The Amazon Jungle
Tambopata National Reserve
Welcome to the Tambopata Research Center Ecolodge, our home away from home in the Amazon Jungle.
Growing up I loved watching any movie that took place in the jungle – The Swiss Family Robinson, Jungle Book, Tarzan, Predator, Anaconda, and Jurassic Park just to name a few. The Tambopata Research Center was exactly what I had imagined for a remote jungle lodge.
Brian and I have learned that while traveling there are times to save and times to splurge. One of those splurges was our four-day Amazon Jungle expedition, a childhood dream of mine.
There are essentially two ways to get into the Peruvian side of the Amazon – either you navigate the rivers by boat or you fly into a jungle city. The starting point for our trip was the town of Puerto Maldonado, a 30 minute flight from Cusco.
For our trip, we chose Rainforest Expeditions who manages three jungle lodges – Posada Amazonas (2 hours upstream from the town of Puerto Maldonando), Refugio Amazonas (4 hours upstream along the buffer zone just outside of the Tambopata National Reserve) and the Tambopata Research Center (8 hours upstream and the only ecolodge within the National Reserve itself). Here’s an orientation map that shows our starting point (the town of Puerto Maldonado), our first overnight stop (Refugio Amazonas), and our final destination (the Tambopata Research Center). Included in the map are a few other jungle lodges for reference. As you can see, the Tambopata Research Center is deep within the rainforest and has been named “the most remote jungle lodge in all of South America.”
Day 1: “Hell”
After arriving at the airport, we were met by a guide, and transferred to the Rainforest Expeditions operations office in Puerto Maldonado. We were greeted with a glass of freshly squeezed passion fruit juice and an ice cold towel (the perfect remedy for the hot and humid jungle). After completing our check-in and signing a wavier which more or less stated that “we are entering the wild jungle at our own risk, we might get mauled to death by a jaguar, we could potentially get a life threatening disease by one of the millions of insects, etc., etc.,”” we coated our bodies in bug spray and hopped into a van to make the one hour journey to the Infierno Community Port. Yes, you read that right – the INFIERNO Community Port. In English that means “hell” – we were literally about to enter the jungle from hell! While the Amazon is absolutely one of the most beautiful places on Earth, every part of it is downright dangerous. From the animals, to the insects, the vegetation, and the weather – it can all be deadly. Luckily for us, we had a great guide who kept us safe and we only experienced a handful of scary moments.
We arrived at the Infienrno Port and were assigned to a group and guide for our four-day expedition. We felt so lucky to have Luis as our guide; he was extremely knowledgeable about the jungle and you could tell he truly loved his job. Out of all the other guides we encountered during our time in the jungle, Luis was the best at spotting wildlife and always stayed out with us on the trails longer to give us a better chance of seeing more animals. We had three other people in our group – a lovely couple from England, Yan and Jane, and their teenage son, Sam. All equally excited about experiencing the Amazon, the six of us made a great group. We boarded a large motorized canoe and began the four hour voyage upstream to our first destination, the luxurious Refugio Amazonas Lodge located just outside the Tambopata National Reserve.
Not even 15 minutes had passed and we had our first wildlife sighting. Along the river’s edge was a Tayra, which belongs to the weasel family but looked more like a large house cat. In this area of the Amazon there is only a 5% chance of seeing a Tayra, so we felt pretty lucky to have seen this animal so quickly into our trip. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to snap an actual photo of this speedy creature.
Before our expedition we were given a list animals that we might encounter in the jungle, including the percentage chance we had of seeing them. Here’s our list that kept with us – highlighted are each of our sightings with the locations of each sighting (outside the National Reserve, the Buffer Zone just outside the reserve, or inside the protected area of the National Reserve).
En route, we were provided with a hot lunch of Peruvian fried rice wrapped in a giant jungle leaf. The meal was delicious and the views from the boat were amazing.
During the course of this four hour boat ride, we saw many more jungle animals including capybara, a group of baby white caiman, side-necked turtles, and even the endangered giant river otter! Our guide told us that there are only an estimated 300 or less giant river otters left in the Amazon and that it was an unbelievable gift to see one of these rare animals.
