Accounting for around 13% of the entire Amazon, the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest runs down the western side of Peru cradled by the Andean Mountains as the jungle’s spine. These mountains themselves rocket up biodiversity estimates for the forest and their slopes are home to the incredible bird-rich Cloud Forests. It’s these mountains and other factors that contribute to the world records in diversity set in this western half of the forest. There are some iconic animals living in Peru’s Amazon Rainforest, such as colorful macaws, giant river otters, toucans, many different monkeys, jaguar, anaconda, tapir, and the black caiman crocodilians. The plant life here is incredible with many of the highly sought after orchids to find and giant emergent trees dotting the forest.
You can find the Peruvian Amazon up the eastern half of the country backing onto the Andean mountains, but there are different areas to visit to access the rainforest and we will mention the recommendations below for the best Amazon experience.
Main Amazon Gateways
To visit the Amazon Rainforest near the Amazon River, the Peruvian rainforest gateway to visit is called Iquitos in Peru’s north, which is a port city of the river and the largest city in the world unconnected to any other by road. Iquitos is a great place to enjoy different Amazon River cruises and to enjoy some deep rainforest lodges, but it isn’t the best place for a short experience of the Amazon of one or two nights. For that, we recommend the other rainforest gateway of Puerto Maldonado in Peru’s south and specifically Tambopata lodges for the rainforest surrounding Tambopata National Reserve. Here we will go over these rainforest gateways in a little more detail, the protected areas you can visit from each one, and some highly recommended lodges and cruises for the Amazon Rainforest.
Iquitos is Peru’s gateway to the northern Amazon Rainforest near the Amazon River and is a port city of the river itself. The city houses around 500,000 people and is the largest city in the world unconnected to any other by road. The only way in and out of Iquitos is by aircraft or by boat on the Amazon River. A great place to visit a deep rainforest lodge, Iquitos is also one of the best places in the entire Amazon Rainforest to enjoy an Amazon River cruise into some astounding protected areas. We will suggest some fantastic Amazon River tours from Iquitos below for each protected area.
There are also some interesting things to do in Iquitos itself, such as visiting the Manatee Rescue Center and enjoying delicious restaurants and lively bars around the Plaza de Armas and the boulevard. The city still retains its jungle feel and the main way to get around Iquitos is three-wheeled motocarro taxis. After arranging your tour from Iquitos, you will be collected from the airport and taken to one of the beautiful protected areas to begin your Amazon adventure.
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is a fantastic section of wildlife-filled rainforest and covers a little over 400,000 hectares of Amazonia. You can find many iconic Amazon animals in the reserve, such as giant otters, many different monkeys, pink river dolphins, poison dart frogs, colorful macaw parrots, and different sloths.
The reserve was established for community initiatives and to protect the range of a fantastic red monkey called the uakari. These shy primates lives deep in the reserve and have been seen by some determined guests at the Tahuayo Lodge, which is the only lodge offering exclusive access to this incredible section of rainforest.
From the Tahuayo Lodge, you can visit two different rainforest lodges. The main lodge is located near the largest canopy zipline system in Amazonia and is a great place to canoe different lakes and rivers. The Tahuayo Amazon Research Center is then positioned in more pristine rainforest and is next to a 1,000 acre primate research grid where you can find many different monkeys. You can visit both these fantastic lodges on a program from 6 days and over and will see an incredible amount of wildlife. From the Tahuayo Lodge, enjoy a custom itinerary and a private guide to explore the reserve on guided walking tours, canoe expeditions, motorized boats, and deep forest hikes. The more adventurous can also choose camping experiences or even survival tours.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
The impressive Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is a fantastic section of flooded Amazon Rainforest and covers a little over 2 million hectares. This makes it one of the largest protected areas in Peru and is larger than the more famous and highly diverse Manu National Park.
The Pacaya Samiria is home to some incredible wildlife, including a jaguar and other endangered species, many different Amazonian monkey like capuchins, tamarins, marmosets, howler monkeys, and spider monkeys, tapir, and a diversity of colorful birds and fascinating reptiles. In addition to the wildlife, the reserve is also home to a few different communities of people known as the ribereños who make a living using the river and sustainable harvesting of reserve resources. There is even some sustainable initiatives for harvesting some of the reserve’s fruits, such as camu camu, which is taken to be sold in Iquitos.
The reserve is bordered by the Ucayali and Marañón River forming a triangle that points towards the city of Iquitos, which is around 180 km from the reserve and is your gateway to this incredible section of Amazon Rainforest. As this is a flooded reserve, the Pacaya Samiria is best explored on a cruise and there are a few different options to consider.
For the best experience possible of the reserve, we especially recommend a luxury cruise as the indulgent experience of gourmet food, luxurious linen, spacious suites, large suite windows, and some of the best guides in the Amazon is perfectly complimented by the nature of the incredible Pacaya Samiria.
Some recommended luxury cruises in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve include the very comfortable Delfin II for cruises of 4 or 5 days and the Aria Amazon Cruise for itineraries ranging to 8 days for deep exploration of the reserve. You can also treat yourself to the Delfin I, which offers more exclusivity on the Amazon as the vessel is fitted with only four oversized suites with luxurious linen and floor-to-ceiling windows for incredible views of the reserve. You can also choose the Amazon Discovery, which offers one of the most affordable luxury Amazon River cruises. From all of these vessels, you will enjoy guided tours around the waterways of the Pacaya Samiria to find some incredible wildlife, including several different monkeys, colorful toucans and parrots, sloths hanging from the trees, pink river dolphins, delicate tree frogs, and a diversity of birdlife.
