Peru is a fantastic place to experience the Amazon Rainforest. Cradled by the Andes mountains, studies show that this side of the rainforest contains the highest amount of animals and plants.
Peru is one of the best destinations to experience a rainforest that covers 40% of South America and Puerto Maldonado is a main Amazon gateway town. To help you get the best experience of Amazonia, we’ve made a complete Puerto Maldonado Travel Guide.
But first, an introduction to the Peruvian Amazon.
Crossing nine nations, the Amazon Rainforest covers a very large area and Peru contains the most of Amazonia after Brazil. The main gateways to experience the Amazon in Peru are Iquitos in the north and Puerto Maldonado in the south.
Both Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado offer fascinating Amazon experiences. However, the rainforest from Puerto Maldonado provides more claylicks, where different animals visit exposed medicinal clay, and some of the Amazon’s most beautiful and wildlife-rich lakes.
Puerto Maldonado also offers less travel-time to reach some of the most wildlife-rich areas of Amazonia. This makes it ideal for a tour of 2 or more days.
The rainforest of southern Peru also provides one of the most developed tourism infrastructures in the Amazon Rainforest. There are a few different Puerto Maldonado jungle lodges to choose from. Each offers a slightly different experience with an environmentally conscious approach to travel and tourism.
Before starting the guide, let’s have a brief introduction to Puerto Maldonado itself.
An Introduction to Puerto Maldonado
The jungle town of Puerto Maldonado is located in southern Peru about a 40 minute flight east of Cusco. Because of its proximity to Cusco, Peru’s favorite tourist city, it makes a great Amazon add-on area after your experience of Machu Picchu.
Puerto Maldonado lies in the steamy lowland Amazon Rainforest near the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers. The area became of interest to Europeans late in the rubber boom period like the other gateways to Amazonia. These were areas where people could base themselves to access the rubber trees, which were a source of rubber for the bicycle and automobile industries.
Puerto Maldonado is now a major tourist destination for Peru’s Amazon Rainforest and is home to one of the most thought out tourism industries in Amazonia. There is a fantastic amount of protected area accessible from Puerto Maldonado, including Tambopata National Reserve, Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, Manu National Park, and different communal reserves.
Puerto Maldonado is a much smaller gateway than Iquitos, which is about 5 times the size. This means the Puerto Maldonado rainforest is much less disturbed and you can experience high biodiversity areas after a short amount of travel time. This includes the protected areas nearby.
The rainforest accessed from Puerto Maldonado is also part of one of the world’s largest areas of protected tropical forest. When taken together, this protected forest covers an area about the same size as Belgium. Not only a large area, the protected Amazon Rainforest from Puerto Maldonado is home to incredible Amazon animals, such as jaguar, tapir, macaw parrots, toucans, anaconda, and many different monkeys.
The Puerto Maldonado rainforest is also home to the most claylicks and some of the most beautiful oxbow lakes in Amazonia. We will mention these a little later.
When to visit Puerto Maldonado
Puerto Maldonado makes a great place to enjoy an Amazon Rainforest tour at all times of year. There are always different things to see depending on when you visit.
As we’re in the tropics, there aren’t the usual cycle of seasons and instead the year is broken down into a wet season and dry season. Temperature stays around 31°C (88°F) throughout the year. However, the instensity of rain changes dependent on either the wet or dry season.
You should still expect some showers no matter when you visit, as the rainforest here is by definition a wet tropical forest. However, the wet season experiences more frequent and intense downpours and is often apparent from mid-October to mid-March. But there will always be some variation with the season sometimes starting a bit earlier or later.
The dry season is then often here from mid-April to mid-November. Note that the months with the most rain are usually November and April.
Things to do in Puerto Maldonado
Although the best thing to do is to head out to the excellent jungle lodges from Puerto Maldonado to experiences Amazonia, there are a few things to do in Puerto Maldonado itself.
