The southern Amazon Rainforest is the area of the basin at the lowest reaches of the Amazon´s waterways. The forest itself crosses nine nations and the southern portion is mainly contained by Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Of all the areas in Amazonia, the most developed tourism industry is in the forest of southern Peru, which is focused on the protected areas of Tambopata National Reserve and Manu National Park.
Differing from tours for the northern Amazon, the main attraction of the southern Amazon Rainforest is the abundance of clay licks. These are where Amazon animals come to feed from medicinal clay they use to detoxify food they have eaten in the forest. These clay banks present tourists with almost guaranteed wildlife sightings and spectacular displays of sound and color.
The Amazon´s star players are the large and colourful macaw parrots which make for fantastic wildlife photographs. These include the Scarlet Macaws, Blue and Yellow Macaws, Green Macaws, and an abundance of smaller parrots. It isn’t just the Amazons avian animals that make an appearance, as certain clay licks are used by the Amazon´s largest land living animal, the tapir. These large herbivores are very hard to spot on forest walks and clay licks provide a fantastic place to maximise your encounters with these strange looking mammals. One of the best lodges to maximise tapir sightings is the Heath River Wildlife Center accessed from Puerto Maldonado in Peru. Because other herbivores visit the licks, such as a forest pig called a peccary, the licks also draw Amazon predators, including the most desired Amazon sighting, the jaguar.
Many of the tours in the southern Amazon Rainforest have built lodges around Amazon clay licks to provide guests with exceptional wildlife sightings. The largest of the known licks in terms of visiting birds is in the Tambopata National Reserve close to the Tambopata Research Center – a tourist and research lodge where researchers are studying the macaws and where visitors are presented with fantastic wildlife sightings.
The southern Amazon provides some excellent wildlife lodges to explore the rainforest with your naturalist guide. The southern Amazon also provides the top choices for tourists interested in short stays as the town of Puerto Maldonado is located very close to one of the world´s most diverse protected areas, the Tambopata National Reserve. Because of its close proximity, visitors can enjoy tours to see incredible wildlife over short stays of 2 or 3 nights. One of the favourite choices for a short trip is a visit to Sandoval Lake Lodge accessed from Puerto Maldonado in southern Peru.
Here I will go over some of the gateways to the southern Amazon Rainforest, the protected areas you can visit, and the top tours available to explore these remarkable areas.
Cusco, Peru – Tours & Info
Cusco is the most visited area of Peru as the city provides a base to visit the famous Machu Picchu and other archaeological sites. Cusco was the ancient capital of the Inka Empire and greets hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. As well as the cultural and archaeological attractions, Cusco can be a base to explore the higher reaches of Manu National Park for visits to the extraordinary Amazon Rainforest Cloud Forest. Cloud Forest is a contrasting habitat to the more famous lowland jungle and contains an exceptional diversity of wildlife, including many different species of hummingbirds, spectacled bears, butterflies, and capuchin monkeys.
From Cusco, you can also combine the Cloud Forest and lowland rainforest on the popular Andes to Amazon Bio-Trip. As you travel from Andes to Amazon, you will enjoy a stay at the Cock of the Rock Lodge in Peruvian Cloud Forest then descend through the mountains to the Amazon’s lowland forest to enjoy a stay at the Manu Wildlife Center. From this much loved lodge, you will explore a contrasting environment of the Manu National Park region.
Puerto Maldonado, Peru – Tours & Info
Puerto Maldonado is an Amazon Rainforest gateway town about 30 minutes flight from Cusco. The Puerto Maldonado region is gifted with more Clay Licks than other Amazon areas and is very close to the highly diverse Tambopata National Reserve. This a rarity for Amazon gateways, as usually you will travel for three or four hours before reaching your destination. These factors combined with excellent tours mean Puerto Maldonado is a top choice for Amazon visitors. Puerto Maldonado is also the choice for tourists interested in combining a tour of the Amazon Rainforest with their visit to Machu Picchu due to the town’s proximity to Cusco.