We finally had made it to Refugio Amazonas. We had dinner with our group in the open air dining hall, grabbed a few drinks at the bar, attended a caiman lecture, and finally settled into our room.
This had to be one of my most favorite rooms I’ve ever stayed in. Complete luxury in the middle of the Amazon. The open-air verandah looking out into the jungle was the highlight of the room – nothing separating us from the wild and tropical forest.
The lodge is run off of large generators and solar panels, but the electricity is shut off after 9pm to conserve power. While we enjoyed the open-air side of our room during the day, it only made the night more terrifying. With only our headlamps and a thin mosquito net between us and the outside, this was our first frightening moment in the jungle. Imagine sleeping under the cover of the canopy in complete darkness with creepy, unidentifiable sounds radiating from each direction. In my opinion, the jungle was MUCH louder and alive with life at night than during the day time.
Day 2: The Tambopata National Reserve
We woke up at 4am when the jungle was still dark. We were headed to the canopy tower to watch the sunrise over Amazon. The tower is an 80 foot tall stair case that allows you to climb your way to the highest reaches of the jungle’s canopy, where most of the life in the rainforest occurs. The canopy tower provided fantastic views that overlooked a sea of trees. It was surreal watching as the sun rise and the jungle came to life.
After spending about an hour in the canopy tower, we headed back to the lodge for breakfast before packing up our things and getting back on the motorized canoe. We were finally headed to the Research Center. Along the way, we made a quick stop at the Chuncho Clay Lick to look for macaws. This natural clay lick consists of exposed banks of mineral-rich soil which attract hundreds of macaws, parakeets, and other parrots. We were lucky to see flock after flock of scarlet macaws come down from the trees to feed on the clay.
About four hours later we finally made it to the Tambopata Research Center. The Research Center is the only rainforest lodge located within the Tambopata National Reserve and has been named “the most remote jungle lodge in all of South America.”
With some of the world’s largest natural clay licks only minutes from the lodge, macaw research and conservation has been the primary focus of the fieldwork performed by the center’s biologists and ecologists. Since 1989, groundbreaking macaw conservation research has been carried out from the Tambopata Research Center. We were lucky to be one of the few guests at this remote research center. Similar to Refugio Amazonas Lodge (but not as luxurious), our room was completely exposed to the jungle.
What was different about this lodge, though, was it’s remoteness. We had plenty of visitors in our room, like these two wild macaws!
After some much needed R&R…
… we headed out on another hike. Our guide, Luis, told us that we’d be staying out past dark and to bring our headlamps. I was looking forward to wandering around in the jungle at night to see what we could find.
During the daylight hours, we spotted 4 varieties of monkey including the red howler monkey, the spider monkey, the dusky titi monkey, and the squirrel monkey. We also found a lot of very big trees. Brian and I had a lot of fun pretending to be Tarzan by swinging on all of the vines.
These massive trees are known as the Brazil Nut tree and can grow up to 200 feet tall and live for over 1,00 years. The Brazil nuts are stored in these giant coconut-like pods and, when roasted, are very delicious! The jungle started to get dark and all sorts of creepy crawlers were coming out.
The spider in the photo above is known as the “Wandering Spider” and is the most venomous in the world! You don’t want to get too close to this one.
Day 3: The Colorado Clay Lick
Another early morning. We had to make it to the Colorado Clay Lick before the birds arrived. The Colorado Clay Lick is largest known natural clay lick in the world. Attracting hundreds of birds and mammals each day, this area of the Amazon has the highest concentration of macaws, parrots, and parakeets.
The rest of the day was filled with a lot of hiking, more wildlife sightings, and views straight out of a National Geographic magazine. At one point we found ourselves in the middle of a heard of wild peccary (jungle boar). Luis instructed us to kneel down and keep quiet as he called some of the boars closer.
Day 4: Jaguar Sighting
In the blink of an eye, my dream of visiting the Amazon jungle was coming to an end. We had seen so much in just a few short days – I couldn’t have asked for anything more and didn’t believe our rainforest expedition could get any better… until this jaw dropping sunrise over the river and a jaguar sighting along the riverbank!!!