Planning your itinerary in Peru is no easy task. I for one know what it’s like. The more and more you dig into it, the more you realize how huge the country is. When you finally narrow in on doing the Amazon in Peru, you then have to decide between which part of the Peruvian Amazon you want to do. The list goes on and on.
After seeing what the Amazon Jungle experience is like in Peru, the next step in the process is to figure out all the “what you need to know”s. This guide, like the Inca Trail planning guide, is meant to be a thorough and exhaustive review of everything you need to know about the our experience out of Puerto Maldonado and the 4 days and 3 nights we stayed at Refugio Amazonas.
Table of Contents (jump to where you want to go)
- Jungle or River?
- Picking An Eco Lodge
- My Refugio Amazonas Experience
- What To Pack
- Itinerary Planning
- Everything Else You Need To Know
Jungle or River?
Before anything, I think it’s worthwhile to go through a tiny detail that you’ll want to think about first. The question is, do you want to do the Amazon Jungle or the Amazon River?
The whole of the Amazon is massive. It covers 9 countries and some 5+ million square kilometres. Even when it came to figuring out which part of the Amazon we could visit for our trip, I realized that there are two very distinct areas.
To the northeast, there’s the Peruvian port city of Iquitos. This is where those multi-day Amazon River cruises are launched from. The jungle also flanks the city so it is also very easy to launch your ecolodge adventures. Fun fact: Iquitos is the largest city in the world that cannot be reachable by road.
To the southeast is another port city called Puerto Maldonado. This city is at the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers, all of which eventually feed into the official Amazon River system. Its proximity to the animal-rich jungle in the Amazon Basin makes this an undisputed choice to see, feel, and hear the Amazonian Jungle.
It was impossible to choose when balancing the two but ultimately what it came down to was logistics. From Cusco, it was way more difficult to fly to Iquitos as it was to get to Puerto Maldonado. Flights to Iquitos required flying all the way back to Lima and then back out whereas there were direct flights offered straight from Cusco as part of a re-fueling stopover.
Picking an Ecolodge
Like how it was in picking a tour company to go with for the Inca Trail, it was just as difficult to decide on a specific lodge we wanted to stay at. I started off with TripAdvisor once again and honed in on Puerto Maldonado’s specialty lodging.
After reading up on the reviews, blog posts about traveller’s experiences, and consulting with friends that had been to the Amazon, we ended up narrowing our choices to:
- Inkaterra – Reserva Amazonica or Hacienda Concepción
- Tambopata Lodge
- Rainforest Expeditions – Refugio Amazonas or Posada Amazonas
How We Arrived At Our Decision
Between the Amazon and the Inca Trail, I have to say that figuring out a lodge that would work for us was way harder than I thought it would be. I think that was the case because we just had no idea how to differentiate between all them. Some offered this while others offered something different. I didn’t even know what a clay lick was to be honest. It was just a whole lot of confusion. I’m sure you can relate if you’ve gotten this far.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I just wish that these properties would just build better websites that clearly lay out what’s included in their packages. Better yet, it’d be even nicer to have some sort of comparison table.
Both Reserva Amazonica and Hacienda Concepción properties were top ranked and very impressive. This was actually one of the first few ones I considered because a close friend had stayed at the Hacienda Concepción and raved about the experience. Here’s what I found out:
- Highly sought after and mostly booked. Only Reserva Amazonica (Superior Rio room) was available when I looked 3 months ahead.
- Tailored to the more sophisticated crowd.
- Vast array of activities on the itinerary.
- The most expensive at $835 USD per person
Aside from TripAdvisor, another place I knew I wanted to look at was GAdventures and sure enough they had a G-Lodge experience in the Amazon for 4 days. Determined to find out if this was an exclusive lodge or not, my sleuthing eventually led me to the Tambopata Lodge. Here’s what I found out about them:
- Overall a very attractive option that’s solid all around.
- Offers quite a number of different packages to get the experience you’re looking for.
- Modest lodge but certainly wasn’t as impressive as the others.
- Cheapest out of all of them
- $538 USD per person for basic G-Lodge experience
- Up to $770 USD for more complete experiences
- More of a “roughing it” option. The better packages offered have one night of camping to see clay licks in the morning.
