Puerto Maldonado is a much smaller town than its Amazon River cousin Iquitos, but remains the gateway to the incredible southern rainforest of Peru. This area is home to the highest concentration of known clay licks in Amazonia. The section of the Amazon is also the most developed for tourism as the Clay Licks & beautiful Oxbow Lakes provide almost guaranteed wildlife sightings. From Puerto Maldonado, you can tour incredible protected areas such as Tambopata National Reserve, Manu National Park and the Bolivian Madidi National Park. The majority of tourists visiting Puerto Maldonado will be collected from the airport and transported to their Amazon Rainforest lodge for a rainforest tour, and will then return to the airport without seeing Puerto Maldonado. However, there are still a few things to keep you occupied in the town before or after your Amazon Rainforest experience.
Puerto Maldonado Market
The market in Puerto Maldonado is a great place to see exotic foods and fruits, and to get a glimpse at how the locals live while soaking in the atmosphere of jungle life. The juice stands around the market are thoroughly recommended.
The Obelisk is a worthwhile visit as you can see far over the Tambopata Rainforest of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios Rivers. You can find The Obelisk on the crossing of Fitzcarrald & Madre de Dios avenue.
The Animal Sanctuary located just off the ‘Tambopata Highway’ provides care for rainforest wildlife rescued from abandonment or the pet trade and is worth visiting. The small fee helps care for the animals and you can see some icons of Amazonia. You can volunteer at the sanctuary by contacting Fauna Forever.
ProNaturaleza Butterfly Farm
Located close to Puerto Maldonado airport, you can visit this butterfly farm where they exhibit butterflies from the surrounding rainforest. Although these butterflies can be seen on many jungle tours, the exhibit provides a close up look and offers a glimpse of what you will see on your Amazon Rainforest tour.
Plaza de Armas
The central square is an enjoyable place to sit on a bench and relax enjoying the tropical atmosphere knowing that you’re now in the Amazon Rainforest.
Food & Drink
Burgos’s Restaurante | Leon Velarde 127
One of the best restaurants in Puerto Maldonado. Enjoy local cuisine served in style as you overlook the river and parakeet filled trees.
El Catamaran | Irón 26 de Deciembre 241
Possibly the best restaurant in Puerto Maldonado to enjoy the Peruvian must try, Ceviche (raw fish drizzled with lime and spices). El Catamaran provides other local dishes with a nice view and atmosphere.
La Vaca Loca
Each jungle town usually has one place to go to for great steak and in Puerto Maldonado La Vaca Loca is it.
A nice little jungle pizzeria for wood fired pizzas and a few pasta dishes. A good choice to get your Italian fix in the jungle.
Chifa Sol Grande | Av 2 de Mayo 306
Although not quite traditional Chinese, if you’re after some Peruvian Chifa rice dishes or noodles, this is the best place in Puerto Maldonado.
Los Gustitos del Cura | Loreto 258
The cafe offers tasty savory and sweet snacks in Puerto Maldonado. Offering the best ice cream in town as well as drinks, milk shakes, sandwiches and cakes.
La Casa Nostra
If you’re after a fresh juice in Puerto Maldonado, hope over to La Casa Nostra. Also good for quick food and breakfast.
Club El Witite or Carambola
Located on side streets from the main plaza, these are the places to be in Puerto Maldonado when you’re ready to rumba the nights away.
A nice place to relax and socialise while sipping on a tropical cocktail overlooking the rivers.
There are no other towns nearby Puerto Maldonado, however, towns more accessible from Puerto Maldonado via bus or plane include Cusco (15 hours by road | 45 minutes by plane) and Epitaciolandia on the Bolivian / Brazilian border (4 hours by road).
Nearby Protected Areas
The main reason for a visit to Puerto Maldonado is the Amazon Rainforest. From Puerto Maldonado, you are spoiled for choice with access to different protected areas including the Tambopata National Reserve and adjoining Bahuaje Sonene National Park, Manu National Park and even the Bolivian Madidi National Park. These protected areas contain incredible diversity of western Amazonian flora and fauna.
The western Amazon, as opposed to the east in the Atlantic side of Brazil, has been consistently shown by researchers to contain a far higher diversity of animals. Combined with the unusually high abundance of Clay Licks and the high number of Oxbow Lakes, this is an incredibly unique section of rainforest.
These Clay licks are where animals such as as Scarlet Macaws come to feed off medicinal clay to counter toxins in the animals’ food. The licks are not just visited by a high number of birds, but also mammals like South America’s largest mammal, the Tapir. Predators like Jaguar can ambush prey at these areas creating a high concentration of animal life.
The Oxbow Lakes are formed when the river has stopped flowing into an area but leaves a lake of water in an arc, as a reflection of where the river once ran. The oxbow lakes in Tambopata, Manu and Madidi contain a relatively high number of endangered Giant Amazon River Otters. Many of the tours know the lakes that have their own resident population and will take you on guided tours to see these amazing animals, the world’s only social mustelid.
Tambopata National Reserve
The closest protected area to Puerto Maldonado (only 30 mins away for some lodges), Tambopata is the destination of choice for many tourists to Puerto Maldonado. The area contains the largest known clay lick in the entire Amazon Rainforest, which is easily accessible from visits to the renowned Tambopata Research Center & Tourist Lodge. Wildlife is also easily seen from visits to lodges closer to town, such as Posada Amazonas Lodge and Sandoval Lake Lodge. Sandoval Lodge overlooks the sparkling water of the Lago Sandoval oxbow lake.
