Is an Amazon Adventure on your Bucket List?
When I think about the Amazon River and Jungle, I imagine a vast location, miles from civilization. In truth, this is exactly what the Amazon Basin is.
The basin covers 40% of South America. The rainforest covers an immense 2,100,000 square miles.
The only way to visit many towns is by boat or airplane.
When we began to plan our trip to Peru, I knew we needed to spend some time along the river and have our own Amazon adventure.
Choose a Lodge
The first step as we planned our trip, was to find a lodge.
It was most convenient to fly to Iquitos from Cusco, so we only needed to find a lodge within a couple of hours of Iquitos, which we would get to by boat. My main requirement was for the lodge to have a swimming pool. Scott and I had spent time on islands with no pool or air conditioning. We have had many sleepless nights.
There was a good selection of lodges in a wide variety of price ranges. We narrowed it down and picked the Heliconia Amazon River Lodge. Most of the lodges are considered all-inclusive; lodgings, food, non-alcoholic beverages and excursions, all in one price. The only extra money needed was for shopping at the local village, tips for lodge staff and guide, and our bar bill.
Our lodge was set alongside the Amazon River. It was about a two-hour boat ride down the river to the lodge. The property is raised above the water and swampland.
Everything is covered with thatched roofs and there were common areas to relax in with comfortable furniture. To top it all off, was the swimming pool. The water was cool and refreshing and helped us cool down in the stifling jungle heat.
Our room was nice and clean, with ceiling fans and a screened patio with a hammock facing the jungle.
Several times a day there are excursions available for guests. We were a group of six and usually went out in groups of 8-12 people per excursion. It wasn’t required to go on every excursion but most of our group did. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we weren’t going to miss any bit of our Amazon adventure.
I’ll separate out some of the excursions so you can see the variety of things we did.
Monkey Island was a stop for us on our way to the lodge the first day. It’s a small island, and home to rescued monkeys. There were 10 monkeys of different breeds while we were there. Many of them were rescued after being found for sale at the local market.
It was fun to see the monkeys run around and play. They were so silly, wrestling with each other and the resident dog!
Piranha and Pink Dolphins
On our first afternoon excursion, we took a small, open-air boat up the river to see pink dolphins. We floated around for a while and saw a few grey dolphins. Eventually, we saw some pink dolphins from a distance.
Next, our guide took us to a tributary of the river so we could fish for piranha. Everyone was given a stick with nylon line, a hook, and bait. We dropped our lines into the water, swishing the tip of the stick in the water to attract the piranha. It didn’t take long before everyone had caught at least one fish. They were quite small but fierce with their rows of razor-sharp teeth.
It was quiet on the water and hot, even in the shade of the trees. It was one of those special moments to sit and memorize in my mind.
Night Hike in the Jungle
On the first night at the lodge, our guide led us on a night hike through the jungle behind the lodge. First, we put on layers of clothing and mosquito repellent. This didn’t help much, as the mosquitos were seriously out for our blood. We ended up with bites in many places which were covered!
I was so excited to see what animals and insects we could see out in the dark with our tiny headlamps. Before we even stepped down into the swampland, our guide showed us tarantulas living above our heads in the ceiling of the thatched roof of the lodge. This was something we kept our eye out for the next few days as we walked around the lodge.
We had been given gumboots, which are rubber boots which go up to the knee. They sure came in handy as we walked through the wetlands and jungle.
Our guide taught us so much and pointed out different things along the hike; ground tarantulas, poisonous bullet ants, frogs and different species of spiders.
I loved hiking at night with only a headlamp, and I kept mine turned off because the insects would swarm me too much to walk through. The darkness really changed my perception of the jungle and magnified each sound. It was awesome!
Some our group got up with the sun early the next morning to go bird watching by boat. It was quiet and peaceful along the river and the temperature was mild. We saw several different birds and sloths up in the trees. Our guide was very excited about the birds and would take out his guidebook to show us each specific bird and explain its lifestyle and traits to us. We were relaxed and had a mellow time.
Later, we took a two-hour hike through the jungle behind our lodge. We were covered with clothing, mosquito repellant, and wore our gumboots.
After about an hour we saw monkeys high up in the canopy. There must have been thirty of them. They moved quickly from tree to tree.
Our guide pointed out mushrooms, highly toxic bullet ants and multi-colored frogs.
The heat was stifling and humid, but I really enjoyed the hike. It seemed like most of nature was napping, it was much quieter than our night hike. We moved at a slow pace and really took in our surroundings. You never know what you could miss in the dense ecosystem of the jungle.
Our downtime in between excursions was often spent at the pool cooling off or in the dining room. The staff served local cuisine with a variety of salads, meat, and fruit.
A very special part of our lodge experience was when we went out on an open-air boat to float down the river at night. Our driver took us way up the river, cut the motor and we just floated down the river in silence. The moon was reflected off the water and the air temperature was cooler than the jungle. We felt like the tiniest specks in the universe as we floated in the darkness.
In Search of Sloth
The next day, we were out in the boat going down nearby tributaries in search of sloth. We saw several and quickly learned how to spot them high up in the trees. They look like a ball of coconuts, or even one coconut if they aren’t stretched out and moving.
We also saw a ton of different birds. They were more abundant and closer to us than the ones we had seen when we went bird watching. Our guide wasn’t interested in the birds though! He was focused on finding a sloth!
After lunch, we went back out in the boat to visit a local, indigenous tribe of Yaguas. They performed a traditional dance for us in their meeting hut.
Also, they taught us how to shoot a blowgun, which we got to try. It was fun to do something so different.
We all bought handicrafts as a way to support the local tribe so they could continue educating visitors about their culture.
Scott and I bought a blow gun to add to our alpaca blanket collection. We were filling up our backpacks to the max on this trip.
Up one of the tributaries, we stopped at a village and saw the local school. Kids arrive by boat each day for class.
Queen of the Water Lily and Sugar Cane Distillery
Back in the boat again later, our next stop was the home of a local who had his own sugar cane rum distillery. We learned the process of pressing the sugar cane, as well as fermentation. It’s all done without electricity, with just a mule to turn the wheel of the press.
After, we sampled several of the rums. A few were delicious, but some were as strong as jet fuel, which burned my throat all the way down!
Scott and I bought a couple of bottles to enjoy back at the lodge.
At the edge of the property was a large pond, right next to the river. It was full of the “Queen of the Water Lily,” also known as the Amazon Giant Water Lily. As you can imagine, they are huge!
Later, we went for a short boat ride down the river. Our destination, the home of a man who had caught a thirteen-foot anaconda while he was fishing. He kept it in an underground bunker in his yard with a caiman and a turtle.
It was a way to supplement his income by allowing groups to see and touch the anaconda. I don’t support people making money off of animals in this way and was uncomfortable with the situation. Scott felt it was alright to make money to support your family in this way.
Positives and Negatives of Our Lodge Visit
We had so much fun on our Amazon adventure. There are plenty of excursions and we learned so much about the biodiversity of the Amazon Basin.
The lodge was environmentally conscious and used sustainable practices.
The negatives; not seeing more animals in the jungle, like anteaters or parrots.
If you are considering a visit to the Amazon, be sure to research lodges thoroughly and read reviews. It can be the experience of a lifetime!
To read more about our experiences in Peru, please click here.