Peru is a wonderful place to visit the Amazon Jungle – access is relatively easy (compared to some of the more isolated places in Brazil for example) and the wildlife is abundant and varied.
The Amazon Jungle is the largest and most famous jungle in the world, and for many visitors to Peru it can be a key part of their holiday. Trips to the jungle can vary: there are different locations to visit across the Amazon which can vary in the wildlife and environment, accommodation can be anything from a rustic wood shack to a high-class luxury resort lodge, and lengths of trip can vary from swift 3-day trips to weeks-long treks deep into the heart of the jungle. So, how does the discerning tourist choose the best Amazon trip for them, and the best destination in the Amazon to visit?
Well, that really depends on a number of key factors – how much are you willing to spend, what do you want to see, and what type of holiday do you want…?
There are three main jungle regions within Peru that can be visited, and below gives an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Puerto Maldonado / Tambopata
The Tambopata National Reserve is a Peruvian national reserve in the Peruvian amazon basin. The reserve was created in 1990 to protect the outstanding biodiversity found int he region, which encompasses 165 species and 41 families of trees, 103 species of mammals, 1300 species of butterflies and 90 species of amphibians.
The Tambopata region of Peru is probably the most popular jungle region for tourists, mainly as it offers the best all-round experience – the area is reasonably easy to access (via a short return flight from Cuzco airport to Puerto Maldonado airport, then by boat from Puerto Maldonado into the jungle), the wildlife opportunities are excellent (although not quite as good as in Manu – see below), and the lodge accommodation is also of a good all-round standard.
The wildlife on display in this region of the amazon, and the types of habitats that can be visited to view the wildlife, includes parrot clay-licks with birds feeding at dawn, and ox-bow lakes which house a plethora of species, including capybara, caiman, monkeys, and various birds, fish and insects. In Tambopata there are easy-to-reach lodges only an hour or so by boat from the city of Puerto Maldonado (one of the reasons which this is a popular choice for tourists), however there are also opportunities to travel deep into the jungle (up to 8 hours by boat) to visit and stay at science research stations, although this is a more expensive option and normally reserved for avid bird-watchers. The main disadvantages of Tambopata compared to Iquitos is that you can’t visit an indigenous tribe (see below), and compared to Manu the wildlife opportunities aren’t quite as good due to the proximity of Puerto Maldonado (unless you go deep into the jungle).
The Iquitos Amazon Jungle Region
This is the region around the city of Iquitos, the largest city in the world inaccessible by road. To access the jungle here requires either return flights from Lima to Iquitos (so this can be a relatively more expensive option), or a lengthy boat ride through the jungle. Upon arrival at Iquitos city boat travel will take tourists or travellers along the Amazon river to reach a jungle lodge. The advantages of this option is that this is the true “Amazon River”… i.e. many kilometres wide, slowly winding its way through the jungle. This is also the only region of Peru where you could meet with a local indigenous tribe (although the tribes are now involved in the tourist trade, so are not isolated or uncontacted), and you also can meet shaman who will be willing to educate you about the many hundreds of plant species they use as medicine. There are some excellent canopy walkways in this region that travel through the tree-tops, and wildlife opportunities include pink river dolphins, caiman, piranha, and various types of birds. At night the jungle comes alive, and wildlife includes sloths, snakes, various frogs and toads, tapirs etc.
Another advantage of this region is it means you get to travel to, and experience (albeit briefly) the city of Iquitos – a true jungle city. The disadvantage of travelling to this region is that it can be relatively costly compared to some of the other regions for similar standards of accommodation (due to the travel costs required to reach Iquitos due to the return flights from Lima), and as Iquitos is a large city, wildlife spotting is not quite as good as in some of the other places in Peru – unless you travel very deep into the jungle to get away from the city, which is possible but adds time and cost to your itinerary.
The Manu region of Peru is accessible by road from Cusco, although it is a day-long drive followed by a boat trip. The Manu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to the amazing biodiversity found in this region of Peru. This is a fabulous jungle option to choose due to the fabulous wildlife opportunities. Tourists can not enter the park itself (which is a protected area), but can visit either the Manu Reserved Zone (although this is very expensive, again due to travel costs as it is deep within the jungle) or the Manu Cultural Zone. The main advantage of this region is the excellent wildlife opportunities – parrot clay-licks, ox-bow lakes (possibly with caiman, capybara, various birds, various types of monkeys), the Peruvian national bird: the Peruvian cock-of-the-rock. Another advantage is the journey by road from the city of Cuzco – from an early morning start you would climb further up and up into the Andes until you reach a high mountain pass, then would journey right down the other side starting at high altitude and slowly travelling down through shrubbery, into cloud forest, then finally into jungle as the landscape changes around you throughout the journey. However for some tourists this lengthy journey by road up and over the mountains and down into the jungle can be considered a disadvantage due to the length of the journey (all day) even if the scenery is fabulous. The two options to visit, the cultural zone and the reserved zone, differ in that the reserved zone is much deeper within the jungle so has better wildlife opportunities but is consequently much more expensive and is visited more frequently by keen birdwatchers. However even in the cultural zone the wildlife opportunities are exceptional, so this region shouldn’t be ruled out.