A Peek Into The Amazon
Exploring Tambopata National Reserve
In Cusco with a few spare days before we started the Inca Trail we thought it would be worth going on a small adventure to Amazonia. Unfortunately we only had time for a three day, two night excursion and the advice we received was that for such a short time Tambopata Reserve would be the best option. Manu National Park would have been preferred had we more days to spare. We booked through Carlos Expeditions and here’s how our journey panned out:
Arriving into Puerto Maldonado at 7.30am on an overnight bus we had breakfast in town before taking a short minibus with some fellow explorers to the Madre de Dios River. From here we took a 40 minute ride up river to Monte Amazónico Lodge, our home for the next two nights.
The lodge was really nice; much less rustic than I had expected. There was a huge communal dining hall and we had our own little cabin with a private bathroom. As is with most accommodation in such remote areas, we only had access to power in the evenings which was no problem at all and there was no wifi which made it much easier to switch off and enjoy the sounds of the jungle which the lodge was surrounded by.
Before lunch we met our guide and went on a short jungle walk which was fairly ordinary (to be expected perhaps as jungles are usually most alive at nights and in the early morning). The only wildlife we saw was a tarantula and that was because the guide stuck a big stick into his home, a hole in the ground, forcing him to come out.
We enjoyed juane for lunch - a traditional meal from this part of Amazonia - which is rice flavoured with herbs and spices, a boiled egg, black olives and perhaps some meat, wrapped in a bijao leaf and boiled. Most people had chicken in theirs but I had requested a vegetarian meal in advance.
After lunch we went for a short boat ride with some other people to Monkey Island but despite our guide’s best efforts calling and tempting with food we didn’t see any and apparently none had been seen for at least three days prior.
We spent the rest of the humid afternoon relaxing by the pool and after dinner when it was dark we took another boat ride in search of caimans (like small crocodiles). They are pretty stealthy creatures but we did manage to spot two or three young ones, only 30-60cm in length, with the help of a spotlight.
After a 4am start and 50 minutes in the boat downstream we arrived at a clay lick where a few other boats were gathered to observe several hundred parrots feeding on the clay. After staying here a bit longer than was necessary we went to a nearby property and observed a local family shelling brazil nuts, met their chatty Macaw and played with some very cute puppies.
We had breakfast on the boat on the way back to the lodge then after a short rest we went kayaking with yet another group and a different guide. All the while we were on the river we were keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife roaming the riverbanks, such as capybaras, but we didn’t see any.
Before lunch we went ziplining which was pretty fun. The equipment and safety briefing wasn’t exactly up to western standards which perturbed others but made things a little more exciting for us.
After lunch we had the whole afternoon to relax until 6.20pm by which time it was dark and we went on a night time jungle walk. Again, we didn’t see much unfortunately; the same tarantula, poked out of its same hole and a small agouti which wasn’t too exciting as they can be seen roaming the lodge grounds too.
Today was easily the highlight of the trip as we went into Tambopata Reserve and took a rowboat around Sandoval Lake. We had a lovely flat three kilometre walk through the reserve to get there and were able to observe monkeys, parrots and a large lizard on our way in.
Over the course of three or four hours on the water we saw many different species of birds, monkeys, more caimans and – absolute highlight – a whole raft of very chatty river otters which completely surrounded our boat at one point. It was a special and memorable moment and a real treat to observe these fascinating creatures in their natural environment.
After that we were done with our three day sojourn into Amazonia and we took another overnight bus back to Cusco.
Summary and Recommendations:
• To explore any part of Amazonia properly, regardless of whether you’re in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia or Ecuador, you will have a more authentic and memorable experience the more time you have as this allows for deeper travel into the jungle.
• This was especially the case for us as we were based in Cusco, which is many hours by bus to any part of the Amazon, and had limited time.
• If we had had our time again, we would have opted to have our jungle experience from Bolivia as, when we compared notes with other travellers, they saw a lot more wildlife than us with the same amount of days.
• Although I still enjoyed the experience of being in the jungle I was a little disappointed with some aspects. The guides disturbed wildlife unnecessarily – one tried to grab a caiman out of the water – and they were often 5-15 minutes late for scheduled activities and a bit casual.
• Our guide, and group for that matter, changed every day which we weren’t expecting. This wasn’t a big deal but it didn’t allow us to build much of a rapport with anyone.
• The itinerary wasn’t the best and felt a little drawn out. I would rather have had three days in Tambopata Reserve than our first two days where we didn’t see a whole lot.
• There was nothing in our itinerary regarding learning about any indigenous Amazonian cultures which I felt was a lost opportunity.
Still enjoyable but I would probably do it differently next time round.