One of the largest protected areas in Peru, the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve protects around 2,080,000 hectares of Amazon habitat. Situated between the Ucayali and Marañon rivers, the Pacaya was established in 1982 and protects a diverse section of the western Amazon basin.
The magnificence of this reserve make it one of the best areas of Amazon Rainforest to enjoy a river cruise and you can enjoy some fantastic Amazon River tours from Iquitos, which is your base to the reserve.
The waterways in the reserve are generally blackened by the high concentration of nutrients. This gives life to many of the trees and plants of the reserve providing a base for many Amazon animals.
A magnificent animal that lives in the murky water is a giant Amazon fish called the arapaima (Arapaima gigas), which weigh around 100 kg and can grow over six feet long. There is a conservation program set up in the reserve to protect these fish from over-harvesting. In addition to these spectacular fish, the reserve is home to a multitude of different Amazon animals, such as macaws, caiman, pink dolphin and manatees.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in the Amazon Rainforest and the largest reserve in Peru at just over 1.5% of the country’s land area.
The Pacaya Samiria is about 180 km (115 miles) south-west of the city of Iquitos, which is your Amazon gateway for Pacaya Samiria Reserve cruises. Because of the flooded nature of the reserve and its impressive size, a cruise allows you a more indepth and comfortable experience of the reserve.
Human Population & Conservation
There are 94 villages inside the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and a quarter of these belong to the cocama-cocamilla who number about 42, 000 spread throughout the area. Their lives are tied to the reserve and they utilize fishing, hunting and small-scale agriculture to make a living.
These communities are passionate about conserving the reserve and for harvesting resources in a sustainable manner. They recovered the Arapaima fish from the brink of extinction (from four individuals in Lake Eldorado to over 800 today) and are reintroducing the taricaya turtles.
The reserve is home to a great diversity of delicious fruit, which is sustainably harvested by local communities and sold at market in Iquitos. Camu camu, with its tart, citrus flavor, is one of the favorites.
The locals contribute to different sustainable programs within the reserve and tourists help the communities by purchasing locally made handicrafts from the reserve markets. Our favorites are the different weaved Amazon animals.
Flooded Forest of the Pacaya Samiria
Although a large area of the Pacaya Samiria remains flooded throughout the year, the main flooding occurs over the high-water season or rainy season when snowmelt from the Andes forces the water level of the Amazon River and its tributaries to rise.
Fish and water-living animals can now access areas of otherwise inaccessible forest and can feed from the fruiting trees. The fruit camu camu, for example, is dispersed by fish and require the relationship between the land and flooded waterways to survive. Camu camu is a delicious Amazon Rainforest fruit to try and is rich in Vitamin C. On tours into the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, you will likely try some different camu camu flavored drinks and desserts.
Because of the constant cycle of high and low water, the entire region of the Pacaya Samiria is dotted with beautiful lakes, lagoons, ponds, and riverways. You are sure to visit some different example on cruises in the reserve.
On your tour, you will explore the different waterways on skiff expeditions to get you deep into this wonderful ecosystem. The different water bodies attract an abundance of forest life as many Amazon animals rely on terrestrial water to drink.
Aside from the wildlife, the reserve offers beautiful scenery and is known as the ‘Forest of Mirrors’ because of the near perfect reflections in still areas of water. When not observing wildlife, you will be photographing or simply appreciating the beauty of this incredible reserve.
Plants have had to adapt to their watery habitat. Aguaje palms are one of these plants and are a dominant vegetation type across thousands of hectares of the Pacaya Samiria in areas named aguajales.
The fruit from these palms is eaten by different forest animals as well as the people living in the reserve. Because of the flooded nature of the rainforest, there are more aquatic species in the reserve and the diversity of fish is especially important for reserve inhabitants.
Animals of the Pacaya Samiria
As with other Amazon Rainforest areas, and especially protected areas in the western Amazon, the wildlife here is impressive. The Pacaya is home for over 100 different mammals, such as the world’s largest to rodent, the capybara, and many different monkeys.
There are 150 different reptiles and amphibians, 450 different birds (1/4 of all the birds in Peru), and many endangered species, including the stars of the flooded reserve, the pink dolphins. The dolphins are often curious enough to approach us as we explore their home and can be seen playing and socialising in the water.
Although not much is known about the dolphins and we have more myths and legends than data from research, we know they feed on a range of crustaceans and use their flexible neck to search for prey. As well as the pink dolphins, you may also see the grey tucuxi dolphins in the riverways, which are smaller than their pink cousins and fit more with the usual dolphin shape.
Other iconic animals living here include the giant river otters that play, hunt, and eat as a social family group, the elusive jaguar prowling the forest for favored prey like tapir and capybara, and intimidating black caiman that reach a similar size as large crocodiles.
There are also many different monkeys you can see on Amazon River tours from Iquitos into the reserve, such as howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, titi monkeys, tamarins, and marmosets.
There are currently reintroduction programs of manatees into the reserve, which were overhunted leading to more water hyacinths on the waterways and other ecosystem changes. There are also two different types of turtles in the Pacaya, which you can often see sunning themselves on logs on the water.
Best Time to Visit
The Pacaya Samiria is a flooded tropical forest and the waters become much deeper over the rainy season (mid-October to mid-April). During this time, water claims the land and fish that are usually restricted to the rivers can swim between the trees. This is when the birds, fish and amphibians search the forest for fallen fruit and is a very important time for seed dispersal. If your interest is fish and birds, the wet season is the preferred time to visit.
The wet season means you can canoe into the forest to get a better view of the canopy, as the water opens up otherwise inaccessible areas of the reserve. However, the dry season (mid-April to mid-October) is when many people prefer to visit. This is because the dry season is when areas of terrestrial water shrink concentrating dependent wildlife and it’s possible to walk in the forest itself.
Pacaya Samiria Reserve Tours
To visit the reserve, you can take a cruise to explore this flooded tropical paradise. The most highly recommended cruises are the tours mentioned below:
The Delfin I
One of the few luxury vessels to cruise Iquitos waters, aboard the Delfin I you can enjoy modern kayaks for exploration, cool off in your private pool staying in the master suite, and enjoy guided 8-person-skiff expeditions into the pristine Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. On Delfin I tours you will be shown the Amazon Rainforest as we scout for beautifully colored birds, different monkeys, dolphins and more.
The Delfin II
The Delfin II offers exceptional service as you cruise the pristine surroundings of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. On cruise, you can observe incredible birdlife and other Amazon animals including several monkeys. Explore the forest’s tributaries on modern kayaks and professionally guided 8 person skiffs then relax on-board with a cocktail watching the sunset.
The Aria Cruise
A very elegant cruise on the Amazon River, the Aria allows longer experiences into the Pacaya Samiria where you will explore the reserve on small skiffs. Enjoy scouting for the different monkeys, colorful birds, fascinating reptiles, and the many delicate and colorful frogs.
The Amazon Discovery Cruise
One of the most affordable luxury cruises on the Amazon River, on the 7 day Amazon Discovery cruise itinerary enjoy exploring the different tributaries of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Enjoy comfortable suites, delicious cuisine, and large windows to keep connected to this incredible environment.