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It’s easy to catch a flight to Puerto Maldonado, Peru’s southern jungle. You’ll take a flight to its small airport (PEM) directly from Lima. The flight is short, about one and a half hours. Because of covid, Peru is not operating direct flights from Cusco at this time. But I hear this will be changing soon!
There is also the option of taking a bus or car, but I don’t recommend this route unless you have over 10 hours to burn.
To gain an authentic jungle experience, you’ll have to leave Puerto Maldonado city center by taking a traditional Peruvian boat to more remote locations off the river’s shore.
Before boarding the boat, it’s a good idea to take a quick tour of the city. You’ll see colorful fruit stalls, open-air markets, and beautiful Asian-inspired gardens at the Central Plaza. You’ll see animals such as chickens, cats, and dogs freely roaming around as well.
Here is where we stopped for only a couple of hours, which I felt was just enough time to take in the history and culture of this small rural town.
For accommodations in Puerto Maldonado, you’ll have a few options to choose from. There are hotels and eco-lodges all along the shoreline of the Madre de Dios riverbank. Hotels usually will include breakfast and transfers to and from the airport. All other meals and excursions are on you.
The jungle lodge, which is where I stayed, is all-inclusive.
The lodge is an extraordinary experience! These accommodations are specially designed for those who want to be truly immersed in the Amazon rainforest. And it includes everything: land and river transportation from the airport, various activities, hikes, excursions, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and sleeping arrangements in a cute bungalow.
There is a caveat to staying in one of these lodges. There is no electricity from 10 pm to 6 am, and while they did have Wi-Fi service available, it didn’t really work for any of the guests. Therefore, you really are disconnected from the outside world. I personally love the feeling, but I understand that can be a big turn-off for some people.
There is also no hot water during the night, but I was there during their summer season, and it was sweltering and humid, so I didn’t mind. The cold water is actually very refreshing!
The jungle lodge I stayed at is the Corto Maltes Lodge. Its location is breathtaking! It is settled right in the jungle on the edge of the Tambopata River. It is only accessible by boat and has the Tambopata National Reserve in the backdrop.
Another reason why it’s better to stay in a jungle lodge is because of their commitment to sustainability. Many eco-lodges work closely with conservationists and local communities for scientific research and conservation projects. They genuinely care about the well-being of their native communities.
Being able to see the Amazon jungle from a bird’s eye view is incredible! We took a short hike through the jungle, where we were greeted by a tall canopy. Here, we climbed 100ft of stairs to observe the Amazon as the birds do. Just after I reached the top, I was able to spot two macaws flying right past me. It was a breathtaking and truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
After dinner on our first night, we headed out to look for caiman, a member of the alligator family only native to the Amazon rainforest. Our group took a boat out along the river, and we quietly scanned the shoreline with our flashlights. We saw quite a few! Their eyes will reflect back red from the flashlight and it’s pretty intimidating!
The Amazon is the home to many animals, so no visit to this jungle would be complete without hiking through the trees and brush.
Here you have the possibility of seeing monkeys, various birds, insects, and even jaguars! We also saw many plants that are utilized all over the world for multiple products, including rubber, latex, and medications.
Make sure to hike at night too! The amazon rainforest is entirely different at night!
This actually ended up being super fun! Sadly, no one in our group could catch one, but it’s still an entertaining experience.
Here, you’ll take a boat out to a part of the river with shallower water. We were given a long stick with fishing wire tied to its end. A little piece of meat was tied to its end and then dunked into the water, as deep as it could go. Then we waited. If we felt a tug, we jolted the string up in the hopes of catching the piranha.
These fish are so smart! Many of us felt the tug of the piranha eating the meat, but when we went to tug, they were already long gone! We left the day with all our meat gone and no fish. The piranhas ate happily that day.
This is a fantastic experience to do in the morning when the macaws are most active. Here, we hiked to a small cliff covered in salty clay. This is where beautiful macaws come to lick the surface and truly is a remarkable sight the see!
The Amazon is pretty hot and humid. Make sure to take some time to slow down from the hustle and bustle and lounge in the refreshing pool.
Make sure to visit the Tambopata National Reserve Park. At this national park, we took a short hike through the trees and then took a boat around the lake to view river otters, caimans, turtles, various species of birds, and more! We were fortunate to see a family of monkeys in the trees just off the shore!
Psychoactive substances have become relatively popular in the last couple of years. One in particular that has grown in most popularity is ayahuasca. Ayahuasca brew is a traditional spiritual medicine of the native tribes in the Amazon.
The amazon jungle is the most common place to take ayahuasca. This is where the plant grows natively and has been consumed traditionally by the indigenous people for hundreds of years.
Many people will come to Peru to participate in this native ceremony, Puerto Maldonado and Tarapoto being the most common hubs.
We personally did not participate in an ayahuasca ceremony, but our guide did show us a ceremonial site and shared what the experience is like.
According to our guide, ayahuasca was extremely important to the indigenous people of the Amazon because it gave them a “sixth sense” to see, hear, and think more clearly. It was easier to spot predators, hunt for food and supplies, and was even used to talk and visit their ancestors.
Consuming ayahuasca is illegal in the United States, and its safety and effectiveness are still being studied. Before deciding to consume any drugs, herbal medicines, or psychoactive substances, make sure to do your own research, including its effects on your health, mental well-being, and legality.
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