The Tambopata River in Peru supports one of the highest levels of animals and plants on Earth. The name is from the the Quechua words for ‘home’ and ‘high point’ as the river area is inhabited by indigenous communities. The origins of the Tambopata River can be traced to the Peruvian Andes.
The Tambopata River is a river in the Amazon Basin of southern Peru close to the rainforest gateway of Puerto Maldonado. The river begins on the Andean mountains of Peru as it trickles down the Andes from the famed Lake Titicaca, which is the world’s highest large lake. This connects with the Madre de Dios River where it flows through Bolivia and heads northwards to merge with the mighty Amazon River just east of Manaus in Brazil.
Surrounding Protected Areas
As the Tambopata River trickles down the Andes, it crosses the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park and flows through the middle of the Tambopata National Reserve. This is before merging with the Madre de Dios River just south of the rainforest gateway town called Puerto Maldonado. There are different habitats along the Tambopata River and Tambopata National Reserve, including palm swamps, terra firma, bamboo forest, and riverine rainforest.
Rainforest tourism along the Tambopata River is focused on the Tambopata National Reserve and surroundings, which protects 274,690 hectares of lowland Amazon Rainforest of the Tambopata River watershed. Within the reserve, you can find many clay licks, beautiful oxbow lakes, and one of the world’s highest levels of animals and plants.
People of the Tambopata River
The Ese-Eja are the main indigenous people of the Tambopata River watershed and are spread across different communities in the Tambopata region with some communities living across the border in Bolivia. One of the only settlements on the Tambopata River is the community of Baltimore, named because rubber from this area was shipped to Baltimore in the USA, and they offer different hostels for guests looking to stay with a local community.
The Ese-Eja are closely involved with sustainable activities in the Tambopata Rainforest, such as Brazil nut harvesting and ecotourism. In the Ese-Eja communal reserve located by the Tambopata River, you can find the Posada Amazonas Lodge, which is a tourist lodge owned and operated by the Ese-Eja themselves. The community members also work as guides, managers, cooks etc. for the different lodges in the surrounding rainforest. There are also around 16 other indigenous groups in the area with many living without contact near the Tambopata River and have lived in a similar manner for thousands of years.
Animals of the Tambopata River Watershed
As one of the world’s richest watersheds, the Tambopata River supports a fantastic amount of animals and plants. The protected area of the Tambopata Reserve bisected by the Tambopata River includes the iconic giant trees, such as mahogany and Brazil nut. For mammals, the region contains a great many oxbow lakes where the river once flowed but has since changed direction. Many of the lakes are home to resident families of giant river otters, which are a large social otter and on the must-see list of many Amazon Rainforest visitors.
Aside from the lakes with giant otters, the other main draw to this area of the Amazon Rainforest is clay licks. These are areas of exposed clay where various animals visit to help neutralize toxins in the animal’s diet and to obtain different salts. The region around the Tambopata River has a higher concentration of clay licks than other areas of the Amazon Basin and you can greatly increase your chances of seeing certain animals. The most famous animals that visit these clay licks are the magnificent macaw parrots. The Tambopata Research Center is located by one of the largest macaw clay licks in the rainforest where you can see hundreds of colorful macaws as they visit the clay after feeding from a plentiful supply of forest fruits.
Not only visited by the macaws, other animals visit the different clay licks as well. Near the Tambopata River, you can visit the Refugio Amazonas Lodge in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve to see a small mammal clay lick where different peccary and monkeys visit to obtain salts. Another similar lodge to see a small mammal clay lick is the Posada Amazonas Lodge, which is a little closer to the gateway town of Puerto Maldonado.
If you’re after the largest land-mammal in South America, the tapir, you can stay at the Heath River Wildlife center on a river running parallel with the Tambopata River, the Heath River between the Madidi National Park and Tambopata National Reserve. Here you can enjoy a tapir clay lick to watch these incredible animals from a specially made hide.
In the rainforest surrounding the Tambopata River, you can find several different monkeys, including howler monkeys, capuchins, tamarins, marmosets, spider monkeys, titi monkeys, and squirrel monkeys. These often approach the trees at the river’s edge and can be seen while exploring the different waterways of the Tambopata River. In the water itself, you can find many different fish, otters, different caiman species, and side-necked turtles, which also enjoy sunning themselves on logs or muddy banks.
Tambopata River Rainforest Lodges
To explore the Amazon Rainforest and Tambopata River, there are a few different recommended lodges that differ a little from each other in their experience. Here are the recommendations for visiting the Tambopata River and Rainforest:
The Tambopata Research Center
Located deep within the Tambopata National Reserve, the Tambopata Research Center is located on the Tambopata River and is located nearby one of the largest macaw clay licks in Amazonia. From the Tambopata Research Center, you will enjoy guided tours in the surrounding rainforest to find several different monkeys, colorful birds, and other forest life. Because the lodge is also a functioning research center, you can enjoy talking to macaw researchers about their work and learn about macaw ecology and conservation. Because this is a deep rainforest lodge, you will spend one night at the Refugio Amazonas Lodge on your journey to the Tambopata Research Center. As this is a deep rainforest lodge, you have a higher chance of spotting many different animals and plants, and 8% of guests to the lodge even manage to see wild jaguar.
The Refugio Amazonas Lodge
The Refugio Amazonas Lodge is positioned in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve and is about half the difference between Puerto Maldonado and the Tambopata Research Center mentioned above. Enjoy guided tours in the surrounding rainforest to find different monkeys, fascinating birds, a small-mammal clay lick, and you can add on an experience to a large macaw clay lick. This is also one one of the best locations for seeing harpy eagles. The Refugio Amazonas Lodge has a children’s trail, which makes it a great choice for families and has a rainforest spa to relax with a massage treatment. Enjoy your choice of extra experiences, such as citizen science, night walks, aerobotany, and birdwatching.
The Amazon Villa
The Amazon Villa is a very comfortable rainforest lodge in the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve and offers exclusive use of the villa. Offering wi-fi internet, a bath, and a very comfortable bed, the Amazon Villa is a perfect choice for visitors to the rainforest who want to catch up on a bit of work or do some writing while relaxing in beautiful Amazon Rainforest. From the villa, enjoy delicious cuisine and your choice of activities, such as forest walks, aerobotany, birdwatching and more.
The Posada Amazonas Lodge
A community-owned lodge in the Ese-Eja Community Reserve just beside the Tambopata River, the Posada Amazonas offers guided tours in the surrounding rainforest, a tall canopy tower, visits to an oxbow lake home to resident giant river otters, and a choice of add-on experiences. As you walk the rainforest, enjoy spotting several different monkeys, interesting reptiles and amphibians, and spot toucans and parrots from the tall canopy tower.
The Sandoval Lake Lodge
Nestled on the Sandoval Lake, Sandoval Lake Lodge provides tours on the water to find different lake-living birds, black caiman, several different monkey in the surrounding rainforest, toucans, macaws, and the resident group of giant otters. You can also enjoy a night walk around Lake Sandoval to find different tree frogs and nocturnal wildlife. Given its closeness to Puerto Maldonado, Sandoval Lake Lodge is a great choice to see the most wildlife on a short tour of one or two nights.