The Amazon Rainforest of southern Peru is a fantastic place to visit to see some remarkable animals and plants. Enjoy immersing yourself in nature, relaxing in the rainforest, or a more adventurous vacation.
Peru contains the second highest amount of Amazon Rainforest after Brazil, but is home to an area with more clay licks, more beautiful oxbow lakes, and a higher diversity of animals and plants than its larger neighbour.
In fact, some of the Amazon’s most beautiful lakes, such as Lago Sandoval, and the most active clay licks are found in southern Peru near Puerto Maldonado. This section of Amazonia contains the most and largest of all the rainforest’s clay licks for almost guaranteed wildlife sightings.
Puerto Maldonado is found at the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers. This small jungle town is your gateway to some incredible national parks, national reserves & protected areas.
The best lakes, wildlife, and clay licks of southern Peru are found in the Puerto Maldonado national parks & protected areas surrounding this gateway town. When taken together, these areas represent one of the world’s largest tracts of protected tropical forest.
The protected areas surrounding Puerto Maldonado include:
The Tambopata National Reserve
The Tambopata National Reserve is the closest national reserve to Puerto Maldonado and you can be inside Tambopata after only 30 minutes of travel time. This makes it a great choice to visit on a short Amazon tour of only 2 or 3 days. If the area was any farther away, you would lose an entire day simply traveling to your destination.
Covering 274,690 hectares, the Tambopata National Reserve protects tropical lowland rainforest of the Amazon Basin. Starting from Lake Titicaca high on the Andes, the Tambopata River flows through the Tambopata National Reserve before joining with the Madre de Dios River near Puerto Maldonado.
The Tambopata National Reserve contains some impressive natural attractions. For example, in Tambopata you can find one of the largest macaw clay licks in Amazonia. Hundreds of colorful macaw parrots have been seen at one time and it makes a fantastic display for incredible photographs (zoom lens required). The largest macaw clay lick is found between the Refugio Amazonas in the reserve buffer zone and the Tambopata Research Center (in the middle of the reserve).
Let’s go over some great lodges with tours for the Tambopata National Reserve
The Refugio Amazonas Lodge
Nestled in the reserved zone of Tambopata National Reserve, the Refugio Amazonas Lodge provides a fantastic experience of the Amazon Rainforest.
From the lodge, visit a tall canopy tower to watch high over the rainforest. See the various shades of green, brightly colored toucans and parrots, and you may even spot different monkeys.
Enjoy guided tours in the surrounding rainforest to find capuchins, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, marmosets, and tamarins. You will also explore an oxbow lake to find hoatzins, horned screamers, and lake-living animals.
The Refugio Amazonas is also located within reach of the large Chuncho clay lick where you can watch colorful macaws visiting the clay on the lodge’s ‘a la carte’ program.
The lodge offers a large wellness center for massages and aromatherapy, a children’s trail to teach children about the jungle in a relatable way, and visits to a jungle farm to try exotic fruit and to an active Brazil nut concession.
The Amazon Villa
The Amazon Villa provides a luxurious Amazon Rainforest experience. Enjoy exclusive use of the villa as your own private bungalow in the reserved zone of Tambopata.
From the villa, you will be assigned your own private guide to experience the rainforest. Enjoy a range of activities and natural attractions, such as visiting the nearby macaw clay licks, tours of the oxbow lake, night walks, watching over the canopy on the canopy tower, and a number of other activities.
In addition to the natural attractions, you can also visit a working jungle farm and a working Brazil nut concession.
The villa features:
- A luxurious king-sized bed.
- 40 inch flat screen television to watch nature videos and documentaries.
- A place to use your laptop for writing or checking out the photos from every memorable day in the jungle.
- A satellite Internet connection.
- Electricity in the middle of the rainforest at all times of the day.
- A dining room where you can take fresh meals delivered to the bungalow.
- Dining table with 6 chairs.
- A refrigerator and microwave.
- A spacious bathroom equipped with hot water and a tub for soaking in comfort at the end of a long, incredible day in the Peruvian rainforest.
The Tambopata Research Center
As a deep Amazon Rainforest lodge located in the middle of Tambopata National Reserve, you will first enjoy a night at the Refugio Amazonas Lodge. The next day, continue your journey up the Tambopata River to the incredible Tambopata Research Center.
From the Tambopata Research Center, enjoy exploring an area of rainforest where the wildlife is at maximum levels for the environment. This means you have a higher chance of spotting more abundant and rare wildlife. For example, visitors to the Tambopata Research Center have a 10% of spotting wild jaguar prowling the reserve.
Enjoy guided rainforest walks on the many different trails to find a diversity of iconic animals. See troops of monkeys making their way through the trees. Spot howler monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, marmosets, and tamarins.
Tambopata Research offers a choice of suite and room options. The lodge design means you can see wildlife directly from the comfort of your room.
The lodge is positioned for easy access to one of the largest macaw clay licks in Amazonia where you can spot many different colorful macaws. With it’s fantastic position, the lodge is also used by researchers to study the licks for information that could help with conservation and understanding these fantastic animals.
