I didn’t realize how diverse the landscape of Peru was until I started researching and planning our trip there last June. I knew of the Andes mountains (which I had always wanted to see) and, of course, about Machu Picchu. However, I had no idea that the Peruvian Amazon comprises 60% of the country! Peru has the second largest portion of the Amazon rain forest after Brazil. So, in planning our trip, I knew I wanted to spend some time exploring this part of the country.
Since our Peru home base was going to be Cusco, I started looking at the closest part of the Amazon to Cusco. The area around Puerto Maldonado seemed like the best choice. Puerto Maldonado is located northeast of Cusco and is 34 miles west of the Bolivian border. It is either a 10-hour trip by bus (or car) from Cusco over the high Andes mountains or a 45-minute flight. Most people opt for the flight to save time but I wanted to see the landscape between so we chose to take the bus to Puerto Maldonado and fly back on our return. See our separate blog posting regarding the trip overland to Puerto Maldonado.
Puerto Maldonado is located at the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers and is surrounded by Manú National Park, Tambopata National Reserve, and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. These are some of the most pristine primary rain forests in the world. As Puerto Maldonado is in the tropical Amazon Basin, the climate is hot and humid at all times. The average annual temperature is 26 °C (79 °F) with the months of August and September being the hottest. Annual rainfall exceeds 1,000 millimetres (3.3 ft). The wet season is from October to April.
There are several eco-lodges around Puerto Maldonado and in the reserves that allow you to truly experience the jungle. After researching, I chose the Inotawa Lodge which is located In the sector La Torre in the buffer zone of the Tambopata national reserve. We were picked up at our hotel in Puerto Maldonado by our guide Joel at 11:30am and taken to their office to drop off our bigger luggage for them to keep for us during our stay in the jungle. After that we headed out of town on an unpaved road for an hour to Puerto Nuevo where we would board the boat to head up the Tambopata River to our jungle lodge.
After settling in, we explored around the grounds a little bit. Lots of beautiful flowers and plants as well as banana trees and pineapple plants. Some pictures of Heliconia which is a species of flowering plants native to the tropical Americas. Common names for the genus include lobster-claws, wild plantains or false bird-of-paradise.
After looking around a bit on the grounds, it was time for a short afternoon hike into the jungle with our guide Joel. Even though it was very hot and humid, we needed to wear long pants and long shirts to keep from getting bitten by mosquitos and other bugs. I don’t do well with heat and humidity, especially wearing long pants and long sleeves. It was just a given that we were going to be drenched in sweat during our jungle stay!
Joel took us to a nearby Kapok Tree. A giant in the rainforests of Peru, the kapok tree can reach up to 200 feet in height, sometimes growing as much as 13 feet per year. Due to its extreme height, the kapok, or ceiba tree, towers over the other rainforest vegetation. The trunk can expand to nine or 10 feet in diameter.
We also passed a cacao tree with a cacao pod growing on the side of the tree. A cacao pod contains 20 to 60 beans embedded in a white pulp. The beans are a main ingredient in chocolate.
A look up into the jungle canopy.
After our short afternoon hike, we headed back to the lodge again for a rest and waited for it to get dark to go out on a night hike. Dusk came and the walkways around the lodge were lit with little torches.
When it got dark, we headed out with Joel and our headlamps. The sounds of the night jungle were a little erie. We came across a few insects and small animals, but nothing big on our night walk. Joel had a big flashlight and pointed out things along the trail to us, such as this tarantula.
Other insects he pointed out:
After our hike it was back to the lodge for dinner and time to call it a day. Getting the canopy on the bed ready for the night.
The next morning we arose at 5:00am to head up the river 15 minutes by boat to the La Torre Clay Lick to observe the activity of the macaws, parrots, and parakeets. The La Torre Clay Lick is a mud bank about four meters high and twenty meters wide crisscrossed with veins of mineral rich clay essential to the diet of these animals. We hiked up the trail a ways from the river to our hideout about thirty meters from the clay lick itself. On the short walk up the trail, we spotted 3 red howler monkeys high up in the trees. It was difficult to get a good picture of them.
We sat for a while in our thatched-roof hideout (so as not to be seen by the birds and scare them off). We saw some parrots and macaws up in the trees.
Up to this point, no birds headed for the clay lick yet but they were flying around and considering it.
One brave parrot finally decided to go to the lick.
And a couple more.
More and more parrots headed to the lick to nibble on the clay.
I tried to zoom in the get the colors. This picture is a little grainy but I was able to capture the bright colors with his wings open.
After watching the parrots and macaws for a while, it was time to head back to the lodge for breakfast. On the way back, we saw a capybara in the river. The capybara is the largest rodent in the world.
Back at the lodge we had a hearty breakfast before getting ready to head out again to Tres Chimbadas Lake.
Getting ready to head downstream by boat 15 minutes to the Tres Chimbadas Lake trailhead.
We docked the boat and started out on our 45 minute hike to get to the lake. On the trail we encountered a rainbow boa constrictor which Joel grabbed a hold of to show us.
We also encountered some leaf-cutter ants on the trail. The leaf-disks collected by the forager ants are transported back to the colony where the sap can be harvested for food. The gathered leaves are also used as a surface to grow the fungus that is consumed by the colony.
At the lake we boarded a traditional catamaran with a single oar and Joel navigated around the lake.
We saw some Horned Screamers along the shore of the lake.
We pulled into a little bay to do some piranha fishing. We were all successful in catching at least one or more. Here’s a close up of their sharp teeth.
Me after having a caught a piranha.
I was going to take a quick dip in the lake but decided not to. Joel said if a person swam in the middle of the lake and not near the shore, you shouldn’t be bothered by the piranha or the caimans as they stick more to the shore areas of the lake!
Back on the trail from Tres Chimbadas Lake.
We spotted some hanging oropendola bird nests along the trail and a big hawk-type bird in the air.
Joel also pointed out a plant that, when the leaves are crushed, will create a red dye. I don’t remember the name of the plant.
Back at the river shore waiting for our boat driver to pick us up and take us back to the lodge.
We saw a couple of banana boats heading down the river, taking their bananas into Puerto Maldonado to sell.
On the way back, we also spotted a Hoactzin, also known as Stinkbird, or Canje “Pheasant.
Back at the lodge, it was time for lunch and a rest. We decided to take advantage of the hammocks and lay and listen to the afternoon rain shower.
Later in the afternoon, Joel took us on another hike to a nearby farm/plantation where we saw different fruits being grown including bananas, plantains, papaya, and starfruit.
I loved the little baby bananas – a nice size for a snack!
Back to the lodge for another rest. More flowers and plants around the lodge.
Once it got dark, we went out on the river for a nocturnal boat ride. Joel carried a spot light to try and catch some animals along the shore. It was amazing how he could quickly scan the shoreline and spot animals on the shore. We didn’t see a lot but did see a couple of small caiman. It was hard to get good pictures but here’s one.
After our boat ride, it was back to the lodge for dinner and bed.
We got up early the next morning for our final breakfast before heading back to Puerto Maldonado.
A group shot of us with our guide Joel before leaving the lodge.
We picked up our luggage at the lodge office in town and headed to the airport for our flight back to Cusco. Boarding the plane for our flight:
One final shot of the jungle from the air as we headed back to Cusco to continue our Peruvian adventure!