The Puerto Maldonado Market
If you have a day or half day in Puerto Maldonado itself, an interesting thing to do is to visit the market. On sale are the different products from the surrounding farms and communities, including Brazil nuts.
Brazil nuts are sustainably harvested from different Brazil nut concessions around Puerto Maldonado, which you can visit at a few different jungle lodges. In addition to these, try different tropical fruits, and see clothing for sale. One of the most interesting tropical fruits for many people to see in the market is cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate.
Possibly the most interesting attraction in Puerto Maldonado itself is the obelisk. For a small fee, you can climb the obelisk to look out over the incredible Amazon Rainforest. See over the Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers and into the nearby Tambopata National Reserve in the distance. The connected rainforest provides a fantastic canopy of various greens creating some beautiful views from the tower.
Things to eat in Puerto Maldonado
The Peruvian jungle is known for its own typical cuisine influenced by the more tropical climate, the different fruits and vegetables available, missionaries, and indigenous groups.
A favorite dish in the Peruvian Amazon is called juane, which is rice, chicken, and an olive cooked with spices in a banana leaf. You will also notice plantains featuring a lot in the different dishes. For example, a favorite breakfast or lunch dish is called tacacho, which is made with mashed plantain flavored with pork.
Communities of Puerto Maldonado
There are a few different indigenous communities of Puerto Maldonado and the most well known are the Ese Ejja who also operate jungle lodges in their protected communal area e.g. the highly rated Posada Amazonas Lodge. One of the best things in tourism is when tourism benefits local people and the surrounding environment and that can definitely be said about the different community owned lodges.
The Ese Ejja live across the jungle between Peru and Bolivia and many people in Puerto Maldonado are members of the Ese Ejja group. There are also several indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation in the surrounding Tambopata and Manu rainforest.
The Wildlife of Puerto Maldonado
The wildlife you can spot on tours from Puerto Maldonado is nothing short of incredible. The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest container of wildlife and this section is particularly diverse.
There are great places to have almost guaranteed wildlife sightings around Puerto Maldonado, such as the different claylicks and oxbow lakes we will mention later. However, you can spot many animals simply by walking through the rainforest.
In addition to the endangered giant river otters you can see at oxbow lakes, spot the toucans, macaws, parrots, and many colorful birds flying over the forest. In the trees, you can also spot the different primates, including capuchins, tamarins, marmosets, sakis, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and squirrel monkeys.
Head out on night expeditions to find caiman crocodilians, nocturnal birds, and many reptiles and amphibians.
The plants here are also fascinating. Enjoy the large buttress roots of towering emergent trees, delicate orchids, and bromeliads clinging to the branches.
Your chances of seeing different wildlife from Tambopata Jungle Lodges
To provide an example of the wildlife you’re most likely to see from different Amazon Rainforest lodges from Puerto Maldonado, we will provide the following wildlife table.
The table includes the percentage of guests that have seen certain animals from three representative lodges for the Tambopata rainforest surrounding Puerto Maldonado.
We will include a lodge close to Puerto Maldonado called the Posada Amazonas, one in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve called the Refugio Amazonas, and a deep Amazon lodge in the middle of Tambopata National Reserve called the Tambopata Research Center.
The Puerto Maldonado Claylicks
Claylicks are areas of exposed clay where parrots and other animals come to feed from the medicinal clays. The clays have been found to contain different medicinal properties that neutralise the toxins found in various unripe seeds and fruits the birds eat in the forest. In addition to this, the birds obtain much needed salts which are lacking in the foods the animals eat. Because of this, the clay areas are very attractive for a number of Amazon Rainforest animals.
The most famous of the Amazon Rainforest animals to visit the clay areas are the famous macaws, which are often the symbols of Amazonia. Many different macaws visit the claylicks, including the scarlet macaws, blue and yellow macaws, red-bellied macaws, and red-shouldered macaws.
It’s not just the macaws that visit the different claylicks, but also other parrots and various mammals. The mammals that visit the licks regularly include tapir, monkeys, capybara, and paca among many others.