The most famous tourist destination in Peru, Cusco offers a base to explore the incredible ruins of Machu Picchu and to see many other Incan sites. A lesser known area to visit from Cusco is the incredible cloud forest of Manu National Park. This threatened habitat is filled with incredible birdlife, including many different hummingbirds and Peru’s national bird, the cock of the rock. This is a bright red bird best seen from the Cock of the Rock Lodge where you can explore the cloud forest to find woolly monkeys, orchids, spectacled birds, and a diversity of different birds.
Andes to Amazon from Cusco
If you want to visit the lowland rainforest, you can also combine the Cock of the Rock Lodge with the Manu Wildlife Center on the incredible Manu BioTrip. The tour starts from Cusco to visit the Cock of the Rock Lodge for a guided tour of the incredible cloud forest. After this, you will descend down the Andes to see an incredible transition of environments as you get deep into the lowland Amazon Rainforest. In the Amazon Rainforest, you will enjoy a stay at the Manu Wildlife Center to see fantastic Amazon icons, including macaws, giant otters, and tapir at the clay licks. You can also combine the Cock of the Rock Lodge, the Manu Wildlife Center, and the Manu Tented Camp, which is located inside the Reserved Zone of Manu National Park for an incredible in depth experience of the Manu rainforest.
Just a short flight south from Cusco, Puerto Maldonado is a fantastic place to experience the Amazon Rainforest. This quiet jungle town is only around 30 minutes from the incredible Tambopata National Reserve making it a great place for a short Amazon tour of 1 or 2 nights. Puerto Maldonado is also the base to experience the wildlife-rich lowland rainforest of the Manu National Park and surrounding areas. Research has found the region is home to more animal clay licks than anywhere else in Amazonia where different macaws, smaller parrots, monkeys, capybara, and tapir come to visit for the salt content and medicinal properties.
Tambopata National Reserve
The Tambopata National Reserve is a protected section of Amazon Rainforest full of iconic Amazonian species. The reserve is home to a healthy population of jaguar, many different oxbow lakes to find giant river otters, large clay licks to observe colorful macaw parrots, and there are even nearby areas to see tapir in their natural habitat. Research in the reserve has found that many animals in Tambopata rainforest are harder to spot in other areas of the Amazon, including spider monkeys, jaguar, tapir, and different species of peccary. In total, there are around 600 different bird species, 1,000 different butterflies, and 100 mammals. This makes the Tambopata rainforest an excellent place to visit for an Amazon Rainforest tour and there are a few highly recommended Tambopata lodges.
For a deep experience of the Tambopata National Reserve, we recommend a visit to the Tambopata Research Center, which is positioned in the middle of this incredible reserve. Enjoy visiting the nearby macaw clay lick, which is one of the largest in the Amazon Rainforest. Here, you can spot hundreds of brightly colored macaw parrots visiting the clay for almost guaranteed wildlife sightings. In addition to the clay lick, enjoy guided tours in surrounding rainforest on different trails to find a diversity of wildlife, such as several different monkeys, colorful birds, fascinating reptiles, and hopefully some rarer animals and plants. As the lodge is positioned in the middle of the reserve where the wildlife is at carrying capacity for the environment, the Tambopata Research Center makes a great choice for a deep rainforest experience.
If you have less time available, for example 2 or 3 days, you should consider the Sandoval Lake Lodge or Refugio Amazonas Lodge. The Sandoval Lake Lodge is located by the beautiful Sandoval Lake home to a resident family of giant river otters. Although the otters are the stars of the area, you will also see several different monkeys visiting the lake in the mornings, including howler monkeys, titi monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, and more. The lake is also home to giant arapaima fish and black caiman, which would will spot on night tours.
Manu National Park
Possibly the most famous protected section of Amazon Rainforest in Peru, Manu National Park is the largest national park in the country. World renowned for its incredible biodiversity, the protected area is home to an abundance of rainforest life. Although not permitted in the national park itself, you can visit the surrounding rainforest and even enter the Reserved Zone for a restricted time, which are sections of connected rainforest with the national park and the wildlife roams freely throughout these areas. Enjoy spotting various primates, giant river otters, tapir, large macaw parrots, and even jaguar prowling the rainforest or sunning themselves by the river. The park is especially famous with birdwatchers and there are 1,000 different species to find, which is around 10% of the total birds to find worldwide.
A fantastic wildlife lodge to visit to explore the Manu rainforest is the Manu Wildlife Center. The lodge is located just outside the park boundary in the Amarakaeri Reserve and provides guided tours to see one of the most photogenic large macaw clay licks in the rainforest, a tapir clay lick for the best chance of seeing South America’s largest land mammal, and a beautiful oxbow lake to see giant river otters. In addition to these attractions, enjoy guided tours around the Manu Wildlife Center through the rainforest to find many different monkeys, colorful birds, reptiles, and different rainforest animals. Guests at the Manu Wildlife Center also enjoy a 10% chance of spotting wild jaguar, which is one of the highest chances in Amazonia.
To get into the Reserved Zone of Manu National Park, you can combine the Manu Wildlife Center and the Manu National Park Wildlife Center built inside the Reserved Zone. The tented camp is located near Lake Salvador, which is one of the most beautiful oxbow lakes in the Manu region and home to an abundance of wildlife. You will enjoy seeing a few different animals to the surrounding rainforest, but note that your chances of seeing the largest Amazon animals, including jaguar is higher at the Manu Wildlife Center. You can combine both of these lodges on a tour program called the Manu Adventurer.