Which Is The Best Amazon Jungle Region To Visit In Peru ?
The Amazon jungle straddles a number of South American countries, and each would entreat you that their portion of the earth’s lungs are the finest. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and it certainly likes to lay a claim to being the Amazon authority in the region. But the obvious choice is rarely the best choice. Colombia and Ecuador might like to dispute it, but it is Peru that offers the best Amazon jungle experience. The Peruvian Amazon extends along the fringes of the populated Andes mountain range and up north into open jungle territory, home to the furthest inland city in all the world – Iquitos.
The lure of the Amazon jungle is quite clear to those who live in cities, towns or well-ordered villages. When you want to escape civilisation, and uncover what Planet Earth has to offer in the corners that human encroachment has spared, there are a few options. There are deserts and mountains and arctic tundra. The Amazon jungle isn’t even the only rainforest on the planet.
But what the Amazon jungle offers, ahead of all the other wilderness and inhospitable lands, is the richest biosphere on the planet, reasonably accessibility from civilisation and in a stable part of the world. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo has nice rainforest too. But you wouldn’t want to go there.
What the Peruvian Amazon offers, especially, is a spectacularly diverse biosphere of plants and animal life unparalleled in the entire Amazon basin. This is coupled with relative proximity to civilisation; the towns and settlements that act as a comfortable and convenient stepping-off point into the savage jungle wild.
Visiting the Amazon in Peru
There are three main hotspots for visiting the Amazonian jungle in Peru. There is the city of Iquitos, in the north; a rarity of a city deep into the jungle, and with a colourful history. To the east of Peru is the Manu National Park, an enormous preserve home to a great diversity of exotic animal life, and Tambopata Nature Reserve, accessible from the town of Puerto Maldonado.
Iquitos Amazon Jungle region
Although a stopping off point to the Amazon jungle, Iquitos is a destination in itself. It holds a couple of crowns of uniqueness, being the largest city in the world inaccessible by road. This is a city cut off from the usual capilliaries of human infrastructure and the inhabitants can claim to be true jungle dwellers. It is most commonly reached by plane from Lima , but for the adventurous a day’s long river journey will get you there.
This is a city that found its niche in the late 1800’s, when unscrupulous capitalists discovered that rubber tapped from the trees of the Amazon could be sold to meet the sudden demand for tyres from the new industrial economies of North America and Europe. These ‘rubber barons’ pressed the local Amazonion populations into a form of slavery, and used their profits not to equitably redistribute their nouveau riches among the labour force, but to build grand mansions deep in the jungle (Iquitos, to be precise). However, then the rubber extraction industry shifted to Indonesia, and the party was over. This story was captured in Werner Herzog’s 1982 movie Fitzcarraldo, which is worth a watch to immerse yourself in that world and history before you go.
The Iquitos region is famous for its pink river dolphins, and being on the actual Amazon river, as opposed to a tributary. Due to the relatively large nature of Iquitos (population: half a million), the true jungle starts farther from the city’s perimeter, and many of the lodges are up to 3 hours distance. But once out there, you’re into the world of monkeys, sloths, caimans and the jungle wild.
Visit the Matse Tribe
A very special novelty, for those interested in such adventure and mystery, is that the Iquitos region is home to native tribes that have had very little contact with modern civilisation. This is not to say, of course, that you can therefore go and meet them and crack open a beer with them. But, whilst on your jungle tour, you might catch a glimpse of them watching you stonily from some river bank.
The Matse Tribe live in the Iquitos region, growing and hunting their own food, far removed from the modern world. However, their way of life is constantly under threat from the explorations of oil companies, loggers, and various kinds of extractors. We offer solidarity treks into the jungle to visit the Matse tribe, which currently number at 2,200, and to see their way of life, understand their situation, and learn what you can do to aid them and their situation.
Manu Amazon Jungle region
The Manu National Park is a large preserved area just a short flight from Cusco. It is a rare oasis of conservation in a region of mining, gas extraction, logging and industrial exploration. The region itself has a traumatic history relating to the era of the ‘rubber barons’ mentioned above, as much of the indigenous populations were pressed into forced labour, and the rest forced to flee from their homes. However, now it is a beautiful and well-preserved Amazon region that is accessible and offers plenty of jungle adventure.
This is the largest national park in the country, at 17,161 square kilometres / 6,626 square miles. It brushes up against the Andes mountain range in a space where soaring mountain peaks give way to tropical jungle almost immediately. The park is reached from Cusco by bus and river boat along the Manu and Madre de Dios rivers, and sometimes by plane.
Lodges within the Manu National Park offer you jungle on your doorstep, without the need for further travel associated with heading to Iquitos.
