As neighboring countries in a similar area of South America, Peru and Ecuador remain very similar places to visit in terms of wildlife, geography, culture, and history. However, there are a few differences that we will mention below. To summarize, Ecuador has the Galapagos Islands and a diverse section of Amazon Rainforest making it a great place for an Amazon & Galapagos combination tour.
Peru has more cruises that you can enjoy on Amazon River tours from Iquitos, more archaeological sites from Incan and pre-Incan cultures, and the southern Peruvian Amazon has more clay licks than anywhere in Amazonia making it the best choice to see colorful macaw parrots, tapir, and to even improve your chances of seeing jaguar.
Both Ecuador and Peru were colonized by the Spanish after their conquest of the Incan Empire and share similar architecture and history, but because the Inca had a stronger presence in Peru, there are a lot more Incan ruins here than Ecuador. The most popular attraction in Peru is the incredible monument of Machu Picchu, but there are many more things to do in Peru than visiting this incredible monument.
The Amazon Intro
The world’s largest container of wildlife, the Amazon Rainforest is an incredible place to visit for anyone even the slightest bit interested in the natural world. To see a living Eden with many parts untouched by humans hands is incredible. Enjoy spotting many different animals and plants, such as several different monkeys, interesting birds, colorful butterflies, beetles, and fascinating mammals. The larger and iconic animals that live in the Amazon include the jaguar, tapir, giant river otters, blue morpho butterflies, macaw parrots, toucans, anaconda, green iguanas, and the river dolphins. The Amazon crosses nine nations and covers 40% of South America. Within the rainforest, the highest diversity has been reported in the western half, such as Ecuador and Peru where the river and rainforest begin on the eastern slope of the Andes.
Protected Amazon areas in Ecuador & Peru
Although there are many incredible areas of the Amazon Rainforest, to maximize wildlife sightings it’s a great option to focus on protected areas, such as the different national parks and reserves in Amazonia. There are many areas near the protected areas with equal wildlife, however. There are some fantastic example in Ecuador and Peru, which we will mention below. We will also recommend some fantastic Amazon cruises and rainforest lodges to help you make the most of your visit to this incredible area.
Yasuni National Park (Ecuador)
One of the most famous protected areas in the Amazon Rainforest, the Yasuni National Park is located in eastern Ecuador and accessed from the rainforest gateway town of Coca, which is just a short flight from Ecuador’s capital of Quito. Yasuni covers around 9,820 km2 of Amazon Rainforest near the Napo River and protects an incredible amount of wildlife. The park has won numerous world records for species diversity and contains one of the few clay licks in the northern Amazon Rainforest where different parakeets visit to obtain salts and to help neutralize toxins found in forest seeds and fruits.
There are some great lodges and cruises for the Yasuni National Park, such as the La Selva Lodge and Napo Wildlife Center, which are on the more luxurious side of the scale. Enjoy very comfortable suites, delicious food, a canopy tower, and excellent guided tours into the incredible Yasuni rainforest. Visit the parrot clay lick and head out with your professional guide to find many different monkeys, giant river otters, colorful birds, delicate tree frogs, colorful butterflies, and many other animals.
In addition to lodges, you also can choose the Manatee or Anakonda Cruise to explore the rainforest around the Napo River. Enjoy expeditions into the rainforest to find many different animals and plants, visit a canopy tower, and even try glamping in the Amazon for a more immersive night in the jungle but without sacrificing comfort.
