One of the most coveted Peru travel destinations is the Amazon Rainforest. This lush land covers over 60% of Peru’s territory, yet only 5% of the country’s population lives within it. And despite its size (over 1.4 billion acres), this region can be surprisingly difficult to visit. With a limited number of access roads (that tend to wash out in the rainy season) and limited accommodation options due to jungle isolation, planning an Amazon vacation can be daunting, to say the least. However, with a bit of preplanning, a trip into the Amazon can be a dream vacation.
After living in Latin America for more than 3 years, traveling throughout Peru, and exploring the Latin American travel industry, I’ve learned there is more than one way to dive into the depths of the Amazon Rainforest. From budget backpackers to luxury seekers, here are 3 options for travelers of all types to experience the Amazon.
1. Backpacker style. If you’re low on cash but rich in time, the best place for jungle adventures is within the central Amazon. Consider starting at the city of Tarapoto or perhaps Pucallpa. Where the highlands meet the jungle, Tarapoto is far from the gringo trail, but is easy to access both by air or road. It is a great place to experience Amazonian lifestyle or launch off on longer Amazon expeditions. Deeper in the jungle is Pucallpa. From here you can take a boat journey up the Yarinacocha River all the way to Iquitos. Expect the journey to last about three days and probably be uncomfortable. However, this is one of the most authentic, affordable, and adventurous ways to see the Amazon.
How to do it: Pick up a Lonely Planet guide, learn some basic Spanish, buy some bug spray, and go explore.
2. Amazon lodge. If you’re coming to Peru to hit the highlights, your best option for fitting an Amazon tour into your Peru travel itinerary is from the town of Puerto Maldonado, located in the southern portion of the jungle. Only 45 minutes by air from Cuzco, if you have a few days, you can easily tag a stay at an Amazon lodge onto the end of your Machu Picchu tour. Most of the lodges in this area are accessed by motorized covered canoes, and the journey to your Amazon lodge can be at little as 30 minutes to several hours. Although you won’t find any “cheap” accommodations, there are several extremely affordable lodges that are good for travelers on a limited budget or traveling as a family.
If staying in an Amazon lodge, you can expect your stay to be comfortable but basic. Many lodges don’t have electricity, but rather rely on candles, lanterns, and generators that run during a specified time (so don’t worry, you’ll still be able to recharge your camera batteries!). Excursions and food are usually incorporated into one inclusive price. Examples of common excursions from an Amazon lodge include bird watching at clay licks, nighttime river excursions to find caiman, canopy walks, and nature hikes.
How to do it: Talk with a travel advisor about which Peru destinations you want to see then pick a Peru tour package that matches your interests. SA Luxury Expeditions is one company that offers a customizable Amazon & Machu Picchu tour, which allows you to see two of Peru’s main destinations in one trip, as well as longer Peru tours that include other key destinations as well. Remember that Machu Picchu and the southern Amazon see a lot of rain in the months of December, January, and February. However, my last Amazon vacation took place during the rainy season and I saw a large number and variety of jungle animals, so just because it is wet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit!
3. Amazon luxury cruise. If you’re looking to be pampered, an Amazon luxury tour from the northern town of Iquitos is the way to go. This town is not accessible by road, so you’ll have to fly in (unless you plan on taking a long river journey to get here). Because the Amazon River flows right by town, this is the best place to embark on an Amazon cruise. Although there are several boats that operate cruises, all of them will be expensive. However, this is also one of the most unique ways to explore the Amazon. You’ll be comfortable and isolated on board (treated with gourmet dinners, hot tubs, and fully stocked bars) but the further you sail away from town, the more chances you have to seeing unique wildlife like pink river dolphins. By taking day expeditions in covered canoes you’ll get up close to the wildlife as well.
How to do it: Read up Amazon cruise boats and pick your favorite. Some of the boats are extremely exclusive (the Delfin 1, for example, only has 4 rooms) and sell out quickly, so it is best to plan as far in advance as possible.