A Peruvian Adventure: Visit An Amazon Eco Lodge

by Julie Pacheco-Toye
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When you think about travelling to Peru, it’s likely that what first comes to mind is Machu Picchu.  Or maybe Cusco, or the world famous food scene in Lima.  But if you’re planning a trip to Peru in the near future, I suggest you consider staying at an Amazon eco lodge in the Peruvian Amazon.

Lake Sandoval reflection amazon eco lodge

Reflection at Lake Sandoval (Photo Julie Pacheco-Toye)

Sixty Percent of Peru is in the Amazon Rainforest

Most of us think of Brazil when we think of the Amazon, but in reality several South American countries share the Amazon rainforest with Brazil, and Peru is one of them.  In fact, about 60% of Peru’s territory is in the Amazon, comprising most of Peru’s territory that falls east of the Andes. It’s one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world, and fairly sparsely populated. It contains several large rivers that are tributaries of the Amazon River. The temperature is logically usually very warm and the humidity high, a complete change from the usual climate experience for travelers to Peru.

In much of the rest of the country, you’ll usually experience the dry and cold highlands and the perpetually overcast but temperate Lima. There are many ways to experience ecotourism in the Peruvian Amazon. For  those who are looking for an ecologically responsible adventure in one of the most beautiful areas on the planet, consider a stay at an Amazon eco lodge.

amazon river

The sun sets over the Madre de Dios River (Photo Julie Pacheco-Toye)

Leading a Group of 26 High School Students

I recently had the privilege to lead a group of 26 high school students and three other chaperones on a 3-week cultural immersion trip to Peru, and we spent three of those days at the Amazon Planet Eco Lodge in the Tambopata region of the Peruvian Amazon.  It isn’t an exaggeration to say that those three days were life-changing for many of those students, and certainly educational and fun for all of them. Like most Amazon eco lodges, Amazon Planet strives to provide an experience that is educational and exciting, while at the same time being environmentally responsible.

Located on the Madre de Dios River about an hour and a half downriver from the town of Puerto Maldonado, it was opened in 2010 by a group of five friends who shared a passion for the conservation of the rainforest.  Those founders (two biologists, a veterinarian, a local expert and a nature reserve volunteer) have created a small paradise offering a wide variety of guided well-planned adventures, a comfortable communal lodge building serving surprisingly good food and including a bar, inviting outdoor areas for relaxation and recreation, and very comfortable cabins for guests to stay in, all led by knowledgeable and friendly expert guides.

Lounge at Amazon Planet

The Lounge at Amazon Planet (Photo Julie Pacheco-Toye)

Amazon Planet Eco Lodge

We were met at the Amazon Planet office in Puerto Maldonado, the nearest town, by friendly and helpful staff who explained how we would get to the lodge and what to expect.  We then loaded onto two large motorized riverboats with canopies and bench seats, on which we were comfortably transported down the Madre de Dios River for a little over an hour, getting our first sights of the majesty of the rainforest where we would spend the next three days.

On arrival, we were greeted in the inviting lodge and given our cabin assignments.  There’s a wide variety of cabin sizes, from the one I was in with one queen bed, to group cabins sleeping up to 6 people.  Each cabin includes a private bathroom with warm water and mosquito nets over the surprisingly comfortable beds, as well as candles to light after the generator is turned off at 10:00 pm.  My cabin was only a few meters from the river’s edge, and included a private balcony overlooking the river, and I was awakened in the morning by the magical sight of the sunrise over the Amazon through the filter of the mosquito net.

amazon eco-lodge sunrise in room

Sunrise through the cabin (Photo by Julie Pacheco-Toye)

A Nocturnal Hike

Our first adventure was that very night after a dinner featuring ingredients and dishes from the Amazon.  We were divided into smaller groups each of which was assigned a guide, and we would experience all of our explorations over those three days in those same groups and with the same guides, which gave the experiences a more personal touch.  Our first activity was a nocturnal hike in the forest, during which our guide pointed out a variety of different plants, insects and wildlife that is more easily observed at night.

amazon eco lodge annatto seeds

Achiote is made from ground annatto seeds (Photo Julie Pacheco-Toye)

Hikes, a Rainforest Canopy Walk, and a Different Pace

The next morning, our first full day in the Amazon, after breakfast we hiked through the forest among huge ancient ficus and kapok trees, palms and other tropical plants to the nearby Taricaya Rescue Center, where wildlife that has been rescued from zoos, circuses and other forms of captivity are rehabilitated and released once they are healthy.  There we saw many birds such as toucans and macaws, both wild and rescued, monkeys, puma, tapirs, a bear, and a wild dog.  After leaving the rescue center, we hiked deeper into the jungle until arriving at a tower which we climbed to access a suspension bridge in the forest canopy which we crossed for about 90 meters until arriving at a platform at the crown of a giant kapok tree, 45 meters above the ground.

