The Tambopata Rainforest is the rainforest of the wildlife-rich Tambopata National Reserve and surrounding areas in the Amazon Rainforest of southern Peru. The Tambopata National Reserve was founded to help ensure animals had a way to move between all the protected areas in the region. When the protected areas are taken together, this is one of the world’s largest tracts of protected tropical forest.
One of the highlights of Tambopata is that the rainforest accessed from Puerto Maldonado contains the highest concentration of clay licks in the entire Amazon Rainforest. These areas are where many different animals visit to obtain salts and medicine to help neutralize toxins found in different seeds and unripe fruits.
The Tambopata National Reserve is a 274,690 hectare protected area backing onto the Madidi National Park and Bahuaja Sonene National Park and is very close to the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve and Manu National Park in connected rainforest. Given the massive and continual nature of this protected area mosaic, the Tambopata Rainforest is home to an incredible diversity of animals and plants.
The large areas of the surrounding national parks and reserves mean wildlife can move freely between the different sections. One of the protected areas connecting to the Tambopata Reserve is the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. This national park covers over 1 million hectares of rainforest and crosses between Peru and Bolivia to create one of the world’s largest multi-national protected areas. There are a few different habitats within the national park, such as the rainforest but also a significant amount of the rare tropical wet savannah habitat. This area is home to a different set of flora and fauna, such as maned wolves and giant anteaters.
Another continuous section of forest with the Tambopata Reserve is the Madidi National Park across the Peruvian border into Bolivia. Covering just under 2 million hectares, the Madidi National Park protects Andean forests and lowland rainforest. Protecting an abundance of species, wildlife from the Madidi area can move freely into the Tambopata Rainforest and connects these sections of forest with Peru’s own giant protected area of the Manu National Park, which itself measures just under 2 million hectares.
The Tambopata & Ese-Eja Reserve
The Tambopata National Reserve contains many different clay licks and oxbow lakes. One of the main attractions about this area of the Amazon Rainforest is that it’s so close to the gateway town of Puerto Maldonado. This means you can be near areas of incredible biodiversity after only 30 minutes. If you’re interested in a short experience of the Amazon Rainforest of 1 or 2 nights, this is our recommended area for an Amazon Rainforest tour. Favorite options include the Sandoval Lake Lodge, Refugio Amazonas Lodge in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve, and the Posada Amazonas Lodge, which is in its own reserve of the Tambopata Rainforest.
The Ese-Eja Communal Reserve sits in an area of connected rainforest with the Tambopata National Reserve. The Ese-Eja are the indigenous people of the Tambopata Rainforest area and moved outside of the national reserve itself into the buffer zone and different communal reserves. The community is involved closely with different ecotourism initiatives and sustainable harvesting of forest products, such as a Brazil nut commission. Within the Ese-Eja Communal Reserve, you can find the Posada Amazonas Lodge, which is a lodge owned and operated by the community themselves.
The Different Rivers, Clay Licks, and Lakes
There are many different rivers in the Tambopata Rainforest. The main rivers that breathe life to this highly diverse forest include the Tambopata River, the Madre de Dios River, and the Heath River. The Tambopata River heads north from the reserve and merges with the Madre de Dios River close to Puerto Maldonado. The river intersects the Tambopata National Reserve itself in the center of the reserve and flows by the Tambopata Research Center, which is a deep rainforest lodge in the middle of the reserve.
The Madre de Dios River is the main river in the region and connects with the Tambopata River and the Heath River. The Heath River runs between the Tambopata National Reserve and the Madidi National Park and is where you find the Pampas de Heath, which is a fascinating savannah habitat in the middle of the rainforest. To experience this section of forest, you can stay at a deep rainforest lodge called the Heath River Wildlife Center, which is the only lodge on the river.
Both the deep rainforest lodges of the Tambopata Research Center and Heath River Wildlife Center are located by two of the largest macaw clay licks in the Amazon Rainforest. These are areas where large and colorful macaw parrots congregate to help neutralise toxins in the bird’s diet of fruit and seeds and to obtain different salts. The clay licks are most active over the wet season when the forest fruits and flowers, as there is a plethora of macaw food in the forest. In the Tambopata Rainforest, the least active months are from May to July.