The Amazon Rainforest of Puerto Maldonado is fortunate to contain the most claylicks in the Amazon Rainforest. This is mainly because of the proximity to the Andes as well as other factors. For this reason, different lodges in the rainforest of Puerto Maldonado have been clever to build environmentally responsible lodges within easy reach of the different claylicks. Interestingly, different claylicks are visited by different animals. This means some lodges are better for seeing different Amazonian animals visiting the claylicks.
For example, here is a table with different Amazon jungle lodges from Puerto Maldonado and the different accessible claylicks.
The Puerto Maldonado Oxbow Lakes
Oxbow lakes are areas where tributaries of the Amazon River once flowed, but have since changed direction. The changing route of the river left behind arc-shaped bodies of water, which are known as oxbow lakes. These lakes are very attractive to Amazon Rainforest animals.
The different oxbow lakes are now home to a wide range of Amazon Rainforest wildlife. Some of the lakes have been fortunate to provide homes and refuges for endangered giant river otters. These are often one of the most sought after wildlife sightings in Amazonia and can be spotted from Posada Amazonas Lodge, Sandoval Lake Lodge, Heath River Wildlife Center, and the Manu Wildlife Center.
In addition to the giant river otters, the lakes are more often home to hoatzins, which are a chicken-sized bird that digest food by fermentation and seems to prefer to hop from branch to branch rather than fly. Other animals found in and around the lake include caiman crocodilians, cormorants, a diversity of herons, and some lakes are a preferred nesting area for macaws. Another star of certain lakes are the horned screamers, which resemble hoatzins with black feathers and a long ornament atop their heads.
The different Amazon Rainforest lodges from Puerto Maldonado often include lake visits as part of their tour.
For example, the different lakes visited from each lodge include:
- Sandoval Lake from Sandoval Lake Lodge (Giant otters)
- Lake Tres Chimbadas from Posada Amazonas Lodge (Giant otters)
- Lake Condenado from Refugio Amazonas Lodge (Hoatzin, Horned Screamers)
- Lake Guacamayo from the Heath River Wildlife Center (Giant otters)
- Two Oxbow Lakes from Manu Wildlife Center (Giant otters)
- Lake Salvador on the Manu Adventurer (Giant otters)
Puerto Maldonado National Parks & Reserves
There are some fantastic protected areas from Puerto Maldonado to visit, including the Manu National Park and the nearby Tambopata National Reserve. The rainforest here represents one of the world’s largest tracts of protected tropical forest.
The Tambopata National Reserve
The Tambopata National Reserve is the closest national reserve to Puerto Maldonado and protects an incredible amount of Amazon Rainforest animals and plants. The reserve protects some of the largest claylicks and most attractive oxbow lakes in southern Peru.
The reserve covers 274,690 hectares in the lowland rainforest. Within the reserve, you can find around 100 different mammals, 90 different frogs, over 600 bird species, and over 1,000 different butterflies. The trees you can find in Tambopata include the giants of Brazil nut, mahogany, and cedar. Each of these makes an impressive sight when you chance across them in the rainforest.
The iconic wildlife you can find in Tambopata includes the tapir, jaguar, macaw parrots, giant river otters, toucans, capybara, anaconda and black caiman.
The Manu National Park
The Manu National Park is possibly the most famous protected area of Amazon Rainforest in Peru. The park covers an impressive 1.5 million hectares and includes both lowland and Andean tropical forest.
Although not permitted in the actual park itself, there are some excellent Manu tours that visit connected forest at the park’s edge and even into the Manu Reserved Zone on the Manu Adventurer.
Like the Tambopata National Reserve, enjoy some of the largest claylicks in Peru and also some beautiful and wildlife-filled oxbow lakes.
