Visiting The Peruvian Amazon

Visiting Puerto Maldonado

Visiting Puerto Maldonado
By Tony Dunnell

In comparison to Iquitos and the northern Amazon, the southern region around Puerto Maldonado sits at a slightly higher altitude and has much more dry land. This makes for better year-round wildlife-spotting and nature hikes through the forest.

The region is home to two famed wildlife reserves: Manú National Park and Tambopata National Reserve.

Both parks offer vast areas of largely untouched lowland rainforest and rank among the most biodiverse regions on the planet. Choosing which one to visit is a tough decision, but a few factors will help you decide.

Visiting Puerto Maldonado

On this page:
Peru-puerto-maldonado-clay-lick

One of Puerto Maldonado's famous clay licks

Puerto Maldonado & Tambopata

Tambopata National Reserve covers more than 1,000 square miles of rainforest in the Madre de Dios Region of Peru.

Hunting and logging have been prohibited in the area since 1977 and the first reserve was created in 1990. Thanks to these protective measures, Tambopata is an almost untouched refuge for thousands of animal species, including around 595 species of birds and more than 1,200 butterfly species.

The reserve is also famous for its macaw clay licks, particularly at Collpa de Guacamayos. Here, thousands of colourful macaws and parrots arrive daily to feed on the salts in the mineral-rich clay.

If you’re lucky – and there are no guarantees in the jungle – you might see a collared peccary, giant river otter, Peruvian spider monkey or two-toed sloth. And if you’re very fortunate, you might catch a glimpse of a jaguar or puma.

Amazon turtle in Tambopata National Reserve Peru

Amazon turtle, Tambopata

Tambopata National Reserve receives more visitors than Manú simply because it’s more accessible and, in most cases, significantly more affordable.

Puerto Maldonado, the capital of the Madre de Dios Region, is close to the reserve and receives daily flights from Cusco and Lima. Jungle lodges inside the reserve can be reached within two hours, and their accessibility makes them cheaper than those in Manú.

Jungle trips from Puerto Maldonado to the Tambopata National Reserve typically last three or four days at most. They are easy to arrange and therefore easy to fit into your itinerary.

Tambopata is, therefore, a better option for travellers on a budget or short on time. If you’re really short on time, you can take a day trip, or spend the night, at Lake Sandoval, located about two hours from Puerto Maldonado by boat.

The lake is a wildlife hotspot, and you’ll likely see caiman, turtles, monkeys, a huge amount of colourful birds and maybe some giant river otters. A handful of lodges sit on or near the lake, so you can stay for longer if you like.

Manú National Park

For the ultimate jungle experience, adventurous travellers head into Manú National Park. Covering 6,600 square miles and encompassing lowland jungle, Andean puna grasslands, mountain cloud forest and yunga forests, Manú is an unrivalled reserve of terrestrial biodiversity.

The park is home to some 850 species of birds and 160 species of mammals and serves as a vital haven for many rare species, including giant otters and giant armadillos. It’s also the best place in Peru for spotting jaguars, which are often seen in the park.

Jungle lodge Manu national park

Jungle lodges in Manu National Park, Peru

Manú National Park spans parts of both the Cusco and Madre de Dios regions of Peru.

Established in 1973, it has remained almost entirely untouched by human activities. Indigenous peoples, such as the Machiguenga, are the only permanent inhabitants. For this reason, access and infrastructure within the park are extremely limited. Accommodation within the park is typically rustic, with larger lodges located just outside the park boundaries; if you want to stay in a luxury jungle lodge, you might want to consider Tambopata instead. But if you’re happy to camp or stay in simple stilted wooden structures, then a multiday trip into Manú is well worth considering.

Jungle trips into Manú require more time and planning than those in Tambopata. With no commercial flights to the region, and only infrequent and unreliable light aircraft serving a small airstrip at Boca Manú, just getting to the park is an adventure.

Most trips depart from Cusco and involve a six- to eight-hour trip overland via Paucartambo before descending into the Amazon Basin. Once at the park boundary, groups typically travel for a day or more by land and river to get further into the reserve.

These trips, therefore, last a minimum of five days, while expeditions of two weeks or more are not uncommon. The inaccessibility, travel times and general logistics of tours into the park make Manú National Park a more expensive option than Tambopata. You can expect to pay two or three times as much per day for a trip into Manú, but if you’re looking for a true deep-jungle Amazonian adventure, Manú is hard to beat.

Both Manú and Tambopata are open throughout the year. The dry season runs from May to October, and during this time trail conditions are at their best. During the rainy season, from November to April, expect muddy trails and hordes of mosquitoes, but also an increased chance to see wildlife due to the higher water levels.

Visiting Puerto Maldonado

Tony Dunnell

Tony has been living in Peru since 2009. He has also written on a range of subjects for publications such as Atlas Obscura, Vice, Mental Floss, and many more. You can see more of his writing at tonydunnell.com.

Why Horizon Guides?

Impartial guidebooks

Impartial guidebooks

Our travel guides are written by the leading experts in their destinations. We never take payment for positive coverage so you can count on us for impartial travel advice.

Expert itineraries

Expert itineraries

Suggested itineraries and routes to help you scratch beneath the surface, avoid the tourist traps, and plan an authentic, responsible and enjoyable journey.

Specialist advice

Specialist advice

Get friendly, expert travel advice and custom itineraries from some of the world’s best tour operators, with no spam, pressure or commitment to book.