The Amazon Rainforest covers more than half of Peru, and choosing which region to visit can be difficult. Manu is wild and untouched, but is it worth the long journey overland? Tambopata is perhaps the most convenient area to reach, but is the wildlife experience as good? Iquitos, on the other hand, is often considered the ‘real’ Amazon, but this involves a flight from Lima to the north of the country, an added cost to consider. So we’ll weigh up the pros and cons of these three most popular regions to help you decide the best place to visit the Amazon in Peru…
Tambopata (Puerto Maldonado)
The reserve of Tambopata is located in the south-eastern corner of the country, sharing a border with Bolivia. It is the most popular place to visit the Amazon in Peru. There are plenty of jungle lodges to choose from so there should be something for every budget. Most lodges are easy to reach and offer all the standard jungle experiences you’d expect, such as nature trails, canoe rides and nocturnal walks. So even if you only have a couple of nights to spare a visit to Tambopata is definitely worth it.
Puerto Maldonado is a 1-hour direct flight from Cusco with Avianca, LATAM, and now, Star Peru. Prices range from £100-150 one way and depart daily. From Lima it’s a 1½-hour direct flight with LATAM or Star Peru, and fares are slightly more expensive. From Puerto Maldonado most jungle lodges are only accessible via a scenic canoe ride up the Madre de Dios river, a fun adventure in itself.
Our favourites include Hacienda Concepcion, Reserva Amazonica, Sandoval Lake Lodge, Heath River, Posada Amazonas, and Refugio Amazonas. All of which offer above average accommodation, and a couple could even be described as fairly luxurious. A few of the lodges work together or are owned by the same company, so it’s possible to split your time between two lodges, which in theory gives you the opportunity to experience a wider variety of wildlife. The itineraries on offer at each lodge are pretty similar, but some also offer a trip to one of the Macaw clay licks.
Wildlife in Tambopata
Being the easiest region to get to and thus the most populated, it figures that parts of Tambopata are less inhabited by wildlife that they would otherwise be. But strict conservation laws are in place and the lodges do everything they can to minimise their environmental impact. There are nearly 700 bird species here, as well as 1,300 butterfly species and over 100 species of mammals. For most visitors the wildlife opportunities in this area are more than impressive enough, and there are many opportunities to see tapirs, spider and squirrel monkeys, caiman, giant, otters, and even rare sightings of jaguars.
Manu is located just next to Tambopata, but there is no airport within the national park and no infrastructure for tourists. For these reasons it is considered a more authentic jungle experience, and many claim the wildlife-spotting opportunities are better.
Most lodges are at least a 7-8 hour drive from Cusco by specialised vehicle. The road can be extremely bumpy and uncomfortable in places, but it adds to the adventure, and the journey itself is a good opportunity to spot wildlife. Due to the fact it takes a full day to get to Manu it’s recommended that you spend at least 4 nights here to make the journey worthwhile. Some itineraries have you staying at a jungle lodge en-route to break up the journey before heading to your main accommodation. Others start in Cusco and end in Puerto Maldonado.
Lodges in Manu tend to be much more basic that elsewhere in the Amazon; partly due to the fact it’s so hard to get supplies in. Cock of the Rock Lodge and Manu Wildlife Centre are a couple of our favourites, and Inka Natura also have some tented camps which are a great option for the more adventurous travellers.
Wildlife in Manu
Manu boasts the highest density of wildlife and plant species of any other national park, and there are frequent sightings of many larger mammals such as tapirs and jaguars. Within the national park there are a number of clay licks and canopy walkways, which offer great opportunities to get up close to the animals, especially many bird species. Manu is actually home to 10% of the world’s bird species, over 1,000, so it’s a top destination for birdwatchers.
Iquitos is a jungle city located in the northeast corner of Peru, and it’s the only place in Peru where you can visit the Amazon River. The rainforests surrounding the city are considered the ‘true’ Amazon. There are a range of jungle experiences to choose from including low-budget lodges to luxury river cruises. Iquitos is unique because it’s the only city of its type in the world, completely inaccessible by road, so its surrounding jungles remain largely untouched and wild.
Due to its remote location the only way for tourists to reach Iquitos is a short flight from Lima. Avianca, LATAM and Peruvian Airlines all fly the route daily, and prices range from £120-170 one way. It’s also possible to get a connecting flight from Cusco with the same airlines, for approximately £100 more. From the city of Iquitos the lodges provide transfers by boat along the Amazon River into the jungle.
There are some really good value lodges in Iquitos, and although they are slightly more basic than similar options in Tambopata, there are accommodation options to suit every travellers. Ceiba Tops, Explorama Lodge and Muyuna Lodge are a few of our favourites, and they offer all-inclusive itineraries starting from just one night in the jungle. An alternative option is an Amazon River cruise, which costs considerably more, but offers luxury accommodation. One of our favourite cruise providers is Delfin.
Wildlife in Iquitos
The Amazon River attracts many species which won’t be seen down in the basins of Tambopata and Manu, mainly the pink Amazon River dolphin. Many tours offer tourists the chance to swim with these dolphins, but just make sure you are travelling with a reputable company whose primary concern is safety, for both you and the dolphins. Some lodges especially are extremely remote, taking a few hours to reach by boat, in prime locations for wildlife-spotting right from your bedroom. It is remote jungle experiences like this that give Iquitos its reputation as a top place to visit the Amazon in Peru.