Today we are going to the Amazon Rainforest in Peru. I believe that it isn’t a real adventure unless it makes you a little nervous, I like to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I spent three days and two nights in an area of the Amazon Rainforest near the border of Bolivia and I loved the experience.
When I was planning my trip to Peru, I knew that I wanted to see Machu Picchu and visit the Sacred Valley, but I wasn’t sure what to do with the rest of my time in the country, so I researched tours. A three-day tour of the Amazon Rainforest caught my eye.
I remember learning about the rainforest when I was in first grade. I was fascinated by the fact that a place could be so different from where I was living. Maine has plenty of forests, but they aren’t very colorful and the thought of seeing toucans, macaws, and pumas is very exciting. Before this trip I had been to the cloud forests of Costa Rica and the jungle of Belize, but to me, the “real” rainforest has always been the Amazon. My trip to Peru became my chance to see it.
As you might expect, getting to the Amazon is not easy. From Cuzco you need to fly to Puerto Maldonado. When I stepped out of the plane, I instantly noticed how the air was thick and heavy with humidity. It was a very noticeable difference from the thin cool air in Cuzco. The distance between Cuzco and Puerto Maldonado isn’t much but the climates and altitudes are very different.
My tour guide, Carmen, picked me up from the airport. I liked Carmen from the moment I met her. Leading up to my trip I needed to get vaccinations, including two rounds of the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine. Both of the nurses that gave me the vaccine were named Carmen. I had never met someone named Carmen in my life, and then in the span of a month, a met three Carmens! It seemed like the stars were aligned. I was the only person on the tour – April is the end of the rainy season and it isn’t a very busy time for tours. I was relieved to have a kind guide that I enjoyed spending time with since we would be eating meals together and she would lead all my activities.
From the airport we went to the travel company’s office so that I could quickly repack my bags so that I could only bring a backpack with essential items. Then Carmen and I began our journey to the Tambopata Wildlife Reserve which is where the jungle lodge is located.
With my bags repacked, it was time for the adventure to begin. Getting to the jungle lodge first involved a 45-minute boat ride down the river. From there we hiked an hour through the rainforest.
Carmen was able to read every little sound in the rainforest and use it to spot animals. During the hike, she would suddenly stop, put her hand up, and listen. She heard movement high up in the trees and spotted monkeys. This happened several times during our hike and we saw three species of monkeys, including howler monkeys. The monkeys came very close, almost as if they wanted to greet us.
We hiked to a small port where we loaded into a long canoe and we paddled along Lake Sandoval to the Sandoval Lake Lodge. It had been rainy at the start of our hike; thunder was booming in the distance. The thick canopy of trees kept us dry. When we made it out onto the lake the sun was shining brightly and it was hot to the point where we were sweating. We watched as pairs of blue and yellow macaws flew above us. We had a porter with us who handled the paddling while we focused on spotting animals.
Lake Sandoval is located within the Tambopata Wildlife Reserve, and about half of the lake is closed to visitors. Motor boats are not allowed on the lake, and while the warm weather might tempt you to swim, it isn’t allowed, and once you learn that there are four species of piranhas in the lake, your desire to swim will likely disappear.
There is a big advantage to staying within the Tambopata Wildlife Preserve. Since it is a wildlife preserve there is a high concentration of animals, staying there gave me a very good chance at seeing a wide variety of wildlife up close.
In summary, getting to the Sandoval Lake Lodge requires a flight, two boat rides, and an hour-long hike. It takes half a day, but it feels like a fun adventure and not a tedious day of travel.
The owner of the Sandoval Lake Lodge greeted us when we arrived. The lodge sits up on a hill overlooking the lake. It’s a long building with a common area and dining room in the center and rooms on the side. The roof is made up of thickly and carefully layered large palms. The lodge has electricity and hot water, but no WiFi. My room was simple but comfortable. It had a wooden box to hide my snacks from any critters.
There were only four other guests at the lodge, which made it extra quiet. The jungle surrounds the lodge, and monkeys, small rodents, butterflies, and birds could be seen and heard throughout the day. I spent my first few hours at the lodge settling in and watching the sunset.
Once it was dark, Carmen and I set off on an hour long hike on one of the trails starting at the lodge. Our goal was to see some of the nocturnal animals. The jungle isn’t a very welcoming place at night. At one point Carmen had me turn off my headlamp so that we could stand in the complete darkness and listen to the sounds. Even with some moonlight and once my eyes adjusted, I could barely make out the outline of Carmen’s face from just a few feet away. The sounds of branches moving suddenly seemed a little scary.