Situated south of Tambopata River, since 2000 Tambopata Reserve has become one of the most popular Peruvian sites to visit. Established in 1977, the reserve contained about 5, 000 hectares of rainforest lowland and palm swamps. It has since been expanded to include the Tambopata and Candamo Rivers and grew to just over 271,000 hectares. Tambopata Reserve contains over 1000 different butterflies, 10,000 differed plants, over 600 birds species (6 different large macaws, 20 different parrots and parakeets, 8 different toucans), 100 different amphibians and reptiles (including both large Black and Spectacled Caiman), and 200 different mammals (including White-lipped Peccaries, Giant Amazon River Otters, Jaguar, 8 different Monkeys, and Tapir).
Manu National Park
Manu National Park is the most famous protected natural area in Peru. Founded after the rubber boom collapse in 1968 and upgraded to a national park in 1973, Manu protects an astonishing 1.5 million hectares of tropical Amazonian habitat. Within the Manu area, you can find beautiful oxbow lakes, impressive clay licks and of course an incredible diversity of Amazon Rainforest animals and plants.
Hailed by wildlife lovers the world over, the area surrounding Manu contains tour lodges to experience the diversity. Within Manu National Park, there are over 1000 different birds, 1300 butterfly species, 221 mammals and 275 different amphibians and reptiles.
There are a few different lodges in Manu. If you like the idea of experiencing Cloud Forest for an entirely new set of flora and fauna, consider the Cock of the Rock Lodge from Cusco then combine this with the lowland Manu lodges of Manu Wildlife Center and Manu Tented Camp (uniquely built within Manu National Park itself).
Madidi National Park
From the Heath River Lodge, a highly regarded wildlife lodge in Puerto Maldonado’s Amazon Rainforest, you have access to a Tapir Clay Lick and a large Macaw Clay Lick as well as several different habitats. Unique to this lodge in Peru, as the only lodge on the Heath River, you also have access to the Bolivian Madidi National Park across the border.
Madidi is another of these biodiversity titans with 1000 different bird species, 1,875 described species of plants, 157 mammals, over 200 different fish, over 100 species of reptiles. Madidi National Park also includes five of the country’s 17 ecoregions.
As Puerto Maldonado is the gateway to the incredibly biodiverse Amazon Rainforest of southern Peru, the most recommended suggestion for what to do in Puerto Maldonado is to take a tour to see the rainforest. You will stand a chance of seeing amazing animals and plants, such as Harpy Eagles, Jaguar, Giant River Otters, Howler Monkeys, Capuchins and Tamarins, Poison Dart Frogs, Piranha, River Dolphins, Caiman and Anaconda plus hundreds, well more like millions, of others.
Visiting Clay Licks
One of the most interesting things that sets the southern Amazon apart from the rainforest along Peru’s Amazon River is the abundance of clay licks. These areas are where hundreds of macaws, parrots and parakeets visit to neutralise toxins in their food. The licks are also visited by other Amazon Rainforest animals, such as Tapir, the largest mammal in South America. Many of the best lodges have hides on large clay licks where you can watch the licks at your leisure without disturbing the wildlife. These places provide exceptional areas to photograph Amazon Rainforest fauna.
The lakes accessible from Puerto Maldonado in Tambopata and in Manu contain fantastic water birds, lake edge species and semi-aquatic animals like Caiman and Giant Otters. Many of the lodges know the lakes with resident populations of endangered Giant Amazon River Otters and take tourists to see the world’s only social mustelid.
Many lodges have canopy of forest towers to see wildlife in the trees. These platforms give a higher perspective of the forest where you can take great photos of Toucans, Macaws and other animals up in the trees.
Tambopata is one of the birdwatching hotspots in South America to see a diversity of interesting species. Some of the tours provide dedicated birding guides so you can check off certain species and truly dedicate your time to your pursuit.
Night Spotting for Wildlife
Although the majority of your tours will be during daylight hours, it’s worth seeing the animals that come out at night as you will encounter an entirely new set of fauna. A variety of different mammals, amphibians and birds can be seen on Amazon night walks.
There are many jungle farms near Puerto Maldonado where you can see exotic fruits and vegetables farmed by local communities. There is also a successful sustainable Brazil Nut harvesting program you can visit on some Puerto Maldonado tours.
Visiting an Amazon Community
Communities in the Amazon are warm, friendly and hospitable and you can see how life is usually lived in the rainforest.
On visits to the Refugio Amazonas Lodge, Posada Amazonas Lodge, or Tambopata Research Center you can enjoy kayaking the rivers for an additional fee (about $100). You will paddle down a section of the Rio Tambopata with a few rapids, but can be achieved with relative ease. We will kayak past forest and visit local communities along the river.
At some Puerto Maldonado lodges, such as Posada Amazonas and Tambopata Research Center, you can ascend into the trees for a small additional fee with harness and jumar. You will then get a bird’s eye view of the forest (requires no previous experience).
If you’re after a unique and more leisurely way to see the river and rainforest, stand up paddle boarding is an interesting activity you can enjoy at some lodges for an additional fee. As we casually travel the river, we might see turtles, birds and caiman while enjoying the sounds of the rainforest.
Refugio Amazonas Biking
Even enjoy mountain biking in the Amazon Rainforest at the Refugio Amazonas Lodge. Start the trail 10 minutes from the lodge and loop through 10 kms of mature forest and creek beds.