Tambopata Amazon Jungle region
Downstream from Manu is the Tambopata Nature Reserve; deeper and darker into the jungle, and even more remote. It sits within the Madre de Dios region near the Bolivian border. Despite being further inland, lodges in the Tambopata region are in many respects more accessible than Manu due to the manner of arrival. You fly in to Puerto Maldonado and the lodges are relatively close from this town.
The region here is particularly abundant with rare and exotic species, including the famed and elusive jaguar, giant otter, ocelot, harpy eagle and giant armadillo. Tambopata offers a good balance of accessible and high quality lodges, wildlife and true jungle.
Best time to visit the Amazon jungle
The year can be broken into two seasons, although do not expect enormous differences between the two. Both seasons rain a lot. The temperatures do vary, from the low 30’s to the high 30’s Celcius (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit). The humidity doesn’t vary too much. These conditions of heat and humidity make all the usual physical exterion that much more taxing. A decent standard of baseline fitness is definitely recommended before venturing into the jungle. The two seasons are sometimes named the ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ seasons, but this would be a bit misleading. Better to label them the ‘rainy’ and ‘rainier’ seasons.
The Rainy Season – November to April
Greater chance of heavier rains and hotter weather. Four fifths of the annual rainfall will fall within these 6 months, and rain can wash away entire days. However, this season is also associated with greater wildlife activity and more luscious flowering.
The Less Rainy Season – May to October
Less chance of a downpour, slightly lower temperatures. Slightly less jungle activity. However, the differences between this season and the one above are slight, nor major.
How to Get There
Manu National Park
- From Cusco by bus and boat – this is the most common route, and it gives travellers a good view of the region and range of habitats whilst gazing out of windows. The reaches some high elevations and passes through luscious could forests. At Atalaya you board a motorised canoe and continue downriver along the Alto Madre de Dios river for a further 6-7 hours. This is quite an adventurous option, but it will take up an entire day.
- By air from Cusco – this is the quickest and easiest option. Just a 40 minute flight to the airstrip near the town of Boca Manu. Then you take a 30 minute boat along the Manu River to the lodges and camps found there.
- From Puerto Maldonado – if you happen to find yourself here, and choose to visit Manu National Park ahead of Tambopata for whatever reason, you can do it this way with a combination of boat and motorvehicle. A car can take you to Puerto Carlos, and from there a boat for 6-7 hours to Boca Manu.
- By boat – you can take a boat to Iquitos from any navigable port on the Amazon river. Obviously, distance will increase journey time. But, we are talking journeys of days. Should one opt for this option, it would make most sense to take an Amazon river cruise.
- By air – Iquitos can be reached by air from Lima and Cusco. Flights are daily, ranging from $55 to $200, and will take a couple of hours. Airlines that fly these routes are: Star Peru, LATAM, Peruvian Airlines, LA Peru.
Tambopata (via Puerto Maldonado)
- By bus from Cusco – this is the economical option, and the journey is beautiful, however expect to put aside 12 hours to get to your destination.
- By plane from Cusco or Lima – the easiest and quickest option. Flights take under two hours.
Amazon Jungle Packing List
Most tours are just a number of days, and you will not need to bring all your luggage with you. Normally this can be kept in storage arranged by your tour operator. But, obviously, there are a few things that will be rather useful and/or essential whilst in the jungle.
- A sturdy backpack
- A light daypack for daytrips
- Hiking / walking boots
- Sandals / flip-flops
- First-aid kit
- Light jacket for when it rains or cool evenings
- Rain poncho
- Fleece or wool jumper
- Hiking trousers
- Normal trousers
- Two pairs of shorts
- One long-sleeve shirt and two or three short-sleeve t-shirts
- Lots of socks
- Sun cream
- Insect repellant with DEET
- Torch / flashlight / headlight
- Swiss army knife
- Sun hat
- Zip-lock plastic bags
- Re-useable water bottle
Activities on Amazon Jungle Tours
Excursions are the most common activity in the jungle, and they come in a number of varieties and flavours.
- Trek to discover herbs and plants with special medicinal or other properties.
- Journey to local indigenous villages to meet the natives, see how they live, participate in their way of life.
- Take day hikes to spot exotic birds, mammals, reptiles, and whatever else you may find.
- Take night expeditions, in hunt of the nocturnal creatures that move in the dark.
- Venture onto the rivers, tributaries and lakes to explore the jungle, and try to fish out what swims beneath the surface, including piranhas.
- Canopy tours – ascend an Amazonian tree and glide through the tree tops on zip-lines and rope bridges to get a different perspective on the jungle.
- Early morning bird watching across the waters of the Amazon.
- Swim in the Amazon river with pink dolphins at the Pacaya Samiria National reserve
The activities in the Amazon are practically limitless. We go there to delve into the deeper, darker recesses of the planet, and see what thrives in unique environments away from the march of civilisation.
Enjoy your trip to the Amazon jungle.