what to include beyond the Inca Trail. There were raving reviews about Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, the Nazca Lines, and Huacachina’s sand dunes. Ultimately what intrigued me the most about the Amazon was that it would provide a polar opposite experience from Machu Picchu. It’s rare that you can do a trip that takes you from extreme altitude and minimalist conditions to the lush and thriving forests of the Amazon teeming with life.
If that wasn’t complicated enough, we also struggled between which part of Peru to go see the Amazon. There are two spots that most people go to – Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado. The former is known as a place to really immerse yourself with the culture and lifestyle of the people of the Amazon and cruising the Amazon River while the latter is more about wildlife spotting. We ended up picking Puerto Maldonado partially because of logistics and partially because we just wanted that true jungle/rainforest experience.
We were all exhausted from trekking the Inca Trail but I for one couldn’t wait for the next leg of our adventure to start.
We took the most peculiar plane for our flight down from Cusco. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the British Aerospace BAe-146 of Star Peru. You’re probably as puzzled as we were but this is a real plane and yes it flies. After landing, it was funny walking out of the plane because pretty much everyone was waiting for some sort of backpack to roll out. The Amazon is definitely more off the beaten path than most places but tourism has definitely started to thrive here.
From the start, Rainforest Expeditions, the company that owns a collection of jungle lodges in the region, ran like clock work for us. Everything was smooth as butter and I only have high praise for their organization and how well they run their lodges. More on that in a few.
Getting off the plane was just the first of many steps though. Who said getting into the Amazon jungle would be easy right? Our first stop was the head office right around the corner from the airport which allowed a lot of the other guests to drop off their large bags and re-pack the essentials.
I thought the next bus ride would be dry but they again proceeded to surprise me with a nice little basket of snacks to keep my hunger at bay. Our to-be-guide, Paul, also spent the time to point out different wildlife and native vegetation he spotted along the way.
The real experience of course was in the boat ride with lunch served in a jungle leaf, a stop at a a government checkpoint, and tons of wildlife spotting. While it took a good 2.5 hours, the entire journey was pretty comfortable with the much-welcomed high speed breeze. Once on the Tambopata River, it felt like we were fleeing civilization in a way with the pace of life slowing down. It’s just you and the wild out here.
Our most exciting spotting of the largest rodents on the earth. Meet the Capybara. You think of mice and you shudder but these guys are actually kind of cute. Cutting the engine, we slowly drifted in and watched in wonder.
Once we docked, we begrudgingly moaned when we saw the steps up up but lucky for us it was a short climb up the cliff. From there, we followed the stone steps that led us straight to our Amazonian lodge. After a long day in transit, dropping our bags and plopping ourselves on the plush sofas of the open-concept lodge, was the greatest feeling.
If you’ve ever been to Disney World, this is Animal Kingdom come to life. The entire lodge is just plain impressive when you consider that this was built in the middle of the jungle. The main part of the lodge stands two stories tall complete with large lounging areas, a shop, bar, dining area, and a library and more comfy couches upstairs.
If you thought that was impressive, my jaw dropped even more when we open the door to our classic suite. I mean come on, any suite that has a hammock has to be a winner right? Sure it’s easy to get freaked out that there are no real to-the-ceiling-walls here but once you put it all into perspective, this is unspeakable luxury.
The bathroom features hot water which is so key considering the number of times you’ll be showering in a day. Electricity is something we take for granted and I was totally willing to concede the availability of power but somehow they’ve managed to wire up all suites with outlets that come on at fixed times throughout the day (morning, afternoon and evening). This means that yes you can have all your gadgetry more than well juiced. If that wasn’t enough, they even have wifi set up throughout the property. Unlucky for us though, some idiot decided to plug a blowdryer (one of the few things explicitly not allowed because it draws so much power) and damaged some equipment so we didn’t have any internet access during our stay.
Having your fourth wall as the jungle does have it drawbacks though. As guests of the jungle, you realize that you’re on their turf. This means that there are going to be all sorts of creatures and critters passing through. There may have been some girl-ish screams the first day when we encountered our first cockroach. This all became a normality in the next few days. I learned to check and pat everything before using it and keep all zippers closed. At the end of the day, I was just thankful we had heavy duty mosquito nets surrounding are super plush and comfy bed.
Of course, as much as it was awesome to have the creature comforts of the lodge, let’s get real, all of that is overshadowed by the abundance of wildlife that surrounded us. From listening to the early morning screeches of the macaw to climbing above the canopy of the rainforest, to watching the darting of howler monkeys, to staring in fascination of the leafcutter ants, we had a chance to see a little bit of everything. I was truly humbled by how everything in the rainforest was magnified in size and the immensity of its scale.
I couldn’t end off here without speaking about the food. Refugio Amazonas has a weekly set menu that managed to impress us everyday. As a testament to that, I’m usually not much of a soup guy but I found myself going back for seconds every meal. And like the Inca Trail, I was continuously impressed with how well they could incorporate quinoa into their dishes. Sufficed to say, their food was quite excellent.
More on the Amazon to come. What kind of exploration did we get to do and what’s really involved in planning a trip to the jungle?
Have you ever been to the jungle? What was your experience like?