Puerto Maldonado is not just a great place for hanging out and enjoying the Peruvian gastronomy but also an excellent hub to explore the rich biodiversity of the Amazon in the Tambopata National Park.
About Tambopata National Park
The Tambopata National Park “(officially called the Tambopata-Candamo Reserve Zone, or TRZ) is a massive tract of humid subtropical rainforest in the department of Madre de Dios. The Peruvian government prohibited hunting and logging in the area in 1977 and created the Tambopata-Candamo Reserve Zone in 1990. Nearly one-third the size of Costa Rica, Tambopata has more species of birds (595) and butterflies (more than 1,200) than any place of similar size on earth.
Although mankind’s imprints are slightly more noticeable in Tambopata, the area is one of superb environmental diversity, with a dozen different types of forest and some gorgeous oxbow lakes. Environmentalists claim that the TRZ’s great diversity of wildlife is due to its location at the confluence of lowland Amazon forest with three other ecosystems. At least 13 endangered species are found here, including the jaguar, giant otter, ocelot, harpy eagle, and giant armadillo.”
More on New York Times.
Where to Book
Another advantage of staying in the Tambopata Hostel in Puerto Maldonado was the convenience of booking our Amazon tour directly with the friendly staff at the check-in counter.
There were various tours available and we decided to book the “2 days and 1 night Macaw Claylick tour”
The Amazon Tour – Day 1
Shortly after 8 am in the morning we got picked up by a taxi driver. Together with another Italian traveler we drove for approximately 30 minutes to our first meeting point. A sweet old couple from Peru and our well educated Peruvian Expedition Guide were already waiting for us to complete the group.
We changed the taxi for a 4 wheel drive and made our way on dirt roads deep into the green lush forest of the Amazon.
While the “road” was in pretty good condition, the bridges were simply horrifying. I hated not to have control in those kind of moments and had to trust the driver. The “bridges” were simply 3 large tree trunks loosely “bound” together and I closed my eyes while the 4×4 slowly bounced over.
Apparently, it was not the last time we were changing vehicles… This time not on the road but on the water. After approximately 2 hours, we arrived at river Tambopata and hopped into a speed boat. Navigating upstream the river we finally arrived at our base camp, the Collpas Tambopata In.
After climbing up the stairs we discovered a nice, well maintained lodge in the middle of the jungle. A delicious lunch with great diversity was already waiting for us to regain our energy. Another group just finished their tour and excitedly told us about their Amazon experience. They spotted three jaguars during the night safari in the Tambopata National Park!!!!! Wow, I could not believe it. I had the chance to spot those beautiful animals again after I saw them already in the Pantanal of Brazil.
Jungle Walk – Daytime
I could not wait to explore the Nature Reserve and after we dropped our luggage in one of the private rooms (equipped with bathroom and mosquito nets) we already explored the nearby jungle.
While walking through the thick green forest our Italian friend suddenly stopped and looked right above us into the canapés of the large trees. Something was moving… While I needed some time to see what’s going on, our guide told us that we just discovered a red howler monkey. And it turned out not to be just one but a whole family. Excited as a kid, I tried to get some close ups of the beautiful animals.
Fascinated about their behaviour I could have spent the whole time just watching them. However, they were relatively moving fast and it was difficult to catch up with them. After a while we lost the group and continued our walk without any other major observations. For me, at least, the whole expedition was already a success. I saw Howler Monkeys…!
Jungle Walk – Nighttime
When returning to our lodge we had dinner and relaxed a bit. We had another activity on our agenda – the night safari along the river banks. I saw myself already in the boat when our guide surprisingly asked
Do you want to explore the jungle again during the night?
I was scared. Exploring the jungle during day time was already an adventure but doing this during the night?! I did not know… Marianna and the other Italian were excited on the other hand side and after a couple of minutes I agreed as well to join the “locos”.
The atmosphere was spooky, no comparison to the daytime. Suddenly, all human senses were on alert. Every single noise could have been a jaguar on the hunt for prey. I was nervous and my mind was playing tricks with me.
We closed our eyes in order to adapt to the night vision and to get used to the sounds of the Amazon jungle. Even though we were walking the same path as a few hours before, the forest looked completely different.
Our guide pointed with his torch to a hole on the ground which was just next to our walking path.
he said. With a fine branch of a tree, he stimulated the entrance of the hole while suddenly a huge black something was jumping out of the “cave”.
Night Safari in Tambopata National Park
What an experience! I was scared and fascinated at the same time… However, we did not spend a lot of time in the forest this time and continued our expedition on the river.
Just before reaching the boat a huge cayman was laying on the river bank just next to our choice of transport. The adventure was apparently not over yet, lol. Luckily the animal disappeared in the water after we got closer.
Our guide was located at the front of the boat and was looking out for animals with his bright torch… Unfortunately we had not the same luck as the group before and besides some glowing eyes of caymans in the water we did not spot the mighty jaguar.
The Amazon Tour – Day 2
Chuncho Clay Lick
I had problems to properly fall asleep… I never got used to sleep in the jungle and every noise was keeping me awake. When I finally had the feeling to fall asleep the alarm went off. It was 5 am in the morning!
Another highlight of the tour should be waiting for us.
“The Chuncho clay lick within the reserve is one of the largest natural clay licks in the country and one of the wildlife highlights of Peru. Thousands of brilliantly colored macaws and parrots arrive daily at the cliffs to feed on mineral salts.” New York Times.
We skipped the breakfast and went straight into our boat. Apparently, we were not the only tourists that day who wanted to see the clay lick and we competed with two other boats. It was necessary to sign up at the entrance of the park and our tour guide had to climb up hundreds of steps before reaching the office. Luckily he was the fittest of all the other guides and came back first.
We had the privilege to arrive first at the clay lick where already dozens of colourful parrots and macaws were feeding on mineral salt (not thousands as the New York Times stated, lol).
It was simply beautiful and again I was happy to have made my purchase of my Panasonic zoom lens. The range of 100 – 400 mm multiplied by the cropping factor resulted in a stunning 200 – 800 mm and I could take nice close ups of the animals.
On our way back to the camp, we spotted our last wildlife for the day. A Capybara at the river bank.
The day was almost over but not without floating down the Tambopata river with a canoe instead of the speed boat. With a smile on our face we enjoyed the last moments of our adventurous Amazon trip and arrived late in the evening back again at our hostel.
The Amazon tour into the Tambopata National Park was amazing! It was not just perfectly organised, it was safe and also very informative. The guide was highly knowledgeable and we spotted a lot of wildlife regarding the limited amount of time (Even though we did not see the mighty jaguar:)!