The Ese Eja Communal Reserve
The Ese Eja Communal Reserve is in a section of continuous rainforest with the Tambopata National Reserve above. The Ese Eja are the largest indigenous group from Puerto Maldonado and their communal reserve contains some incredible Amazonian attractions. As the reserve is connected to the national reserve by continuous rainforest and is closer to Puerto Maldonado, it means you can encounter fantastic wildlife and rainforest after only 40 minutes of travel time.
To experience the Ese Eja Communal Reserve, you can stay in the community owned and operated Posada Amazonas Lodge.
The Posada Amazonas Lodge
This is a great choice for 2 or more day in the Amazon Rainforest. From the Posada Amazonas Lodge, you enjoy guided trail walks around the rainforest to find many different animals and plants.
You will also visit Centro Ñape, which is a traditional community clinic. This is where the shaman or his assistant will take you on a unique tour to explain the uses of various medicinal plants. As part of learning about the community, you will also visit a working jungle farm to see how people live in the rainforest.
The main wildlife attractions at the Posada Amazonas are the tour of Lake Tres Chimbadas. You will be paddled around the lake on a catamaran looking for different lake-living animals, including the resident family of endangered giant river otters.
Climb a tall canopy to look over the rainforest canopy, which is a great place to observe the rainforest from a unique angle and also to spot toucans, parrots, and even monkeys.
The lodge also has a small wellness center where you can enjoy a massage surrounded by rainforest.
The Bahuaja-Sonene National Park
The Bahuaja-Sonene National Park is part of the same block of rainforest as the neighbouring Tambopata National Reserve. In fact, the Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene was once one protected area named the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone. The areas were then given distinct names and enlarged to form two protected areas in their own right.
The park protects over one million hectares of habitat, including lowland Amazon Rainforest and savannah grassland. The parks protects the Tambopata River and is bordered by the Heath River giving the park its name. The Ese-Eja word for Tambopata is Bahuaja and their word for Heath is Sonene.
Living within the the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park are over 600 different birds, close to 200 different mammals, and around 20,000 plant species.
Tourism is being considered for Bahuaja-Sonene area, however, there are currently no lodges for the park. Given that Tambopata National Reserve forms part of the same block of rainforest as Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, to experience the area we recommend your choice of some of the best lodges in Tambopata.
The Amarakaeri Communal Reserve
Positioned near the Manu National Park, the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve is where most people visit to experience the Manu rainforest (visitors are not permitted inside Manu National Park itself).
As the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve is located next door to to the national park within continuous rainforest, the wildlife you can find here is very similar. Not only that, but from the reserve’s Manu Wildlife Center, guests have a higher chance of spotting jaguar, tapir, and observing macaws at the clay lick than in the Manu National Park itself. That is to say an even higher chance than on tours of the Manu reserved zone. Within the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, you can also find some beautiful rivers, oxbow lakes, and lagoons.
The Manu Wildlife Center
The Manu Wildlife Center is a rainforest lodge in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve near the border of the Manu National Park. On tours from the lodge, enjoy walks in the surrounding rainforest to find several different monkeys, colorful birds, and beautiful butterflies.
You will also explore a beautiful oxbow lake to observe the resident family of giant river otters, visit a tapir lick to see South America’s largest land mammal from a specially made hide, and visit a large macaw clay lick. While here, you can spot hundreds of brightly colorful macaws feed from the salt-rich and medicinal clay.
As this is a deep rainforest lodge, guests at the Manu Wildlife Center have a better chance of seeing more abundant and rare wildlife. For example, like the Tambopata Research Center mentioned farther up, guests have a 10% chance of spotting wild jaguar.
The Manu National Park
One of the largest national parks in Peru, Manu National Park covers 1.7 million hectares of Andean tropical forest and lowland rainforest. Manu contains one of the world’s highest levels of animals and plants.
Although visitors are not allowed in the park itself, you can visit the reserved zone for a few days. The duration visitors can spend in the reserved zone is strictly controlled.
The animals you can find in Manu National Park and the reserved zone include all the Amazonia icons. See different monkeys, toucans, jaguar, many butterflies, and endangered giant river otters. The bird diversity of Manu is spectacular. At over 1,000 different birds to find in the Manu region, it represents 10% of all the world’s birdlife.
The Manu Adventurer & Manu Explorer
The Manu National Park protects the entire watershed of the Manu River, which is how you can access the area as a visitor. However, as the park protects tropical Andean habitat, you can even access the park’s altitudinal forests from Cusco, such as at the Cock of the Rock Lodge. This is a lodge in a private reserve of Manu cloud forest adjoining the national park. To combine Manu’s cloud forest and lowland rainforest, we recommend the Manu Explorer starting from Cusco.
If you would like to visit the Manu National Park’s reserved zone from Puerto Maldonado, we recommend the incredible Manu Adventurer tour. On the Manu Adventurer, visit the Manu Reserved Zone of Manu National Park from a low impact lodge by the beautiful Lake Salvador. Spot the giant river otters, monkeys, and a fantastic amount of birdlife.
After exploring the reserved zone to find many different monkeys, giant river otters, and hopefully some rare animals and plants, you will visit the Manu Wildlife Center. While here, enjoy a visit to a large macaw clay lick to see these colorful large parrots feeding from the clay. The birds eat the clay to obtain salts and to help neutralize toxins in their diet.