Surrounding Rainforest (Ecuador)
There’s some fantastic wildlife in the surrounding rainforest near Yasuni National Park, including in the private reserves, wildlife corridors connecting the protected areas, and the Cuyabeno Reserve. Another of the fantastic areas, the Sacha Lodge is nestled in a private rainforest reserve of connected Amazon Rainforest and contains some incredible species. The lodge has a 940-foot (275-meter) long canopy walkway, which is about 94 feet (30 meters) above the rainforest floor. From the Sacha Lodge, enjoy guided tours in the rainforest to find several different monkeys, fascinating reptiles, amphibians, and colorful birds. From the Sacha Lodge, people have seen 587 different bird species, which represents 37% of all the birds living in Ecuador.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve (Iquitos, Peru)
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is a beautiful flooded forest of the Amazon Basin further up the river from Yasuni National Park and accessed from the Amazon gateway of Iquitos in northern Peru. There are an astounding number of species in the Pacaya Samiria. The animals you can see on the excellent Pacaya Samiria cruises include howler monkeys, capuchins, saki monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and tamarins. You will also spot different sloths, reptiles, delicate tree frogs, and an abundance of bird life.
As this is a giant flooded section of Amazon Rainforest covering around 20,000 km², which is double the size of Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, the Pacaya is best explored on an Amazon cruise and there are some fantastic Amazon River tours from Iquitos. To compliment the incredible environment, there are some fantastic luxury cruises for the Pacaya Samiria offering some of the most luxurious tours in the Amazon Rainforest. For the epitome of exclusive luxury, you can choose the Delfin I with its 4 oversized suites (two with private whirlpools), delicious meals, personalized service, and guided tours in the rainforest to find some of the Pacaya Samiria’s fantastic wildlife.
Other recommended vessels include the Delfin’s sister ship, the Delfin II with more suites but the same level of small-ship luxury. For a more affordable luxury-level cruise, you can also choose the Amazon Discovery, which is a larger vessel with excellent service.
Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve (Iquitos, Peru)
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is a connected section of protected rainforest with the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. The Tahuayo Reserve was established to protect the range of the rare uakari monkey as well as local initiatives and contains a high diversity of wildlife. To explore the Tahuayo Reserve, you can stay at the Tahuayo Lodge, which is a highly regarded Amazon lodge offering private guides and a custom itinerary with some of the best guides in Amazonia. Enjoy the largest canopy zipline system in the rainforest to whiz between different canopy platforms built around emergent rainforest trees.
Explore the rainforest on guided forest walks, canoe tours, and by boating around the reserve. Visit Frog Belly to see colorful poison dart frogs and on tours of 6-days or more, enjoy visiting the Tahuayo Amazon Research Center, which has a 1000 acre primate research grid. In addition to many animals, the grid is home to several different primates and you can see capuchins, howler monkeys, sakis, titi monkeys, marmosets, squirrel monkeys, and tamarins.
Tambopata National Reserve (Puerto Maldonado, Peru)
The Tambopata National Reserve is accessed from Puerto Maldonado in southern Peru and is part of the world’s largest area of protected tropical forest. There are some fantastic sections of the reserve for animals, plants, and scenery that you can visit from the top lodges in Tambopata, including some of the Amazon’s most beautiful lakes and largest clay licks. The clay licks area areas of exposed clay where parrots and other animals visit to obtain different salts and to help neutralize toxins found in different seeds and fruits.
Best Lodges for Short Amazon Tours
Because the Tambopata National Reserve is so close to the base town of Puerto Maldonado, you can be in areas of astonishing wildlife after only 20 or 30 minutes, which saves you time and money (fuel is one of the major costs for tour operators). This makes the Tambopata rainforest one of the best choices for either budget friendly wildlife tours or short tours of as little as 2 or 3 nights. To see the most wildlife on a shorter tour, we recommend the Sandoval Lake Lodge within Tambopata National Reserve, which is positioned by the beautiful Sandoval Lake. Enjoy spotting many different monkeys on tours around the lake, the resident family of giant river otters, plus many different birds.
Other great options for a shorter tour are the community-owned Posada Amazonas Lodge and Refugio Amazonas Lodge where you can enjoy a canopy tower, lake tours, guided walks in the rainforest to find different monkeys and colorful birds, and a range of add-on activities such as kayaking, canopy climbing, and jungle mountain biking. Both these lodges offer a similar experience, but with a higher chance of spotting giant river otters as the Posada, a higher chance of spotting harpy eagles at Refugio, and also the children’s trail and larger spa at the Refugio Amazonas Lodge.
