One beauty of the Amazon rain forest of western Peru is that it’s always at its peak, lush and green, teeming with wildlife, and among the world’s sensory pleasures. It has only two seasons, high water and low water—rainy and less rainy—and their relevance pertains mainly to how one gets around. During high water, December into May, much exploring is by boat or canoe. When the floodwaters subside in June, options for terra firma exploration increase and it’s possible to hike on jungle trails. Base-camp lodges cater to visitors eager to see wildlife. Guides point out colorful macaws, acrobatic monkeys, hungry caimans, and pink river dolphins slicing through black rivers. You’ll go on boat tours, meet locals (perhaps a shaman), and fish for piranhas. Most lodges offer five-day packages, making a jungle visit an easy add-on after touring Machu Picchu. But if you can, allow more time in the jungle to take in the gradual unfolding of the rain forest’s abundance and enjoy some hammock time. Don’t expect four-star hotel luxury, but these lodges all offer screened-in (bug-free) comfort, showers, the option of an en-suite bathroom, and all-inclusive programs that cover food and daily guides.
MONKEY BUSINESS The 1.1-million-acre conservation area surrounding Tahuayo Lodge (and a smaller sister lodge upriver called the Research Center) on the Tahuayo River in northern Peru is said to contain more primate species than any other region of the Amazon. That means you may glimpse the rare red-faced uakari monkey and will likely see squirrel monkeys, pygmy marmosets, and tamarins. The solar-powered lodge boasts a three-platform zip line for hanging out high in the canopy where the best bird action happens. The local bird list is 600 strong, including the hoatzin, a pheasant-size prehistoric holdover. Most guided excursions run a half day, so you’re always in the comfort of the lodge for meals unless you opt for a jungle-survival campout—in which case, how do you like your grubs, raw or grilled? From $1,295 for an eight-day package including boat transportation from Iquitos.
CREATURE COMFORTS Situated on the banks of the Amazon River, Ceiba Tops Lodge serves up hotel amenities such as Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, a swimming pool, and four-walled guest rooms with private bath. One full-day excursion leads to a canopy walkway 115 feet high and some 1,500 feet long, with a stunning view of the treetop world. Look for pink river dolphins during the boat trip that gets you there. Another outing takes in Monkey Island, where five species of monkeys live on a private reserve. From $765 for a five-day package including boat transportation from Iquitos.
OFF THE GRID Located on the Yanayacu River, the Amazon Refuge Wildlife Conservation Center tends to draw hard-core birders, scientists, and serious jungle lovers who appreciate its remote location. The refuge’s 100-acre parcel was granted by the local Indians, who help staff the lodge and manage the reserve (the same reserve that encompasses Tahuayo Lodge). Guests stay in private, solar-powered bungalows built from naturally felled trees with roofs thatched from local palms. Here, check rarities like the wattled curassow and Zimmer’s woodcreeper off your birding list, paddle upriver to a congregation of parrots, visit a local Indian community, and fish for pirarucu—one of the world’s largest freshwater species. From $1,045 for a five-day package including boat transportation from Iquitos.
TREETOP HIGH Southern Peru’s Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica is run by one of the country’s top luxury hotel groups, which explains comforts including a spa, screened siesta lounges with hammocks, robes, and organic toiletries. The lodge features its own canopy walkway, not to mention the Canopy Tree House, a guest room perched some 90 feet above the jungle floor. Excursions into the adjacent Tambopata National Reserve may turn up caimans and hoatzin birds, while a canoe paddle on Lake Sandoval might yield a sighting of the rare giant river otter. From $843 per person for a five-day package including boat transportation to and from Puerto Maldonado.
FOR THE BIRDERS You don’t have to be a birder to appreciate the fact that over 575 species have been identified at Manu Wildlife Center, on the Madre de Dios River at the edge of the Manu Biosphere Reserve in southern Peru. The jungle is wild and healthy here. Capuchin, spider, and emperor tamarin monkeys accompany even a casual stroll outside your bungalow. Nearby, a blind offers the chance to spy rhino-like tapirs, while a clay lick hosts macaws and parrots daily. The recommended approach to Manu entails a spectacular 1.5-day crossing of the Andes from Cusco by minibus, with a stay in a cloud forest lodge en route. From $1,644 for a six-day package including the bus trip.
2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Show us your best photos of nature, cities, and people from your travels around the world.