Peru Nature Properties
When looking at TripAdvisor for the top specialty lodges in Puerto Maldonado, it’s hard to ignore Refugio Amazonas which sits atop the list. Digging deeper, I learned that this was part of the Rainforest Expeditions collection of properties that include Posada Amazonas and Tambopata Research Center. Here’s what I found:
- Neck and neck with Inkaterra in terms of prestige but from first impressions from their websites, I’d say Inkaterra is still higher class.
- Also high in demand. Posada Amazonas was already fully booked when we looked.
- A ton of different programs to choose from. It’s all a bit overwhelming but that means there is a lot of options.
- Big focus on clay licks.
- Beautiful constructed and furnished rooms.
- Starts at $792 USD a person but quickly up to $892+ for their bigger programs.
Like the nerd that I am, I put together a table that makes it more clear how each ecolodge differs from one another. What really matters are the types of activities you can have at each so that is what I focused in on.
Note that I’ve put a “Yes” for everything that a lodge offers even though somethings may not be available together in a package. For example, Refugio Amazonas has the Soft Adventure package which offers kayaking but doesn’t include the chuncho clay lick while the Chuncho Clay Lick package is the reverse.
|Reserva Amazonica||Hacienda Concepción||Tambopata Lodge||Refugio Amazonas||Posada Amazonas|
|Nature and Wildlife walks||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Canopy Tower||Yes||Yes||Yes (extra)||Yes||Yes|
|Chuncho Clay Lick||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Smaller Clay Lick||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Mammal Clay Lick||Yes||Yes|
|Night River Cruise||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Ability to add on additional activities (i.e. kayaking, mountain biking, canopy climbing etc.)||Yes||Yes|
After all was said and done, we ended up picking Amazonas Refugio because it honestly had the best of everything we wanted to do. It has the chuncho clay lick included, kayaking, and all around well balance of land and water-based wildlife watching.
You’re probably wondering why we didn’t pick the Tambopata Lodge. I was so close to choosing them but I realized that it might’ve been too much to ask us to do another day of camping after so many days of roughing it out on the Inca Trail. Tambopata Lodge also didn’t have kayaking which was one of the requirements.
My Refugio Amazonas Experience
First, if you haven’t read my Amazon Jungle experience, I recommend you head there first. Overall, we had a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience thanks to Refugio Amazonas. Seriously, how often can you say you spent 4 days in the middle of a lush forest teeming with wildlife? In a lot of ways it was what I expected but in other ways, it was a totally different experience. I intend on leaving no stone unturned here so be prepared for the truth!
Booking with Rainforest Expeditions was a breeze. Everything was done online via e-mail through our specialist, Rocio. He answered all the outrageous questions I had for him and was great at accommodating the customizations we wanted to our package.
What most people don’t know about the booking process is that there is some room for negotiation. Comparing prices between different properties, I noticed that all of them were willing to provide some sort of discount to entice us to book. Rocio offered me up to 6% off as an “book in advance discount”.
Once everything was decided, a 20% deposit was required via Paypal to lock it in (nonrefundable) and the remaining balance was paid 30 days prior to arrival.
One oddity of the Superior Rooms that we booked was that there was actually no discount to have 4 people in one room despite the rooms having two queen-sized beds. With that in mind, we ended up just getting our own room per couple.
From airport pick up to the transfer to the lodge, it was all a well-oiled process. There wasn’t a whole lot we had to worry about once we touched down in Puerto Maldonado.
I love that they make sure that you’re taken care of all the way through. On the bus ride to the port, we were given a little snack basket and on the long boat ride we were given a full lunch.
The lodge is truly Disney’s Animal Kingdom come to life. The construction of the main common area which is two stories tall has a ton of rustic appeal. What made it so welcoming was the fact that there were so many areas to lounge around.
Whether you wanted to just plop yourself down to do nothing, chat with friends, play some cards, drink a few beers, I loved coming back to the main lodge. It was our little watering hole.
If you felt like pampering yourself, this is also where you could book a spa appointment. The gift shop was also here if you were looking for a souvenir or two.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the rooms at Refugio Amazonas. Only Superior Rooms were available by the time we booked which feature two double beds with luxurious pillows, full mosquito nets, a working desk, hammock, lamps, power outlets, and full bathroom with shower. Other amenities include a lockbox, umbrella and even a spray bottle of organic mosquito repellent. A big bonus to the room was the fact that there was an actual door with lock. There were quite a few lodges that had the open door concept but I was quite glad to have our own lockable space.
