The Amazon Basin is, quite possibly, the most spectacular place on the planet.
The Amazon is the world’s most biodiverse forest and the richest ecosystem on the planet. Though it’s spreads through many Latin American countries, it’s largely based in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil and of course Peru, where it takes up an amazing two-thirds of the country.
Cutting through northern of Peru at more than 6,000 kilometres long, the Amazon itself is the second-longest river in the world, and offers plenty of opportunity for water-based adventures, including riverboat cruising that includes overnighting, boating to inner rainforest ecolodges, paddling and even fishing (though with caimans, leeches and piranhas inhabiting the river, it might be best to avoid swimming!).
The Amazon is the least human-populated region of Peru, yet it’s filled with animals that will amaze you. Estimates put it at more than 50,000 plant, 1,700 bird, 400 mammal and 300 reptile species; and, new species are continuously being discovered.
If you think it’s impossible to be disconnected these days, try going deep into the Amazon jungle–there are peoples and tribes who continue to inhabit the forest as they have done for thousands of years. Even in today’s hyper-connected world, many people there have never had contact with the outside world.
North Amazon: Where the River is Mighty
The northern jungle of Peru is based around the city of Iquitos, which can only be accessed by river or air, making it the world’s largest city with no road access. Iquitos offers a gateway to remote boat-access-only ecolodges, floating markets and restaurants, scenic cruises, river canoeing, rafting, and guided rainforest ziplining and hiking.
In contrast to some of the more threatening creatures in the Amazon River, let’s also mention some of the whimsical (and harmless) species, like the freshwater dolphins (pretty pink in colour) and two-metre-wide water lilies.
Indigenous tribes live near Iquitos in small communities, but have given up many of their traditions in favour of Western culture. The deeper you travel into the jungle, the more likely you are to find more remote tribes, but the untamed territory starts getting a little dangerous. However, other parts of the Amazon may offer a more authentic and accessible indigenous cultural immersion experiences.
The Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is the country’s largest park and has around 40,000 human and countless other non-human residents. It’s great for spotting aquatic animals and large mammals like jaguars (ideally from a healthy distance). Tarapoto offers nearby waterfall, lakes and pueblo (small-town) excursions. In terms of pre-Inca ruins, most are found near the border with the Andes, outside of Chachapoyas.
Get in touch with your wild side, while overlooking amazing cloud forests and undertaking jungle treks in the area, linking the various landmarks. The awe-inspiring Kuelap fortress is the largest stone structure in South America.
There’s also funeral tombs at Karajia (housing “ancient wise men” and not those who got too close to jaguars) and the pre-Inca jungle ruins at Gran Vilaya. At more than 770 metres, Gocta is thought to be the ranked the fifth tallest waterfall in the world.
Central Amazon: Tyrolean Towns in the Jungle
The towns of San Ramon and La Merced are an eight-hour drive from Lima, making it common for visits from the capital city. The area is popular for fruit and coffee production and is home to the largest Amazonian tribe – the stunning Ashaninka. You can reach Purunllacta by boat from Iquitos; the area has pre-Inca jungle ruins and is a spectacular location for hiking.
Tribal villages abound, making it possible to visit with the intriguing Shipibo people. Surprisingly, Germans founded the town of Oxapampa in the 19th century and their descendants still live in Pozuzo – both small jungle towns have German-inspired architecture, onion-domed churches, customs and food.
Funnily enough, the inhabitants speak an old form of German. It makes for a fascinating Amazonian-German culture – jungle folk dressed in lederhosen. Please pass the fried plantains and pretzels.
South Amazon: The Most Biodiverse Corner of the World
The mountains of Cusco give way to the lush jungles of Madre de Dios, where conservation efforts have been prioritized due to deforestation in the last decades. The south Amazon is the least populated region in Peru, but the wildlife population more than makes up for it. Puerto Maldonado is a quick stopping point, en route to exhilarating jungle adventures.
The Manu National Park and Tambopata National Reserve are recommended stops for unique flora- and fauna-spotting. Brightly-coloured macaws and parrots put on a vibrant show as they gather on clay river banks, monkeys swing wildly from trees, capybaras (up to a disturbing 80 kilograms, they are the biggest rodents in the world) roam freely and giant otters swim in the rivers.
Don’t be surprised if you suddenly start hearing a David Attenborough narration – you may or may not be imagining it.
In the UNESCO-protected virgin-forested Manu National Park, you can find more than one-tenth of the entire world’s bird species – bring binoculars, it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise! And in the Tambopata National Reserve alone, there are 1,200 butterfly species (in comparison, there are 700 butterfly species in all of North America). With this much natural stimuli, you’ll want to leave your smartphone at home – truth it, it probably won’t work here anyway.