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.

Traveling to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands During a Pandemic


We traveled to Ecuador during the Covid-19 epidemic. Our own vaccination was required before we could travel. While we did have to wear our masks on the plane and in public spaces, however, when in our hotel rooms, in our guide’s car and on the catamaran, we were able to remove our masks.

Upon arrival in Quito, we went through customs. This took about 30 minutes. We did have to provide the completed form that we were given to fill out on the plane. After customs, we found our guide waiting for us to take us to the hotel for our stay in Quito.

The Ecuadorian people are very welcoming. They are glad to have tourists back and make every effort to insure your comfort and enjoyment. The staff at the hotel Illa Experience went out of the way to make our stay memorable. We enjoyed some type of Ecuadorian tea or cocoa each evening when we returned from our travels. The rooftop view in the evening is not to be missed. The restaurants we visited each evening were just a short distance walk down quaint streets, and the food was worth the walk.

Our guide was so knowledgeable about his country. He spoke of the history, the cultures and the current struggles of his country. He was patient with us, endeavoring to give thoughtful and honest answers to all of our questions and to help us with the language and pronunciations. After discovering our common love of music, he even gave us a sampling of his music by serenading us on his guitar on our last day. What a joy that was!

We learned of the early history of the region, dating back to the 1400s and even earlier. We saw beautiful cathedrals covered in gold, we visited a public marketplace on their Saturday event, we talked about and saw the earliest designation of the equator line, as well as the newer location designated now that we have GPS for location. Quite honestly, I am amazed that they were only off by about 200 meters in the 1700s. We saw the simple living conditions of most of Quito, an ancient city. We traveled the narrow cobblestone hilltop streets and ventured through the valley surrounded by seven volcanoes. We were able to hike to a beautiful valley where we saw, Cara Cara birds nesting on the cliffs, deer in the fields, wild horses in the valley and all manner of beautiful plants and unusual ground coverings that promote water flow. We tested our favorite potato soup at multiple locations along the way, each with a different flavor. We were greeted by smiles and simple courtesies all along the way.

Galapagos Tortioise
Frigate Bird

After three days in Quito, we boarded our plane to fly to the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival, after proceeding through the line here to pay the entrance fee to the Islands and ensure we were not bringing any prohibited items to the Islands, we were allowed entrance. The line took about 20 minutes. We were then greeted by the guide for our trip through the Galapagos Islands. We were ushered to our ship The Seaman’s Journey, a catamaran, that we would call home for the next four days along with our fellow eight passengers. Once onboard the catamaran, we started our trip with shoes stored away for our voyage. While on board or just with our group on outdoor excursions, we and the crew ditched the masks. We only had to wear our mask if we were in public spaces or parks. Each day, we had our three meals with a variety of simple choices and plenty of fruit drinks at a large dinner table along with our fellow passengers. On our trip, we joined a family of four from Germany, a couple from Switzerland, another couple from Ohio and our group of three. We enjoyed getting to know our fellow passengers. For our trip through the Islands, we explored deserted islands with beautiful white sand beaches, volcanic rock outcroppings and massive rock tunnels we motored through on dinghies, hikes through arid brush to visit the large tortoises, and snorkeling through clear waters with the sea lions as our playful companions. We saw hundreds of blue footed boobies, multiple pairs of albatrosses, the colorful oyster catchers, wave-surfing iguanas, and always the sunning sea lions. We were even escorted to shore by a pod of about thirty dolphins at one location.

Juvenile Sea Lions

Our flight from the Galapagos to Quito went as expected. Before our return trip to the States from Quito, we did have to take a Covid PCR test before we could fly back to the United States. Our travel assistant met us at the airport in Quito with a technician to take the test. The results were emailed to us. Our results did take 2 hours instead of 1 because of a storm electrical outage in the area. Make sure to get the assistant’s phone number because we did have some issues with the emails and had to have them emailed to another address. Upon arrival back in the States, we again went through customs. This line took about 30 minutes.

Sea Turtle – leatherback

This was truly a memorable trip. The images and the people will bring a smile to our faces long after we have returned to our regular days. It is definitely a trip I will remember fondly. To fully experience all that the islands have to offer, you need to be fairly ambulatory because a lot of the walking requires you to traverse sandy beaches or hop lava rocks. The hike to see the large tortoises was over four miles round trip. To get to the highest viewing point on one hike required the equivalent of about seven flights of stairs. For those people considering a trip of this nature in the future, I would suggest good walking shoes that you can wear when wet or that easily slip on and off, plenty of sunscreen, a light jacket for the cooler evenings and don’t forget your sunglasses and camera! Everything else you need is provided.

To learn more contact us at 770-339-9961 or  info@condortt.com or visit our web site www.condortoursandtravel.com