The confluence of the Ucayali and Maranon rivers in Loreto, Peru, forms the legendary head of the mighty Amazon, 2,400 miles from where it flows into the Atlantic. Though Brazil garners most of the fame as the home of the Amazon, Peru is one of the best places to see it. Flying into Iquitos provides a peek at the region’s largest city, established by the Jesuits in the 1750s and a flourishing rubber tree plantation hub in the Americas (and, by recent calculations, in the world) and the 5-million-acre biodiversity-rich Pancaya-Samiria National Reserve. Twice the size of Yellowstone Park, it is the largest wetland reserve in the world.
International Expeditions, one of the first to establish a presence in the region more than 30 years ago, takes travelers deep into the jungle abroad the 28-passenger La Amatista, built in the style of a 19th-century riverboat. It stops at small settlements along the way, allowing you to visit the local shaman or one-classroom schools. Local naturalists point out the wealth of wildlife: More species of primates have been recorded in this region than anywhere else in the new world, and gray and pink river dolphins can be glimpsed swimming besides the ship. Small excursion boats penetrate narrow passages, flooded forests, and backwater lakes, allowing guided hikes through dense Amazon jungle. A new company, Aqua Expeditions, brings unprecedented comfort to Amazon explorations with its contemporary luxury cruises, the 24-passengers Aqua and the 32-passengers Aria. Guests return from jungle forays to meals from a kitchen supervised by Lima chef Pedro Schiaffino, then repair to spacious suites with enormous picture windows.
If you prefer to overnight on land, unpack at any of Explorama’s five lodges in the 250,000-acre Amazon Biosphere Reserve, all within 1 to 3 hours by boat from Iquitos. The 72-room Ceiba Tops, opened in 2004, is their newest and most luxurious – in these parts, that means air-conditioning and a large pool. A trip to the nearby nonprofit Swiss Family Robinson- style camp called the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research reveals a treetop system of ladders, cables, and netting. Visiting ascend 125 feet – about 13 stories – to explore the rain forest via an ingenious multi-level system of aerial platforms and suspended pathways. From here you might spy one of the estimated two-thirds of the rain forest species that live in, and never descend from, the canopy. Many of them have yet to be identified.
WHERE: Iquitos is 1,153 miles/11,860 km northeast of Lima (1.5 hours by air; Peru largest jungle city is accessible by air only).
BEST TIME: May – Nov for least rain; Jan – Feb for most rain and better animal viewing.
EXPERIENCE: this through Experiential Travel Journeys. Please Call us or Email us.