With over 1,000 different birds, the Manu National Park protects an impressive 10% of the world’s bird species. In addition to birds, there are 15,000 different plants, 120 species of fish and reptiles, and over 1,000 different mammals. The reason for the high numbers is the park’s vast size, but also the different habitats protected in addition to lowland rainforest e.g. the Peruvian cloud forest on the Andes. This section is accesible via Cusco from the Cock of the Rock Lodge.
Activities in the Puerto Maldonado rainforest
Unlike other areas of the Amazon Rainforest, you can enjoy a number of different activities in the Puerto Maldonado rainforest.
The different activities are offered by different rainforest lodges. Activities include the usual guided tours to find fascinating rainforest animals, but also a number of others. In addition to the lake and claylick visits mentioned farther up, from a few lodges you can enjoy science activities, birdwatching tours and cultural visits.
- Citizen Science
- Medicine Plant Trails
- Night Walks
- Visiting a Jungle Farm
From the Heath River Wildlife Center, you can also enjoy some different activities than other rainforest lodges. The heath river is located near a section of savannah habitat where you can visit to see different habitat and wildlife.
The Jungle lodges from Puerto Maldonado
There are a number of recommended lodges to visit from Puerto Maldonado, which are suited to different time frames and interests.
Some of the lodges are better for shorter tours because of their proximity to Puerto Maldonado. Others are more suited to longer stays because they’re located in areas with more wildlife and more things to see.
Lodges for short tours of 2 to 5 days
The following lodges are our recommendations for shorter tours from 2 to 4 days. These are often the option for people wanting a short add-on to their Machu Picchu visit or people who are very limited with time. After this, we will mention the best lodges for deeper rainforest experiences.
The Posada Amazonas (2 to 5 days)
The Posada Amazonas Lodge is a community-owned lodge in a connected section of rainforest with Tambopata of the Ese-Eja’s communal reserve.
From the Posada Amazonas, enjoy being paddled around a lake home to endangered giant river otters, climb a canopy tower to spot toucans and parrots, visit a working jungle farm, spot several different monkeys, and some extras. These include ethnobotanical walks, night walks, and cultural activities.
You will also visit a small parrot claylick to see different parrots gathered to feed from the salt-rich clay.
Because the lodge is about 30 minutes from Puerto Maldonado yet in a section of wildlife-rich rainforest, it makes a great choice for a short tour of 2 or 3 days as you will maximize your time exploring Amazonia.
The Sandoval Lake Lodge (2 to 3 days)
Another lodge for a short 2 or 3 night stay, the Sandoval Lake Lodge is nestled on the glistening Sandoval Lake. Enjoy heading out each morning to find the resident family of giant river otters.
In addition to the giant river otters, spot hoatzins, herons, cormorants, giant Arapaima fish, and caiman when you head out on night excursions. In addition to the lake-life, around the Sandoval Lake you can find a nesting site of scarlet macaws.
The Sandoval Lake Lodge is located inside the Tambopata National Reserve and is again reached by a 30 minute trip from Puerto Maldonado. Like the Posada Amazonas, Sandoval makes a great short or more budget conscious Amazon Rainforest tour.
Note that if you’re a single traveler, the lodge operates with a minimum of two people traveling. With this in mind, we recommend the Posada Amazonas above.
The Refugio Amazonas (4 to 5 days)
The Refugio Amazonas Lodge is located in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve. Otherwise, the lodge is very similar to the Posada Amazonas mentioned farther up.
From the Refugio Amazonas, enjoy climbing a canopy tower to spot toucans, parrots, and other colorful birds. Visit a small parrot claylick and also a small mammal claylick. On the Refugio’s program, you can also add a visit to the large Chuncho claylick to see hundreds of macaw parrots gathered at the clay.
You can also visit a working jungle farm and be paddled around a lake to spot hoatzins, caiman, and lake-living birds. Other activities include aerobotany, birdwatching, citizen science and cultural tours.
In addition to the above activities, you can also enjoy the spa for a relaxing massage surrounded by the Amazon Rainforest. As a novelty, the Refugio Amazonas is an excellent lodge for families, as the Refugio Amazonas is home to a children’s trail where kids are taught about the jungle in a more relatable way.
