To experience Peru’s Amazon Rainforest, the two main gateways are Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado. Both provide a fantastic rainforest experience and when comparing Iquitos vs. Puerto Maldonado note that there are importance differences.
Both of these rainforest gateway provide excellent longer rainforest tours of 6 days or more. But if you’re interested in a short rainforest tour of 2 to 4 days, we would recommend Puerto Maldonado specifically.
We will mention why a little farther down.
An Introduction to Iquitos & Puerto Maldonado
Iquitos is found in Peru’s northern rainforest and is a port of the Amazon River itself. This small and charming city offers a different atmosphere than other parts of Peru. Iquitos offers a hot tropical climate and a city center dotted with elaborately tiled buildings, which were once the homes of rubber barons.
Because of the city’s size, you will need to travel farther away from this rainforest gateway to find undisturbed rainforest with high amounts of wildife. The main protected areas to visit from Iquitos are the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve.
Puerto Maldonado is your gateway to Peru’s southern Amazon Rainforest. This is a small and relaxed tropical town with a few attractions. The main interest for visitors, however, is the nearby protected area of rainforest.
Puerto Maldonado is located very close to the incredible Tambopata National Reserve, which contains a very high diversity of animals and plants. The surrounding rainforest is a great place to see macaw claylicks where hundreds of large, colorful parrots gather at the clay creating a visual spectacle.
If you’re interested in an Amazon River cruise then Iquitos will be your choice as there are different high rated cruises that depart from the port city. For more information, you can see our guide to Iquitos Amazon River tours. To keep things simple, two of our recommendations are La Perla and the luxury-class Delfin II. Both depart and return to Iquitos taking you on an excellent tour of the beautiful Pacaya Samiria National Reserve deep in Amazonia.
For Deep Rainforest Lodges
Both Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado are great options for a deep experience from a rainforest lodge. Enjoy guided expeditions to see many different monkeys, colorful birds, river caiman, tall emergent trees and delicate flowers. Two of the most recommended deep rainforest lodges in the entire Amazon Rainforest are the Tahuayo Lodge from Iquitos and the Tambopata Research Center from Puerto Maldonado.
The Tahuayo Lodge is the best choice for more adventure, a custom itinerary and private guide. You are also more likely to see pink river dolphins, sloths, small pygmy marmosets and giant river otters from this lodge.
The Tambopata Research Center is the best choice to see hundreds of macaws at the nearby claylick, spider monkeys, peccaries and 20% of guests are lucky enough to spot jaguar on the riverbank.
Here is a little more information on both of these lodges
The Tahuayo Lodge
The Tahuayo Lodge offers a private guide and custom itinerary to tailor the tour to your personality. This means you can choose a relaxed pace or adventurous forest hikes and traditional canoe tours. On all your expeditions, your guide will be helping to find rainforest animals and plants.
On tours of 6-days or more, you can then explore the Amazon Research Center in addition to the main Tahuayo Lodge. The Tahuayo River Amazon Research Center offers deeper rainforest with a little more diversity and a 1,000 acre primate research grid. Enjoy guided walks around the grid to find many different monkeys and birds.
The main Tahuayo Lodge has a greater variety of activities, such as ziplining in the canopy and hiking varzea forest to see find pygmy marmosets, owl monkeys, wire-tailed manakins and barber bees. Other wildlife commonly seen include black tamarins, saddle-backed tamarins, poison dart frogs, pink dolphins and trogons. You can also explore the lake by canoe to see hoatzin birds and other lake life. In addition to wildlife, you can enjoy cultural visits to nearby villages and communities.
The Tambopata Research Center
One of the deepest lodges in the Amazon Rainforest, the Tambopata Research Center offers a very comfortable experience in an area of incredible wildlife sightings. The lodge started as a research station for people studying the nearby macaw claylick. Guests are now able to sit and watch the lick where you can see hundreds of macaw parrots at one time.
Enjoy guided tours in surrounding rainforest to find many different animals and plants. See spider monkeys, howler monkeys, peccary and tall rainforest trees. The walks also take you through spectacular scenery of the Tambopata National Reserve.
An incredible experience from the Tambopata Research Center, 20% of guests are lucky enough to spot wild jaguar by the river. Jaguar are one of the most sought after wildlife experiences in Amazonia and a lodge with such a high viewing rate in Amazonia is a rare find. Many rainforest guides in other Amazon areas go their entire lives without a jaguar sighting.
You have a choice of accommodation at Tambopata Research Center, including the most luxurious deluxe suites.The rooms open out onto rainforest providing a connection with this incredible environment. Enjoy small group tours into five different habitats surrounding the lodge, including terra firma, bamboo, palm, flood plain and riverine rainforest.
For Tours of 3 or 4 Days
If you’re interested in a tour of 3 or 4 days, the recommendation is a lodge from Puerto Maldonado. This is because the wildlife-rich Tambopata National Reserve is found very close to the rainforest gateway. Because it’s so close, you don’t waste time getting to the reserve and back, which means you have more time for exploration.
You can also visit nearby claylicks and oxbow lakes with resident giant river otters. This is probably the best place in the Amazon Rainforest to see the most animals and plants on tours of a few days.
Two rainforest lodges we recommend from Puerto Maldonado for a trip length of 3 to 4 days are the community-owned Posada Amazonas Lodge and the Refugio Amazonas in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve.
The Refugio Amazonas Lodge
Nestled in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve, the Refugio Amazonas Lodge offers a fantastic experience of the Amazon Rainforest. Providing a fantastic experience of 3 to 5 days, the Refugio Amazonas offers a canopy tower, lake tours, guided rainforest walks and cultural tours of rainforest communities.
Unique for rainforest lodges, the Refugio Amazonas Lodge is a great choice for a family adventure as the lodge provides a children’s rainforest trail. This is a great option for children to learn about the rainforest in a relatable way. From Refugio Amazonas Lodge, you can also visit Chuncho Claylick to see macaw parrots.
Harpy eagles have also been found regularly nesting in the rainforest near the lodge. These are one of the world’s largest and most powerful birds of preys. We recommend sending the lodge a message using their page on TourTheTropics.com to ask about recent sightings.
The Posada Amazonas Lodge
A community-owned rainforest lodge, the Posada Amazonas Lodge provides a rainforest experience similar to the Refugio Amazonas mentioned above. Enjoy guided tours in surrounding rainforest to find a diversity of Amazon animals and plants. Enjoy spotting colorful birds from the canopy tower, visit a small claylick to see parrots and visit a beautiful oxbow lake.
In the nearby oxbow lake you have a high chance of seeing the resident family of giant river otters, which are one of the Amazon Rainforest’s most sought after wildlife sightings. In addition to wildlife, you can enjoy cultural tours to visit rainforest communities.
You can also choose from a number of rainforest activities, including kayaking, mountain biking, canopy climbing and more. Choose from comfortable accommodation options, which each open out to the rainforest and keep you connected with this incredible environment.