We turned our lamps back on and we found spiders, including several tarantulas in trees and tree frogs. Luckily, we saw the tarantula the size of my hand at the end of the walk. At that point, I was ready to get out of the jungle.
The jungle lodge provided all of my meals, which is necessary since there is nowhere else to eat in the middle of the jungle. Carmen and I ate dinner and then I returned to my room and read for a bit before I fell asleep. I was woken up a couple of times in the middle of the night by jungle sounds, mostly the sound of Brazil nuts tumbling from the trees and landing on the ground with a loud thud.
Carmen and I were supposed to wake up at 5:30 to paddle out onto the lake to watch the sunrise, but it was rainy and there wouldn’t be a good view of the sunrise. I was happy to sleep in. Breakfast at the lodge was eggs, toast, and fruit along with a warm slightly sweet drink that was made of beans. I know it sounds incredibly strange, but I loved it! They served a different local drink with each meal, often freshly squeezed juices.
Before lunch, we went out on a hike in the jungle around the lodge. Carmen studied for years to become a tour guide, and she was incredibly knowledgeable.
She got particularly excited when we spotted glasswing butterflies, which have translucent wings and look like an optical allusion as they fly through the forest with clear wings with just a dot bright pink or orange flickering through the air as they fly. We tried to take a photo, but taking a photo of a butterfly with translucent wings is very difficult. It’s hard to see the butterfly when it isn’t flying.
The trees in the rainforest aren’t just trees. Some are walking palms with a series of small trunks spread out and reaching into the ground. Others are covered in vines and plants. The Brazil Nut Trees are some of the tallest. The trees are homes for monkeys, tarantulas, and birds – plus a shocking amount of termites.
After lunch, I was reading a book when I heard Carmen calling for me from the dock. She had spotted the river otters. There are seven river otters that live in Lake Sandoval. I know, it seems strange that they are called river otters when they live in the lake, but the river is very muddy which makes it hard for the otters to fish, so they moved to the lake, which is connected to the river, where the water is clearer.
We hop into the canoe and start paddling quickly towards the middle of the lake where we see three little heads bobbing in the water. The boat is big, heavy, and long, it doesn’t move through the water as quickly as the canoe my family has in Maine. We got close to the otters and then let the canoe float closer. The otters would dive into the water for several seconds before coming to the surface and audibly gasping for air. They didn’t seem to mind our presence and continued to fish until one of the otters called out and they all swam away.
I spent a good chunk of the afternoon napping in a hammock and in the later afternoon we went back into the lake to search for wildlife and watch the sunset. We paddled around the perimeter of the lake and were able to see herons and stinky birds resting on branches hovering above the water.
The herons didn’t look much different from the ones I would occasionally see in my hometown in Maine. The stinky birds look nothing like I had seen before. They are loud and clumsy and easy to hear from a distance. They are nicknamed stinky birds because they do have an unpleasant order, but nothing that we would smell from several yards away.
We watched the sunset and then shifted our mission to spotting caymans. These reptiles are like a smaller crocodile and they can be found on the edge of the lake. They are easier to spot at night because their eyes will glow under the light of a flashlight.
I found it fascinating that the rainforest is home to so many diverse animals. I saw animals that can also be found in Maine and tropical animals that you can’t find in the United States. It was surprising to see these animals living side by side in the Amazon.
That night I was woken up by thunder and the pounding of heavy rain against the roof. It rained as hard as it could for hours and hours. I was impressed that the palm roof didn’t spring any leaks. The rain cleared just as I was waking up, and the last drops of rain were dripping down through the canopy of trees and otherwise, the jungle was quiet. It was as if all of the animal when into hiding during the storm.
During breakfast, Carmen heard a group of monkeys arrive at the lodge and we ran outside to see them. The monkeys love the treetops and were navigating their way along branches from treetop to treetop.
The sun was coming out and I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to make the journey back to the airport in the rain. I packed up my backpack and we put on big rubber boots to travel across the lake, through the jungle, and across the river. We didn’t spot as many animals on the hike through the jungle as we did on our way to the lodge. We did come across a falcon and plenty of butterflies, the other animals seemed to be resting after the storm.
I was sad to say goodbye to the Amazon. It’s a part of the world that so few people visit and it is filled with so much wonder. I had worried that the Amazon Rainforest might feel scary and intimidating. Instead, it was full of life. If you want an adventure, I highly recommend this one.
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I booked this tour through World Expeditions, and I paid for it myself. This isn’t a sponsored post.