The Amazon Jungle of Peru
Prepare to have your mind totally blown not only by the wildlife and diversity of the Amazon jungle but also by the incredible skills and knowledge of the locals and guides.
The Amazon jungle is one of those few times where I will recommend a tour guide. In other words, don’t just go wander into the rainforest on your own mmkay!? Otorongo Expeditions is one of the best in the business. The company is run by Anthony and Yvonne; Anthony is a New York native and Yvonne is an Iquitos local so pretty much they’re the Jay-Z and Beyonce of the Peruvian jungle. Deal with it!
When booking through Otorongo Expeditions your experience is totally customizable and based on your interests. If you want to fish, bird watch, camp or search for jaguars you absolutely can. Below are the activities we did (and therefore the best ones) but this list is not exclusive.
Sugar Cane Distillery
The boat ride to the Otorongo Amazon lodge takes 2 hours from Iquitos along the Amazon River. You will have the option of stopping at a local sugar cane distillery half way through your ride. The “distillery” is literally 2 huts on the side of the river, one of the huts is a home and the other houses the distillery equipment. Similar to old movies, a horse walks in a circle to power the machine that crushes sugar cane to extract its juice. The cane juice is then fermented for 4-5 days. Flavors like honey, molasses, bark and ginger are added to make flavored alcohol or the juice is boiled for 12 hours in the largest copper pot you will ever see to create molasses.
After seeing how everything is made you will be allowed to taste test all of the products. Although you are not “pressured” to buy anything it is expected that you do. Frankly, if you decide to go to the distillery making a purchase is the right thing to do. You can buy a small bottle of the alcohol in your favorite flavor, a whopping 20% ABV, for 20 soles or about $6. They will tell you the bottle is sealed and you can travel with it but our booze soaked backpack claims otherwise.
Searching For Wildlife
Your tour guide will probably be one of the most impressive people you have ever met in life and you will be constantly amazed by their abilities to find any and all wildlife. They are able to see wildlife that is completely camouflaged to us city folks. Whether on foot or by boat the guide was focused on spotting animals constantly. You will likely see sloths, toucans, pygmy monkeys, dolphins, tarantulas, poison dart frogs, tree frogs, monkeys and too many other things to name.
Spotting wildlife is less an activity you have to book and more a benefit of booking with a legitimate and trained organization. If you want to see the awesome stuff then book a good guide, bring binoculars and watch the Amazon Rainforest come out to play.
Swimming with Dolphins in the Amazon River
Did you know that there are 2 types of dolphins that inhabit the Amazon River? Gray dolphins are very similar to the ocean dolphins most people are familiar with. They are small, travel in pods and can be seen jumping out of the water. The rare pink dolphins are the true Amazon gem. They are solitary and much larger so they do not jump out of the water. Although this makes them much harder to spot you can find them popping their heads out of the water and blowing air through their blowholes.
Now this activities name is a little misleading, you will not actually be swimming WITH dolphins as much as swimming in the Amazon River where dolphins happen to reside. The dolphins never got within 100 feet of us. Nonetheless, it is a very cool experience to jump into the Amazon River. I expected it to be scary like dodging huge fish, piranhas or anacondas while trying to stay afloat. In reality it is just nice cool water to wash off the dirt of the day.
Watch the Sunset over the Amazon Jungle
Depending on if you travel during rainy or dry season this might play out a bit differently. During dry season you can walk along a sand bar as you watch the sunset behind the massive trees that create the canopy of the rainforest. During rainy season the sandbar is nowhere to be found so you can watch the same incredible event from you boat or a nice spot along the riverbank. Either way, it is awesome to be able to say “I saw the sunset over the Amazon Rainforest”
Night hiking kind of sounds like a bad idea when you think about how dense the rainforest is and how many creepy crawlies occupy it. Not the case! Although you definitely will see creepy crawlies there are also other cool things like frogs and also more frogs…there were a lot of frogs. Just like most things, the rainforest has a totally different feeling at night than during the day. The sounds of the critters after dark is deafening but calming. It is the original “white noise” machine so sleep tight!
This hike turned out to be one of our favorites! It was right behind the jungle lodge and it was only maybe an hour in duration but the feeling of pushing through the trees with only a tiny flashlight to guide your way is unlike anything else.
Fishing for Piranhas
Even if fishing is not something you are normally interested in, fishing for piranhas in the Amazon River is awesome. I was reluctant at first because I normally think fishing is boring but this was not boring. The guide led us through 15 minutes of mud to get to a very cool fishing hole. On arrival, there was a huge tree toppled over creating the perfect sitting spot right above the middle of the water. Using a nice, simple stick, fishing line and some raw beef the fishing expedition began.
As soon as you put the bait in the water the fish eat it right off. It was really more like feeding the fish than actually fishing for them. It takes a little time but you will figure out how to get them before they steal your bait and the first time you nab a piranha is so awesome! Be careful getting the hook out or they will get your fingers! This is a seriously cool experience.
Poison Dart Frog & Medicinal Plants Hike
Did you know that poison dart frogs are very, VERY small? They could easily sit atop a nickel or a quarter and are therefore incredibly cute. This makes them hard to find despite being brightly colored. Because you have done your homework and booked an excellent guide they will know exactly where to find them. It is very impressive to watch someone spot a tiny poison dart frog and their vibrant colors and bold patterns are incredible!
The poison from the skin of the frogs was used by tribes to add poison to the tips of their darts for hunting. There are tons of other plants and animals that also had, and still have, medicinal uses today. On the way to finding the frogs you can take a forest tour of the medicinal plants. There are tons to learn about such as the rubber tree, termite nest as insect repellent, natural vines you can a drink fresh water from, fruits with red seeds in them used as dye and face paint and a seed that produce a cotton-like substance.
Night Boat Ride to Find Caiman
Head out after dark on a boat with only your guide and boat man to look for caiman! Push through lily-pad filled waterways and marshes using flashlights to search for the glow off a caiman’s eyes. You’ll know if you got the “cream of the crop” guide if they hang off the front of the boat to nab the small caiman right out of the water. If so you will get to touch and hold a certified Amazon caiman!
Giant Tree and Local Village Tour
Take a tour of local village San Gregorio, a nearby community of 16-20 families. They are used to having visitors and the village children make jewelry and crafts using natural things they find in the rainforest to sell as souvenirs. If you are looking for something very authentic and 100% made in the Rainforest then this is the place to go. San Gregorio struggles with poverty so it is good to support them. You can see the children are not completely healthy which can be a rough experience but it is also a real life experience.
Before checking out the village there is a giant tree you can go see…It is giant and it is a tree but it is also a long trip on the boat and we got eaten alive by mosquitos. In hindsight we would have skipped this activity for something else.
Ask your guide how long it will take to get here though. If the water is low you have to go the long way and it can take hours. Although it is a cool experience and an informative one, I would not say it was worth spending several hours on a boat each way.
The Amazon and Zombies aka Conclusion
Experiencing and touring the Amazon Rainforest is definitely one of those bucket list experiences that is unmatched anywhere else. For that reason, it is absolutely worth taking the time to book a high quality tour company. With an incredible guide you will see things that other people are unable to and will absolutely get the most bang for your buck.
As a side note, if there is ever a zombie apocalypse everyone should seriously consider heading to the rainforest to live with the locals. They already know how to live “off the grid” and rely on mother-nature for everything! I might be on to something here…