Deep Amazon Lodges in Tambopata
As well as a great place for short 2 or 3 day Amazon tours, the Tambopata National Reserve is a great area for deep rainforest lodges. The Tambopata Research Center is located near one of the largest macaw clay licks in the rainforest where you can see hundreds of colorful macaw parrots at the clay. In addition to seeing these fantastic Amazonian icons, you will enjoy guided tours in the surrounding rainforest to find many different animals, such as several different monkeys, colorful birds, interesting reptiles, and colorful butterflies. You can find many different animals, such as howler monkeys, capuchins, tamarins and have an 8% chance of spotting wild jaguar.
Another fantastic deep lodge for the Tambopata rainforest is the Heath River Wildlife Center, which is the only lodge on the Heath River that flows between the Madidi National Park and the Tambopata National Reserve. Enjoy spotting giant river otters, visit a large macaw clay lick you will observe from a floating hide, see the savannah ecosystem and macaw nesting sites, visit a tapir clay lick to see the largest land mammal in South America, and enjoy guided tours in the surrounding rainforest to find many different monkeys and colorful birds.
Manu National Park (Puerto Maldonado, Peru)
The Manu National Park is the largest national park in Peru at 15,328 km² and is a UNESCO Listed World Heritage Site containing a fantastic amount of wildlife. The Manu National Park contains a significant portion of the threatened Andean cloud forest to see wooly monkeys, cock of the rock birds, and different hummingbirds and lowland Amazon Rainforest. Although not permitted in the national park itself, you can visit the Manu Reserved Zone on the Manu Adventurer tour to combine the Manu National Park Wildlife Center and the Manu Wildlife Center just outside the park in continuous rainforest.
There are some fantastic things to do in Manu National Park, but note that for the best chance of seeing the iconic larger animals of the Manu region, it’s best to focus your time at the Manu Wildlife Center. This is because the Manu Wildlife Center was perfectly positioned near a large macaw clay lick to see scarlet macaws, an oxbow lake to see the resident giant river otters, and a tapir clay lick. This is the most active tapir clay lick in the Amazon Rainforest where you have a fantastic chance of spotting the largest land mammal in South America. Because of the protection, oxbow lakes, and abundant clay licks, guests at the Manu Wildlife Center also have a 10% chance of spotting wild jaguar near the Manu River.
Another tour option, which has been mentioned as one of the best nature tours in South America is the Bio Trip, which combines a stay at the incredible cloud forest at the Cock of the Rock Lodge and a fantastic tour down the Andes for a tour from the Manu Wildlife Center. Enjoy seeing cock of the rock birds, mysterious plants, hummingbirds, have chance sightings of spectacled bears, and then visit the lowlands for colorful macaws, giant river otters, and tapir. At the Manu Wildlife Center, you will also enjoy guided tours in the surrounding rainforest to see many different monkeys, fascinating reptiles, and colorful birds.
The Galapagos Islands
Going back to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are an incredible area to visit for nature lovers to see the iconic wildlife. Enjoy seeing the blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, sea lions, hammerhead sharks, colorful fish, flamingos, and the famous giant tortoises.
To make the most of the islands, you can enjoy some fantastic luxury-level Galapagos cruises aboard catamarans, which offer a little more stability and comfort than other options. Enjoy guided walks around the islands to see the fantastic wildlife, beautiful scenery, and some of the incredible beaches. You will also hear about the fantastic history full of pirates, whalers, and of course the expedition of Charles Darwin who spent several weeks here before developing his theory of evolution by natural selection.
Some of the recommended cruises include the Ocean Spray and the Cormorant for expert guides, luxury-level cruising, very comfortable suite, delicious food, and some of the best island tours available. Both of the vessels are equipped with kayaks and snorkeling equipment to fully explore this incredible place. You can also combine the luxury Ocean Spray or Cormorant with La Selva Lodge in the Amazon Rainforest on the Luxury Galapagos & Amazon Combination Tour.