Aside from the clay licks, the Tambopata Rainforest is also full of different oxbow lakes that draw abundant wildlife. One of the most famous in the Tambopata Reserve is the Sandoval Lake, which can be visited from the Sandoval Lake Lodge. There are some others, however, which you can see on tours from the Posada Amazonas Lodge and the Refugio Amazonas Lodge. The oxbow lakes offer fantastic scenery and provide great opportunities to see different monkeys, giant river otters, black caiman, and many different birds.
Animals of the Tambopata Rainforest
The animals you can find in the Tambopata Rainforest include all the iconic species, such as jaguar, tapir, giant river otters, macaw parrots, toucans, many different monkeys, black caiman, and harpy eagles. There are different lodges to maximize your chances of seeing the different animals. For example, to stand the best chance of spotting jaguar in the Tambopata area, we recommend the deep rainforest lodges of the Tambopata Research Center and Heath River Wildlife Center. Note that these are rare animals to see, but the Tambopata Research Center report 8% of guests see wild jaguar, which is higher than many other areas of the Amazon.
The other wildlife is more commonly encountered, however. Both Tambopata Research Center and Heath River Wildlife Center are fantastic for seeing large and colorful macaw parrots and the different monkeys in Tambopata. The Heath River Wildlife Center is also a great place to spot tapir at the tapir clay lick and you have a good chance of spotting giant river otters. The otters can also be seen at the Sandoval Lake Lodge and Posada Amazonas Lodge, which also have tall canopy towers to spot toucans, parrots, and to simply gaze out over the majesty of the Amazon’s canopy. The Refugio Amazonas Lodge is then a good choice in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve to see different monkeys, have an add-on experience of the macaw clay lick, and seems to be a preferred nesting area for the magnificent harpy eagles.
The following Tambopata lodges are the recommended options to experience the Tambopata Rainforest. The lodges listed are from our recommendations for short rainforest experience of 1 or 2 nights through to the best lodges for a more immersive experience of deep rainforest to maximize wildlife sightings. For a very comfortable option as a luxury lodge in Tambopata, we recommend the Amazon Villa.
The Sandoval Lake Lodge
You can find Sandoval Lake Lodge nestled by the beautiful Lake Sandoval, which you will explore as you head out on the lake with your wildlife guide. Enjoy spotting many different monkeys, interesting birds, black caiman, different frogs, and the iconic giant river otters.
The Posada Amazonas Lodge
A community-owned rainforest lodge in the Ese-Eja Reserve, the Posada Amazonas Lodge offers tours of a nearby Amazon lake to spot giant river otters and lake-life, visits to a canopy tower to spot parrots and toucans, a trip to a nearby small mammal clay lick, and tours in the rainforest to find different monkeys and colorful birds.
The Amazon Villa
A very comfortable option for an Amazon Rainforest lodge, the Amazon Villa offers an exclusive stay in the Tambopata Rainforest in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve. Choose from different activities in the rainforest and enjoy private service.
The Refugio Amazonas Lodge
Positioned in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve, the Refugio Amazonas provides tours of an Amazon lake, visits to a tall canopy tower to spot toucans and parrots, a spa to enjoy massages and different treatments, a children’s trail through the jungle, visits to a small mammal clay lick, and different rainforest trails to spot different monkeys and birds. You can also choose different add-on activities such as kayaking, canopy climbing, paddle boarding, and visiting a large macaw clay lick.
The Heath River Wildlife Center
The Heath River Wildlife Center is a deep rainforest lodge located in the rainforest between Tambopata National Reserve and the Madidi National Park. Enjoy many different trails to find several monkeys and colorful birds, visits to the Heath savanna ecosystem and tapir clay lick, visits to a lake frequented by giant river otters, and see a large macaw clay lick, which you can approach at a closer distance because of the floating hide.
The Tambopata Research Center
Positioned deep in the middle of Tambopata National Reserve, the Tambopata Research Center provides guided tours on miles of nature trails through the forest to find many different monkeys, reptiles, and birds, visits to one of the largest macaw clay licks in the Amazon Rainforest, and a visit to the Refugio Amazonas Lodge to experience the canopy tower.