A macaw, just one of the many animals sighted (Photo Julie Pacheco-Toye)

We rested on the platform, enjoying the endless 360 degree views of the forest canopy and observing the wildlife.  After returning to the lodge for a fantastic lunch, we went on a botanical walking tour, during which the highlight for my small group was seeing a tarantula.  During some afternoon down time before dinner, some of the group rested in shaded hammocks, others played a game of soccer with some of the lodge employees, and other rested in their cabins.  After dinner, our group boarded the riverboat again for a slow and quiet night ride along the river’s edge to observe caimans.

Amazon eco-lodge suspension bridge

Suspension bridge at Taricaya Rescue Center (Photo Julie- Pacheco-Toye)

Riverboats and Wildlife

On our second full day, we awoke before sunrise in order to ride the riverboats upriver about an hour to the entrance of the Tambopata National Reserve, followed by a 3 kilometer hike through the forest to reach Lake Sandoval.  At Lake Sandoval, we paddled around the perfectly calm mirror-like lake, observing caimans, otters, cranes and other birds, and listening to howler monkeys.  After our peaceful lake expedition, we hiked back through the reserve where the riverboats were waiting to take us back to the lodge.

After our very early and active morning, the afternoon was free time to relax in the hammocks or the cabins again or play board games or ping pong in the main lodge building. Our last activity in the Amazon after dinner was a river float on inflatable rafts just before sunset. It was a perfect end to our three day Amazon adventure.  We left the next morning, escorted back to the Amazon Planet office in Puerto Maldonado by our fantastic guides.

Paddling to Lake Sandoval (Photo Julie Pacheco-Toye)

I’m sure our experience at Amazon Planet was similar to the experience one can have at other eco lodges in the Peruvian Amazon, and of course you should look at several options before choosing where you’re going to have your Amazonian adventure.   There are many different lodging options in the Peruvian Amazon, some more luxurious than Amazon Planet, with spas and swimming pools, some more rustic, and there are even some that include opportunities for volunteer service. I personally really appreciated the personal attention, engaging and expert guides, and educational focus of the programs at Amazon Planet.

Observing wildlife in the Tambopata Reserve

Observing wildlife in the Tambopata Reserve (Photo Julie Pacheco-Toye)

Keep Safe and Come Prepared

There are a few things you should be aware of for your comfort and safety before embarking on this kind of experience.  Although there are no vaccines required to enter Peru, there are mosquitoes that carry both malaria and yellow fever in the Amazon. It’s highly recommended by the CDC that you have the yellow fever vaccine and bring malaria pills with you. Consult your doctor.  Additionally, it’s usually recommended that you have the typhoid and hepatitis A and B vaccines. It’s also obviously recommended that you come well-prepared with insect repellent and sunscreen. This was my second time in the Amazon, and I brought 90% Deet repellant, as well as clothing treated with Permethrin spray.  It may seem like overkill, but I left the Amazon without one mosquito bite!

Additionally, it’s a good idea to bring a rain poncho, especially if you’re going during the rainy season (mid-December to mid-May.) Although you’ll want to bring clothing for warm humid weather, it’s best to wear light breathable long-sleeve tops and long pants both for sun protection and protection from insect bites. A light jacket is a good idea too, even during the dry season, especially for those nighttime, pre-dawn and sunset boat rides.  We were greeted our first day with unseasonably cool weather and I was glad to have a jacket.

An Amazon Planet cabin, with mosquito net (Photo Julie Pacheco-Toye)

More Tips For Your Own Trip

amazon eco-lodge ginger on a hike

Ginger (Photo Julie Pacheco-Toye)

Finally, in order to remain healthy in Peru you should not drink the tap water, or brush your teeth with it, although it’s safe to bathe and wash your hands.  At Amazon Planet, potable water was provided in the communal lodge building and in pitchers in the cabins. In fact throughout our travels in Peru, we were provided potable water in all of the lodgings.  It’s a good idea to bring an anti-diarrheal medicine with you, just in case. But good eco lodges will take all the recommended precautions in preparing foods and beverages to prevent illness in tourists.

Generally, I believe that most Amazon eco lodges will not have wifi, but even if they do, it’s not likely to be reliable, so you should plan to be “off the grid” during your time there, which is much more rewarding anyway.  Amazon Planet does not have wifi, and as mentioned earlier, the generator, which is the only source of electricity there, is shut off at 10:00 pm, so you should plan to do any charging of devices before the generator shuts down.  This is likely to be the case at most ecotourism sites in the Amazon.

As with most forms of travel, despite the inherent risks and challenges of travelling in the Amazon, the experience is well worth it, and although one should be prepared for them I hope you don’t let them keep you from this rewarding and moving travel adventure.

Happy travels to an Amazon eco lodge, fellow adventurers!

For More:

-All photos by Julie Pacheco-Toye. Cover photo depicts the students enjoying a sunset river float. (Photo by Julie Pacheco-Toye)

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