As the lodge is farther from Puerto Maldonado, but still closer than a deep Amazon lodge, the Refugio Amazonas makes a great choice for tours of 4 to 5 days.
The Amazon Villa (Luxury 3 to 5 days)
Situated near the Refugio Amazonas Lodge above, enjoy a similar set of activities and wildlife. However, the Amazon Villa is offered on exclusive use only. In addition to this, you will be issued with a private guide throughout your stay.
Enjoy delicious cuisine, your own private bungalow in the rainforest, a private guide, WiFi, a bath, and a range of different activities.
Enjoy lake tours, a canopy tower, and walking the rainforest to find colorful birds and different monkeys. In addition to these activities, enjoy your choice of aerobotany, claylick visits, cultural tours and citizen science.
Tours & Lodges for Deep Amazon Experiences – 5 days or more
If you have more time available and want to dedicate more time to finding a higher diversity of Amazon Rainforest wildlife, we recommend the deeper Amazon Rainforest lodges.
These lodges are located in areas of the Amazon where the wildlife is at carrying capacity for the environment. This means you have a higher chance of seeing a higher abundance and a higher diversity of Amazon Rainforest animals. It’s from these lodges where guests have a higher chance of seeing the real Amazonian icons, such as tapir and even jaguar.
The Tambopata Research Center
The Tambopata Research Center is located near one of the largest macaw claylicks in the Amazon Rainforest. This is the focus of the tourist lodge and research center where even researchers are studying the claylick.
Enjoy discussions and talks with researchers about their work and explore the surrounding Amazon Rainforest to find several different monkeys, such as howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins, tamarins, and marmosets. In addition to the monkeys, spot a variety of colorful birds.
On your visit to the Tambopata Research Center, you will also enjoy a night stop-over at the Refugio Amazonas to visit the canopy tower and lake.
As a fantastic addition, visitors to the Tambopata Research Center have a 10% chance of spotting wild jaguar.
The Manu Adventurer
The Manu Adventurer is one of the best tours to see a diversity of Amazon Rainforest iconic wildlife. The Manu Adventurer combines the Manu Wildlife Center and the Manu National Park Wildlife Center, which is located in the Reserved Zone of Manu National Park.
From the Manu National Park Wildlife Center, enjoy visiting a large and beautiful oxbow lake to see giant river otters, tour the rainforest to find monkeys, and spot many colorful birds.
At the Manu Wildlife Center, you will then enjoy a large macaw claylick to spot large and colorful macaw parrots and even the tapir claylick to see tapir, the largest land mammal in South America.
The Manu Wildlife Center
The Manu Wildlife Center offers tours to a large macaw claylick to spot hundreds of colorful macaws, an oxbow lake to find the resident giant otters, and even visit a tapir claylick to see the largest land mammal in South America.
Enjoy exploring the rainforest to see a variety of Amazon Rainforest monkeys, such as howler monkeys, spider monkey, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, tamarins, and marmosets. You will also spot many fascinating birds.
Like the Tambopata Research Center above, you will also have a 10% chance of spotting wild jaguar sunning themselves by the river.
The Heath River Wildlife Center
The Heath River Wildlife Center offers a trip to a large macaw claylick to see hundreds of colorful macaws. Unlike the above lodges, you will view the claylick from a floating hide to get a little closer to the action.
From Heath River Wildlife Center, you can also visit an oxbow lake to find the resident giant river otters, tour the rainforest to find several different Amazonian primates, and even visit the grasslands. This is a novel area in the Amazon Rainforest home to a contrasting set of animals and plants.
The Heath River Wildlife Center is the only lodge on the Heath River and is located right at the border of Peru and Bolivia. As a fantastic deep Amazon lodge, you can also combine Heath River Wildlife Center with a visit to the Sandoval Lake Lodge.