It’s difficult to look anywhere east of the Andes in Peru without seeing the expansive Amazon Rainforest in swathes. The Amazon in Peru actually comprises more than 60% of the country, meaning just over 300,000 square miles of bio-diverse jungle habitat; only Brazil is home to a larger portion of this continent-spanning wonder of the natural world.
It’s partly because of this huge portion of the world’s largest rainforest that Peru is home to the highest number of bird species in the world; and on top of that, the Peruvian Amazon contains 44% of all bird species in Peru. It’s a diverse region and one that sees many endemic species of hummingbird, wren, as well as mammals like the hairy long-nosed armadillo and the Peruvian night monkey.
Peru is also where one of the most developed areas of the rainforest is, and that’s in its northern section. Centered around the city of Iquitos, often called the capital of the Peruvian Amazon, the options for luxury travel and extended trips into the jungle from this cosmopolitan urban island in the rainforest are almost as abundant as the different species of animal and plant life to be found here. For the adventure of a lifetime, the Amazon in Peru is hard to beat.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Peru (Travel Guide)
When to Travel
Despite having its seasons split into two – wet (December through May) and dry (June through December) – the truth is that the “wet” season of Peru usually yields only 10% more rain than other times of the year. The Amazon, Peru gets rains quite a lot in general (the clue is in the name: rainforest), with 100 inches falling on average per year, 75% humidity, and with an average yearly temperature that is relatively warm at 28ºC (around 82ºF).
The water levels of rivers that feed into the Amazon are affected, too, with wet season producing high levels, often resulting in usual hiking trails becoming inaccessible, though there’s a higher chance of spotting water-based wildlife like turtles and caiman – and a higher prevalence of mosquitoes; low levels mean you can explore deeper into the jungle.
We’ve visited the Amazon in Peru twice, both times in April. We find this season fantastic, with little rain and good weather for viewing wildlife. There is usually good amounts of water in the rivers, so nothing is off limits for exploring.
Don’t forget: Peru (National Geographic Adventure Map)
How to Get There
Generally, the northern selva (that’s ‘jungle’, roughly, in Spanish) is served by Iquitos, not just an important city for this region, but a city of significance for all of Latin America. Besides being the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road (it’s only accessible by river and air), it’s a cosmopolitan settlement with strong Amazon roots, and is often dubbed ‘Venice of the Amazon’ due to its many waterways.
The southeastern selva has Cusco as the usual departure point for the area; from the city, it’s possible by air or road to reach the frontier town of Puerto Maldonado. This town is a good base for the Reserva Nacional Tambopata and the Parque Nacional Bahuaja-Sonene of the famed Madre de Dios region. Also reachable from Cusco is the diverse Manu Biosphere Reserve and National Park.
Meanwhile, the central selva is home to the industrial town of Pucallpa, connected by road (and air) to Lima. The capital also serves Chanchamayo, a stunning section of this central region, which elsewhere is characterized by cloud forests and surprising Germanic settlements of Oxapampa and Pozuzo.
Top Recommended Tour:
- G Adventures Explore Machu Picchu & The Amazon River– Combine two amazing adventures in one unforgettable 11-day trip that takes in the wonder of Machu Picchu and the mystical Amazon River. Ride the scenic train to the famous Inca ruins, then venture deep into the rain forest on a riverboat, spotting wildlife along the way. From the pinnacle of a fascinating civilization to the depths of pristine wilderness, this journey will ignite your passion for adventure.
Amazon, Peru Highlights
Being an enormous expanse of wilderness, the Amazon in Peru is without doubt an incredible place to explore. From relatively well trodden areas of the rainforest in the north, to areas in the south that only began to be explored in the 1950s, there is something for everyone – whether you’re looking for an authentic experience in the jungle, or if you want something a bit more sheltered.
The best place for luxury is most probably Iquitos. Due to its status as a cosmopolitan jungle city, it has a somewhat rare combination of being developed while remaining well connected to the jungles that made it rich. Its combination of cafe culture, nightlife, interesting museums, and lagoon and island beaches, make it an intriguing place to visit in its own right. Meanwhile, lodges, Indian villages and primary forest mark the area around Iquitos, and the intricate river system that supports the city is also very handy for getting around – though hiring a guide is a must if you want to explore deeper into the jungle.