Now downsides of the room? For one, the walls don’t go all the way to the top which means that there’s not a whole lot of sound privacy. You really have to make sure you’re quiet after a certain hour because everyone else can hear you.
The second downside is the heat. I get it that it gets hot in the jungle but wow did it get hot inside the mosquito net at night. Beyond not getting much of a draft deep in the jungle, the dense mesh didn’t help the air flow.
Lastly, I’ll mention the bugs just because you really do have to go into these lodges prepared to encounter all sorts of critters at night. Yes that means you’ll see cockroaches, moths and ants when the sun goes down. You have to learn to coexist and not freak out. For us that meant patting down everything before picking it up, and closing up all the zippers at all times. The most critical mission of all each night was the synchronized choreography of the two of us turning off our headlamps, lifting one corner of the mosquito net up, jumping into the bed through the small opening and then sealing it up immediately. It’s the jungle life.
The way it works is that based on the package you select, you get split off into a smaller group with your own dedicated guide. We picked the Chuncho Package and so we were teamed up with another group of 4. As a group of 8, we dined together, and we went on excursions together. The itinerary is also fixed but you do have the option to opt-out if you’d like.
The excursions themselves are always broken up into half day chunks. This means that you’ll always be able to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the lodge. Never taking any more than 4 hours at a time, I also found that I never had an issues with having to use the bathroom in the jungle. Being able to come back to the lodge after ever activity was awesome because it also meant you could shower.
Our guide was Paul, a man of the jungle. He had a strange sense of humour for sure but you could tell he knew the jungle inside out. His sharp eye would spot things we didn’t even know to look for. Paul was also a human encyclopedia when it came to knowledge of wildlife and plant life. Having a good guide really makes all the difference when it comes to these type of experiences and I’m so glad we had Paul leading us.
As much as we had hoped the Amazon would be a nice relaxing end to our Peru trip, we quickly learned that there would be quite a lot of activities to participate in and ton of early mornings. Be prepared! We were happy to oblige though because we slept pretty early and we wanted to make sure we saw as much as we could out here.
Highlights for me include the watching of large macaw parrots land in huge flocks on sodium rich claylicks and take flight. I’ll never forget us sitting in silence as we listened at the symphony of gawking birds as the morning rituals began.
Reflecting on all that we saw, I do have to say that we definitely saw less animals than I had anticipated. I think part of it was coming in with the expectation to see large beasts. Instead, we learned that it was so much more about the small creatures that contribute to the jungle ecosystem.
There are a ton of incredible new discoveries you’ll make while you’re out here. What you have to realize is that you’re on their turf and unlike a zoo, there’s really no way to predict what you’re going to see. While that may be a bummer for some, I think it’s quite thrill to be at the right place at the right time to catch an animal in the wild.
In case you were wondering…we didn’t find this elusive jaguar.
The food we had at the lodge was stellar. At first I was a little worried that it was going to be buffet-style but every meal they managed to impress me and left me eating way more than I wanted to. The way it works at Refugio Amazonas is that there’s a weekly menu that they rotate through. Everyday, all you had to do was check the menu book to find out what your meal was going to be. Anyone with dietary restrictions were also taken care of.
There was also a separate station for tea and coffee that was never empty. This table was always open from morning to evening so you could always grab a drink anytime during the day. The main table always had fresh fruit throughout the day and off to the right there was a hidden hanging cage filled with fresh-off-the-tree bananas.
What about water? Scattered throughout the lodge and just outside the suites were those large 5 gallon water dispensers. Guests can either take a glass to drink it or use it to refill their water bottles or hydration bladders.
If you’re looking for another way to stay thirst-free, there’s also the lodge bar. They basically create a tab for you when you get there and at the end of your stay, they tally it up. We didn’t try too many drinks here but I do have to recommend their Brazil Nut beer that they brew locally. Quite the excellent Brown Ale.
What to Pack
The full list of EVERYTHING I brought on the trip is documented as I prepared for the trip to Peru. Naturally though, not everything on there was specific to the Amazon. In hindsight, packing for a trip here isn’t all that complicated because you won’t be needing a ton of gear.
The main dilemma you will face while you’re in the Amazon is this. 1) You either wear long sleeves to cover yourself up and melt or 2) You like to show a little skin to cool off but risk getting ravaged by mosquitos.
