Puerto Maldonado and Tambopata, The Jungle of Southern Peru

You thought I was done exploring the Amazon?  Think again.

When I initially decided to visit the Southern jungle in Peru, I was a bit confused as to how to go about it.  During my month in Cusco, I spoke to dozens of tour agencies trying to sell me expensive packages to Manu or Tambopata.  (Please don’t fall into that trap)

I kept asking the question, “can’t we just go there?”, and “Do we have to buy a tour here in Cusco?”  Given my awful experience with tours in Cusco (which you can read about in my posts about Machu Picchu or the Sacred Valley), there was really no way I was going to spend a few hundred dollars for an excursion that the salespeople actually knew very little about (again). “I just want to get to a town and figure it out when I get there.”  I always seem to have better luck that way.  The response was a lot of people looking at me like deer in headlights.  A few actually said, “I’m not sure you can.”

So I asked a friend from Peru for advice.  Where can I go that is close to Manu Park or Tambopata Reserve as a base town?  Turns out, there is an answer! Puerto Maldonado.  It really pays off to ignore the voice of the tour vendors.

There were a lot of jungle tours to choose from in Puerto Maldonado.  For this reason, I was very happy I did not book a package in Cusco.  There are tons of tour agencies, each offering a number of different experiences in P. Maldonado.  For me, it was absolutely the right choice to wait until I got there to explore my options.  These tours can all be booked the day before.

TRANSPORTATION

If you want to go to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco, you can take an inexpensive 20 hour bus on the typical vomit-inducing Peruvian roads, or a pricey 45 min plane.  That choice is really whatever suits you best.  There are also even pricier plane tickets from Lima.

 TAMBOPATA HOSTEL

I honestly cannot say enough good things about this hostel.  I chose it f or 3 reasons.  akitchsm

  1. It was close to both rivers and the main Plaza (although it turned out to be very far from the town’s main market).
  2. Budget.  It was not the cheapest of hostels, but it was significantly better in price than many other options (and the reviews were good).
  3. I read that they can help you arrange all of your tours for you.  A plus for a girl showing up without a plan.

The staff was absolutely amazing.  They were sweet and helpful, above and beyond the average hostel staff.  They always had a smile on their faces and had a real interest in getting to know their guests.  In my 40+ hostels that I’ve stayed in, this was one of the nicest experiences.  They have a lovely hammock area for relaxing, a full kitchen for guests to use, and all beds have a mosquito net.

While In Peurto Maldonado

If you have time in town when you aren’t on a jungle tour, there are quite a few options for what you can do with your days.  I considered visiting the Serpent House, but was advised against it by locals.  I also approached the boat taxi drivers to inquire about visiting “Monkey Island”.  The locals also advised against that. (But if you want to go there – it is cheaper to hire a boat taxi and go on your own without a tour).  The locals dislike these attractions because they believe that both exploit the animals and are not authentic experiences.

So instead, we hired a boat taxi for an afternoon just to drive us around, admire the river, the sunset, and go fishing – although I didn’t fish.  It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.  If you do this, prices ARE negotiable.  The boat taxistas will always start high.

Another afternoon meant a visit to the Butterfly Observatory.  Don’t get me wrong, you will see tons of butterflies when you get in the jungle.  But if you have the time, this is a great way to see many species up close.  There were some very friendly flutterbies!

LAGO SANDOVAL

I ultimately chose 2 tours in the Tampobata Reserve.  The first was a trip to Lago Sandoval.  I went on the full day tour that left by boat from Puerto Maldonado.  It is possible to extend this trip to multiple days if you want to stay in the ecolodges around the lake.  I chose this tour for the promise of observing an array of wildlife in it’s natural habitat.  I was not disappointed.

Most of the day is spent in a motor canoe, driving and rowing around the lake on the lookout for animals.  We saw tons of caymon alligators (mostly babies), turtles, woodpeckers, snake birds, and other beautiful winged things, bunches of butterflies, sea otters that live in the lake, a gaggle of squirrel monkeys, a baby capuchin monkey, and George.

George is a baby howler monkey that I fell in love with.  He was rescued by the folks that run one of ecolodges where we stopped for lunch.  He is not a pet.  He is a free monkey that roams the jungle as he pleases.  But because he lost his mother and was saved by people, he has learned to like and trust people.  He comes back to visit the lodge frequently.  I had a ball playing with him.  For me playing with a very playful and inquisitive baby monkey was kind of a dream come true…

And of course we had the option of swimming in the lake.  The water is very clean and warm!  So of course that was a must.

At the end of the day, we were very impressed with our tour. Would recommend.

Chuncho Clay Lick and Jungle Ecolodge

I want to preface this part by stating that our tour at Tambopata Inn was not well organized.  Our guide was inexperienced and clearly did not know what she was doing.  Many people on our tour were disappointed in our guide, and because they had hoped for something a bit more action packed.  There is a lot of down time just hanging out at the lodge.  If you want want a more structured tour, it’s not for you.

With that said, I had a lovely time.  It’s a great place to bring along a book or sketchbook, enjoy the beautiful surroundings, and disconnect from all things electric for a few days.  We booked a 2n/3d tour but stayed an extra night because we didn’t want to leave.

Luckily for me and my group, it didn’t really matter that our guide was clueless, because I brought along my own personal jungle guide.  He pretty much saved the day for everyone.  When our “jungle walk” was not satisfactory, during our down time, half of us went back with Miguel who did a better job (even without knowing this region).

The next night our guide left and we got a new one.  He was much better and clearly had more experience.  This is unfortunate for the people that only spent a day or 2.  But like I said, we enjoyed this place for the place itself and lovely staff.  Not for the actual tour.  If we’d had a better guide the first 2 days it could have been significantly better.  The guides really matter.

The attractions on the tour are:

  • a jungle walk to learn about medicinal plants
  • a night walk to observe the jungle at night (and spot tarantulas)
  • A visit to the Clay Lick, the natural feeding grounds for the beautiful Macaws
  • Nighttime Caymon hunt – from a boat you search from caymon alligators.  If you are lucky you might even get to hold one!
  • Kayaking on the river – for added fun, if you want, they will rope your kayak to the back of a boat on the way home (wear a bathing suit if you do this).
  • Fishing – I don’t think that needs an explanation

I can’t end this post without mentioning Polly or the mud.  Polly, like George at Lago  Sandoval, was another rescued animal, also not a pet.  She is a free Parakeet that wanders the jungle freely.  Workers at the lodge stumbled across Polly as a little baby, barely alive and motherless.  They took her in and nursed her back to health.  Then they set her free.  But Polly never actually left.  She became a bit of an outcast amongst the other birds and she prefers the company of people.  When our group went walking through the jungle, she followed us.  Flying from tree to tree, she was always close by.

She was the most irritating creature you can imagine.  She would fly into people’s rooms, waking them up in the morning.  She would try to bight the buttons off people’s clothing while they hang to dry, and try to eat the food off your plate.  She likes to converse and have whistle wars with the guests.  And she has no idea when she has worn out her welcome.  Polly is a real personality, and though irritating, I will always remember her as part of what made my experience at Tambopata Inn special.

And the mud – when fishing turned out to be a bust on our last morning, the group spontaneously broke out into a mud war until everyone was completely covered in mud (supposedly this is natural insect repellent).  I only mention this to show that even if your tour is subpar, YOU don’t have to be subpar.  There’s always fun to be had and adventures to venture in the jungle.

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