For ultimate luxury, embark on a river cruise. Not only do you get to see the ecosystems of the Amazon up close, and explore further into the jungle more easily than by foot, but you get to do it in a 5-star setting. That means private rooms with deck chair balconies, opulent decor, and food cooked by top Peruvian chefs. Staying in the jungle itself is a good option, too, with tree house hotels popping up in recent years.
Elsewhere, wildlife plays a major part of the draw to the Amazon in Peru – there’s even a chance to swim with the rare pink river dolphins, and visit a manatee rescue center. In the southern selva, the Manu Biosphere Reserve is an expedition zone, meaning you must come prepared, as well as the Reserva Nacional Tambopata, which is cheaper and much easier to access.
Related Article: Amazon Adventure at Wasai Tambopata Lodge in Peru
Not only the Amazon in Peru, but Peru itself is home to the world’s largest number of bird species – 1,816, which is 19% of all bird species. It also boasts 10% of the world’s mammal species, which is 462 species of mammal, the third highest in the world. The Peruvian Amazon itself is one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, and is definitely the place to come if you’re a nature lover.
Due to the high numbers of avian species, Peru’s slice of the Amazon rainforest is something of a bird-watching paradise. From mountain wetland habitats, where you might catch a glimpse of endemic species like the Bearded Mountaineer hummingbird, to awe inspiring cloud forests and more native species, like the cerulean-capped, yungas and fiery-capped manakin.
Of course, the famous pink Amazon dolphins make their home here too – for some, a trip to the Peruvian Amazon would be worth it for this alone. Elsewhere you can be guided to clay licks; the world’s largest is to be found at the Tambopata National Reserve, where hundreds of macaw parrots come to get their nutrients from the earth each day.
The flora, not just the fauna, of Peru’s Amazon rainforest is also diverse and a sight to be seen. Here you can brush past the giant floating lily pads of the Amazon river, and bear witness to some of the 3,000 orchid species that grow here – that’s around 10% of all the orchid species in the world!
Related Article: You WILL See Animals in the Amazon!
Health & Safety
There is a risk of yellow fever in Peru, and is recommended for all travelers whose primary travel will be low altitude and to the east of the Andes. With that said, it’s generally not recommended if your itinerary is only to major cities and high altitudes, including Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. Getting a vaccination for Peru against yellow fever is something that should be discussed with an expert before travelling, preferably at a travel clinic. Vaccines for yellow fever, however, are not altogether common in the US and should be booked far in advance.
In addition, a vaccination is recommended for Typhoid and for Hepatitis A, both of which can easily infect somebody via contaminated food or water, regardless of where you are staying. Hepatitis A vaccination is particularly recommended if you will be staying for any length of time in urban areas or if you are an adventurous eater!
Mosquitoes are prolific, especially in wet season, so it follows that malaria and dengue fever are also a risk here. Anti-Malarial drugs are definitely recommended, as is dengue vaccination. But, of course, prevention is the best cure so it’s important to be smart from the start, which means covering up, and making use of mosquito repellent that contains DEET. This goes doubly for areas that are close to water, flooded rivers and urban areas where there might be stagnant water.
Lastly, Iquitos seems to be becoming a center for westerners looking for an alternative way to get in touch with their spiritual sides, which often means taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony. A powerful hallucinogen, ayahuasca should be handled with care; ensure that the ceremony is being conducted by a shaman who looks as though they have years of experience, as opposed to a young man taking on the role of ‘shaman’ for the sole purpose of entertaining tourists and making some money. The side-effects can be nasty.
More on the Amazon Rainforest:
- Posada Amazonas-Where Culture Meets the Amazon
- Amazon Adventure at Wasai Tambopata Lodge in Peru
- Exploring Parque Nacional Yasuni with Napo Wildlife Center
- Amazon Caiman Search in Peru
- Capybaras in the Amazon of Peru
- Zip Lining Adventures in the Amazon
- Day Hiking in the Amazon Rainforest
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