I elected for the former. Luckily I had a long sleeve breathable shirt on me to keep me protected but I’m not going to lie. I sweat like a madman.
- !!!Breathable long-sleeve shirt!!! – You’re going to want multiples of something like the Columbia Blood & Guts III Long Sleeve Woven Shirt. While I liked this shirt, I thought I could’ve used something a bit more moisture wicking.
- Good pair of khakis – One pair should suffice but I’d go with two if you have the space. A good pair will be light weight and light coloured to keep the mosquitos away.
- Headlamp – You’ll be doing night hikes so you’re going to want to have this handy.
- Serious mosquito repellent – It’s the jungle. Make sure you bring good stuff and lots of it.
- Geigerrig bladder – Like with the Inca Trail hike, it was very convenient to have a hydration system like Geigerrig to stay hydrated.
- Buff – Don’t go anywhere without one of these. I’m wearing them in most of my photos!
Nice To Haves
- Bring some cards or an easy game – The evenings are free for you to do whatever and since the critters take over the room when the sun goes down, you’ll most likely want to just hangout in the lodge.
- Super zoom lens – If you’re looking to do some real wildlife photography, for once you really do want to bring your longest lens possible. The crazy thing is that even my Olympus OM-D E-M1 + 40-150mm f2.8 + 1.4x extender wasn’t enough. Those macaw parrot photos from earlier was as close as I could get.
- Binoculars – My friend brought two of these Bushnell Falcon binoculars that were handy for wildlife watching.
Not So Essential
- Serious hiking shoes – This might’ve been because we had some rain while we were out there but we used the Refugio Amazonas rain boots everyday we were there.
- Tripod – I thought there’d be opportunities to use this in the jungle to do some creative shots but I was either too tired or there weren’t any opportunities.
- Jacket – It’s so hot here that you won’t be pulling this out of your pack at all.
Itinerary Planning for the Amazon Jungle
When planning your trip down to the Amazon, the only thing you need to be concerned about are your flights coming in and out of Puerto Maldonado. Everything else is taken care of.
For Refugio Amazonas, you have to arrive before 2PM. From the airport, you’ll wait at the office in Puerto Maldonado for one of 2 departures of the day – 1PM and 2PM.
On the last day, there are 2 departures at 7AM and 8AM which gets you back into the city between 9AM and 10AM. With that said, you’ll want to grab a flight that flies out of Puerto Maldonado after 11AM.
The beauty of a trip to the Refugio Amazonas is that there’s not a whole lot of planning to do.
This one’s easy. With the whole experience paid for upfront, there’s really no need to bring a whole lot of extra cash. The two things you will need cash for are:
- Tipping your guide
- Paying your tab at the bar
In regards to tips, we ended up paying 50 PEN per person to Paul which comes out to around $15 USD. We weren’t sure when the right time to tip was so we just did it at our last dinner together.
My recommendation is to make sure you have around 100 PEN for the Amazon which isn’t a whole lot. If you only have USD that should be fine as well.
Ironically enough, the mosquitos in the Amazon weren’t as bad as the ones we faced along the Inca Trail and at Machu Picchu. Don’t get me wrong. There are still a ton of mosquitos out here but they weren’t as vicious.
Looking for something that wasn’t 100% deet, we discovered a chemical called permethrin. We did research beforehand and a lot of experienced travellers said they had a lot of luck coating their clothes with this spray. The good thing about this spray is that you just have to do it once and it’s good for the whole trip and more. It’s hard to say if it worked but anything to lessen the amount of mosquito attention is worth it.
Everything Else You Need To Know
- Book early – Ecolodges book up quick in Puerto Maldonado. Once you’ve confirmed your dates, book ASAP.
- Negotiate – Always ask to see if you can get a better price. Never hurts to ask.
- So H.O.T. – Let’s just say you’re going to want to take multiple showers every day. Pro tip is to wash your clothes and let them dry in the sun in the afternoon. With the intensity of the sun here, they’ll be dry in a matter of hours.
I Would Love To Hear From You!
I want to make this post as collaborative as possible. There are a lot of you that have gone to the Amazon and have great insight on how it was for you. Drop a line below and tell us what your experience was like and what nuggets of wisdom you’d like to leave for future travellers.
If you’re looking for more visuals make sure you head over to my first impressions of the Amazon and what made the experience unforgettable.