Exploring the Amazon

As a nature lover and a Latin American travel specialist, I get to enjoy exploring those off-the-beaten-path places as well as the places commonly visited by tourists. I am happiest when exploring in the great outdoors. The Amazon region of South America is an ideal way to commune with nature. I have explored different Amazonian regions six times now. Each trip has had its absolute highs, and each experience has been unique, as nature is always unpredictable.
My first adventure was to the Coca region of Ecuador. We flew in a small plane from Quito to the town of Coca. There we repacked only what was needed for our three-night adventure into water tight bags. The two plus hour boat ride with no bathrooms on the amazing Amazon tributary river in the rain seemed eternal.

We then pulled up to the shore area and had to hike a short distance of about a quarter mile, and then paddle across a lake to our lodge. The lodge was a perfect way to experience the rain-forest. No air conditioning, but instead, screened windows all around to let in the cool night air. I was pleasantly surprised that they offered hot water showers, but soon discovered they were not needed, as the humidity made it feel warm and damp, so a cold shower was refreshing. As I sat on my porch, small tamarind monkeys appeared and stared at me. The days were filled with nature hikes and kayaking experiences, and I soon discovered that birding was of great interest to me. The local naturalist guides were amazing on how they could spot birds and other reptiles and animals seemingly out of nowhere. We also saw an anaconda, tree boa, iguanas, frogs, and the list of insects was too large to count. The monkeys were entertaining us on virtually all our hikes. They certainly are not quiet as they move through the rain-forest foraging for food. At night we also did some hikes where the tarantulas and other night spiders and bugs would come out to greet us. It was a bit more intimidating for me to spot creatures at night!

Pro-tip: Bring bug spray and wear long sleeved shirts, pants and a good hat. No jeans – it is too hot for them.
This experience encouraged me to explore the Amazon region of Peru next, so I visited the Puerto Maldonado region of Peru. This Amazon region is dotted with small lodges of all quality levels, depending on your budget. I visited this region two times and stayed in two types of lodges – high end and budget. The nature experiences were very similar, so the only difference was the quality of the lodging. The naturalist guides were very knowledgeable and masters at spotting critters even in the dense canopy of the rain forest. The birding continued to be remarkable. Most days we spotted upward of 60 to 100 different bird species. I also became even more comfortable around the reptiles, including snakes, as they really just mind their own business. Although Peru and Ecuador are neighbors, many of the wildlife sightings were unique to that region.
Pro-tip: Keep a log of your sightings. Most lodges provide a chart to help check off what you see on your different nature hikes.

As a travel specialist, I get contacted often by suppliers wanting me to experience their properties/lodges/boats. I was contacted by a river boat supplier in the Iquitos area of Peru, which is a completely different area of Peru than Puerto Maldonado. In the Iquitos area (about a two hour flight from Lima), you transfer upon arrival less than two hours to a small community called Nauta. Here there are a handful of river boat suppliers and lodges that are starting points. This region can be explored either way, so I chose the boat option since I had done lodges previously. For my experiences in this part of the Amazon, I have come in the high water season and the low water season. The only difference is in the amount of rain. During the high water season, it seemed that this entire region of the Amazon was underwater. Even those that live on the banks are living in houses on stilts with water all around them, and they navigate between their houses, schools and common areas in small dug-out canoes. The children are quite proficient with swimming and paddling. Since the water level is so high, most of the excursions are by boat in small skiffs. You cruise the banks to spot birds, mammals and reptiles. As you are so close to the trees, the birding is amazing. I returned again, this time in low water season, to compare. The difference in water level was significant – maybe 40-45 feet lower. Those same villages that previously sat in water were now up on a hill with steep steps to access them. You can see the markings on the tree line where the water level was and all the downed trees that fall along the banks during high water season are not sticking up all along the banks. The smaller tributary rivers are no longer navigable even in the skiffs, as they become too shallow. We did a night boat trip to spot caiman in one of these small tributaries and kept getting stuck. Since I don’t love the night excursions, I was a bit nervous, however the naturalist guides and the boat team knew what to do to get us out! As far as nature sightings in high versus low season, you still see about the same. We saw pink dolphins, sloths, a variety of monkeys, anacondas, boas, tarantulas and, of course, more birds than I can remember. I did keep a bird list that was provided by the boat team, so I have a solid list of what we spotted. We did a fun activity – fishing for piranha and then swimming in the same water – the piranha don’t bother you!
Pro-Tip: They do provide binoculars that are very good, but if you prefer yours, bring them. Did I mention – bug spray is a must!

I then decided to return to the Amazon of Ecuador and do a boat option rather than lodge in between my two boat trips in Peru. This boat stays on the main river the entire time, and each day you go by a skiff to explore the different tributaries, sometimes getting off the skiff and hiking inland to spot more wildlife. Keep in mind, this river is not the Amazon River but a tributary, and quite impressive in size. It makes the Mississippi look like a creek! They provide you with rubber boots and have a boarding location with baskets where you leave your rubber boots, socks, bug spray, sunscreen and the like. We had the opportunity to experience the parrot lick where thousands of parrots show up to eat the minerals this particular location on the river bank has.
Because it is the rainforest, you will experience rain, so wear the type of clothing that can hang and dry easily. They do provide rain ponchos but you they get hot, so I also travel with a light rain pullover that was ideal for light rains. You will need the poncho for the heavy rain, though.
The different boat companies in both Peru and Ecuador offer from four to 18 +/- cabin sized boats, and three and four night itineraries, so depending on your budget, there is an option for everyone that wants to experience the rainforest. You can stay in the lodges for as few as two nights, so if time is of concern, this is a great option to consider as well. I still have to explore the Amazon region in Brazil – maybe someday!

I just completed an Amazon boat trip in Peru during this Pandemic. The precautions include testing before boarding, and the crew is all tested and then quarantined to the boat. They wear masks all the time, but we were not required to since we had all tested negative. With prior visits to the Amazon, we would visit the local communities. This time we were not allowed into the communities so all our daily excursions were nature related. That is the only disappointment of this trip, as mingling with the locals is so rewarding, as they play such a critical part of preserving the beautiful and amazing Amazon basin. Hopefully this will change soon, but for now, they must protect these communities.
The end result of exploring the Amazon is that you will see many, many, many birds and so much other amazing wildlife. To learn more about exploring the Amazon region, contact Lori Snow with Condor Tours & Travel or visit the web site www.condortoursandtravel.com. You can contact Lori and her team at info@condortt.com or by phone at 770-339-9961.

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