Both Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado are gateways to Peru’s Amazon Rainforest and both provide access to the most incredible protected areas in Peru, so do you pick Iquitos or Puerto Maldonado for an Amazon tour? To start with, both Amazon Rainforest gateways provide fantastic experiences if you’re after a deeper Amazon Rainforest experience of 5 days or more, however, if you’re after a short tour then we advise Puerto Maldonado, and specifically the Tambopata National Reserve.
Let’s go over the Amazon areas accessible from Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado and some of the differences between these two very different rainforest gateways.
Amazon tours from Iquitos
Because Iquitos is a port city of the Amazon River, this is the choice if you’re after an Amazon cruise and Iquitos is home to some of the best cruises we have seen in the entire Amazon Rainforest. There are some fantastic Iquitos Amazon River tours. Cruises from Iquitos travel deep into the flooded tropical forest of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve to see an incredible diversity of Amazon Rainforest monkeys, birds, interesting reptiles, colorful frogs, and plant life. Specifically, this is a great option for a luxury cruise as to combine the pristine rainforest with impeccable service, gourmet food, and some of the best guides in the Amazon helps you make the most of the experience.
In addition to Amazon River wildlife cruises, Iquitos is also a great place for an Amazon Rainforest tour that takes you deep into the rainforest on a tour of a week or more. A top rated lodge for Amazon Rainforest tours from Iquitos is the Tahuayo Lodge and Amazon Research Center (A.R.C), which is located nearby the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve and the only lodge with good access to the reserved area. On tours of 6 days or more, you can split your time between the main Tahuayo Lodge and A.R.C to see diverse animals and plants.
The Tahuayo Lodge offers a private guide and customizable itinerary as standard meaning you can tailor the tour to suit your personality, from a slow, relaxed pace to deep forest hikes, canoe tours, or searching for specific animals and plants.
As you have your choice on tours of 6 days or more to combine both the A.R.C and spend how many days you wish at both, here are some advantages to each location:
The main Tahuayo Lodge has a greater variety of activities, such as ziplining between canopy platforms, hiking in varzea forest to see animals such as pygmy marmosets, owl monkeys, yellow-crowned brush tailed rats, wire-tailed manakins, and barber bees. Other wildlife commonly seen on hikes from the main Tahuayo Lodge include black tamarins, saddle-backed tamarins, and trogons. You can also go out exploring the lake by canoe to spot hoatzins and other lake life, canoe around the flooded forest areas to see horned screamers and search for caiman on the observation platform.
From the main Tahuayo Lodge, you will also head to high ground Amazon Rainforest to visit the poison dart frog conservation zone and see the bat cave. You can also enjoy a boat trip to see pink dolphins or have a swim. This is also a good place for cultural visits to see a local school, farm, and visit the shaman.
The Amazon Research Center is located in more pristine Amazon Rainforest further from any settlements. On the way, you and your guide will be spotting for different animals like sloths, monkeys, raptors, and toucans.
The Tahuayo A.R.C has 100km of hiking trails and a 1000 acre primate research grid where researchers are studying the animals of the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve. This is a great lodge to see many different animals and plants. You can also enjoy boating the lakes to find caiman and the endangered giant river otters. Recently, manatees are being reintroduced at in the reserve and researchers staying at the Tahuayo A.R.C are monitoring their progress.
Amazon Tours from Puerto Maldonado
Puerto Maldonado provides a gateway to visit both Manu National Park lowlands and the Tambopata National Reserve. It is the Tambopata area that is the best option for a short Amazon Rainforest tour of two or three nights. Puerto Maldonado’s proximity to Cusco also makes it a great choice for an add-on Amazon tour after your visit to Machu Picchu.
This southern Peruvian section of the Amazon Rainforest has more clay licks than anywhere else in Amazonia, which is where parrots, macaws, monkeys, tapir, capybara and other animals visit to eat the medicinal clay, which helps with neutralising toxins and obtaining much needed salts.
The Tambopata region is also home to some of the closest wildlife-filled lakes to Puerto Maldonado, and the closest wildlife-filled area to an Amazon Rainforest gateway, which makes it a great place for a short tour. You can be touring fantastic diversity after only 30 minutes traveling time. This differs from other Amazon areas as usually you have to travel three to four hours from the base town before reaching your lodge. As this can eat into your time actually exploring the Amazon, it’s best to keep travel time to a minimum.
Our recommendation for short tours from Puerto Maldonado include the community owned Posada Amazonas, the family inspired Refugio Amazonas, and the lake focussed Sandoval Lake Lodge. These all offer an excellent Amazon experience and for this article we will go into a little more detail about the Sandoval Lake Lodge.
Sandoval Lake Lodge is nestled at the edge of the wonderful Sandoval Lake inside the Tambopata National Reserve. From the lodge, you will spend your days exploring the lake to find fantastic animals of the area. As you are paddled around the lake, you will see different monkeys, such as capuchins, howler monkeys, titi monkeys, and squirrel monkeys and other lake wildlife. The lake is perhaps most famous for its resident population of giant amazon otters, which you can see swimming, playing, and feeding. The lake is also home to Arapaima giant fish, caiman, and a wide variety of lake-living birds.
Sandoval Lake Lodge offers fantastic wildlife sightings and a great experience of the Amazon Rainforest. There are no nearby clay licks or a canopy tower, like the mentioned Posada Amazonas Lodge and Refugio Amazonas Lodge, but you can combine Sandoval with Heath River Wildlife Center, a deep rainforest lodge to see a large macaw clay lick where you approach the lick on a floating blind for fantastic photography opportunities.
In addition to Heath River Wildlife Center, if you’re interested in a deep rainforest experience to see macaw clay licks and abundant Amazon Rainforest animals, we recommend the Tambopata Research Center. The center doubles up as a tourist lodge and a location for researchers to study the macaws. You can chat to researchers about the birds while taking a tour of the large clay lick, nest boxes and head out on rainforest tours to find monkeys and other wildlife.
Puerto Maldonado is also the base to experience the Amazon Rainforest near Manu National Park. At Manu Wildlife Center, you can see macaw clay licks, wildlife-filled lakes, and explore the rainforest with your guide to to see monkeys, colorful birds, and enjoy a visit to the tapir lick to wait for a glimpse of South America’s largest land mammal. If you are based in Cusco, you can also visit Manu via a descent down the Andes from Cloud Forest to lowland Amazon on one of the most amazing nature tours in South America, called the Bio Trip. Here, you will stay at the Cloud Forest’s Cock of the Rock Lodge to see hummingbirds, capuchins, butterflies, and interesting flowers. After this, descend to humid jungle to the Manu Wildlife Center for you Amazon Rainforest tour. You can also combine with the Manu Tented Camp, inside the reserved zone of Manu National Park.
At Manu Wildlife Center you can see the macaw clay lick to see fantastic spectacles of colorful parrots, the tapir clay lick to see South America’s largest land mammal, enjoy rainforest walks to find monkeys and other Amazon wildlife, and tour a lake to see the resident population of giant Amazon otters.