Manu National Park
Manu National Park is one of the most famous protected areas in Peru and is the country’s largest. Embracing almost all the watershed of the Rio Manú, the park extends from Andes to Amazon containing a significant portion of highly threatened cloud forest (accessed from Cusco). Because of the park’s sheer size, the lowland rainforest of Manu is best accessed from Puerto Maldonado. The park represents one of the most biodiverse areas in South America with many wildlife-sighting opportunities. Here you can see several different monkeys, like different tamarins and marmosets, including the smallest monkey in the New World, the pygmy marmosets; as well as capuchins, night monkey and howler monkeys. Of course, the park has an abundance of other mammals as well, such as all the favorites of giant otters, sloths, jaguar, and capybara.
Tambopata National Reserve
Probably the best choice for a short Amazon Rainforest tour (for those only wanting a taste of Amazonia) Tambopata is the nearest protected area to Puerto Maldonado and one of the closest reserves to any Amazon gateway. This means you can witness incredible wildlife on short tours of only 2 or 3 nights.
Tambopata contains all the well known Amazon Rainforest icons, from several monkeys through to fascinating reptiles. The reserve also contains one of the most beautiful lakes in the Amazon, the Sandoval Lake & accompanying Sandoval Lake Lodge. The lake area is inhabited by howler monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, titi monkeys, sloths, and the stars of Sandoval, the giant river otters. You can see these animals in the video at the top of this article to see wildlife near this wonderful Amazon Rainforest lodge.
Tambopata along with Manu are also favored choices for tourists interested in deep Amazon Rainforest experiences. You can choose from different highly regarded tours to enjoy deep jungle, such as Tambopata Research Center, Manu Wildlife Center, and Heath River Wildlife Center. All of these lodges offer a slightly different experience. For example, the Tambopata Research Center offers visits to one of the largest Macaw clay licks in Amazonia, the Manu Wildlife Center is located near the beautiful lakes of Manu, which are home to giant otters, and the Heath River Wildlife Center features a tapir lick with hide to wait and watch this fascinating rainforest mammal.
Rurrenabaque, Bolivia – Tours & Info
Rurrenabaque is a small town in northern Bolivia and is the gateway to Madidi National Park. Madidi is a protected area of the Bolivian Amazon and in terms of animals and plants, Madidi is in equal standing to Manu National Park in Peru. The best way to reach Rurrenabaque is a 50 minute flight from Bolivia’s capital city, La Paz.
Madidi National Park is a large protected area of 20, 000 km2 and contains around 270 different mammals, 1,200 birds, 400 reptiles and amphibians, and 500 different fish. The park is in equal standing among nature lovers to the nearby Manu National Park on the Peruvian side of the border. One of the main voices for the park over the last 20 years has been from Rosa Maria Ruiz who has helped protect the area from a number of threats. Her organization has established the Serere Lodge & Reserve in the Madidi area where you can enjoy fantastic wildlife sightings.
Alta Floresta, Brazil – Tours & Info
Alta Floresta is the gateway to explore the southern Brazilian Amazon and is located at the meeting point of the Amazon, the Cerrado and Pantanal ecosystems, meaning a unique and highly diverse assemblage of birds and other wildlife. The region is hailed by birders the world over and the biodiversity of Alta Floresta has been studied more thoroughly than other areas in southern Brazil. This is mainly thanks to the Cristalino Foundation and their Amazon lodge where you can enjoy fantastic tours of the Cristalino reserves.
Close to the Cristalino Lodge is the Cristalino Reserve and State Park. The reserve is a comparatively small section of tropical forest, but it contains a diverse assemblage of animals and plants, including tapir, capybara, and giant river otters. The reserve is connected to the much larger Cristalino State Park where animals can cross fluidly between each protected area. The Cristalino Lodge have established one of the tallest canopy towers in the Amazon where you can gaze out over the rainforest. Here you can try and spot some of the 600 bird species living in the region. This represents 50% of the birds living in the entire Amazon Rainforest.