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Jungle Adventure

Welcome to the Jungle! Embark on an Amazon river adventure

Meet caimans and shamans on an Amazon jungle journey deep into the Peruvian rainforest.

By Jeannine Williamson

The Amazonian rainforest covers 60 per cent of Peru – which is more than any other country that is home to sections of the 4,345-mile Amazon river and its tributaries – yet only six per cent of the country’s population live in the region.

Human inhabitants are vastly outnumbered by 25,000 different plants, 1,800 species of birds, 360-plus mammals, 250 amphibians, 300 types of reptiles and 2,500 varieties of fish. The diversity of the rainforest’s flora and fauna is unmatched anywhere else on earth.

An internal flight from the capital Lima will take you to Iquitos. The riverside town was founded by Jesuit missionaries in the 18th century and is now the gateway to Amazon expeditions. From here you’ll travel to the remote 8,000 square mile Pacaya-Samiria Reserve which is Peru’s largest protected habitat. 

When you embark on an expedition in this part of the world you can put your watches and phones to one side as days are solely dictated by jungle time. Expect to wake at around 5.30am to the throaty roar of howler monkeys and birdsong that signal the start of another day. You’ll set off on daybreak outings in small boats, arriving back for breakfast and avoiding the sultry midday heat when the rainforest is silent and goes to sleep. 

Unlike African game safaris, Amazonian Peru is not about ticking off lots of boxes as you spot large animals. The wonder of the Amazon rainforest is all about waiting and listening until you find its much smaller inhabitants. With the help of expert guides you’ll see frogs, insects, spiders and snakes (you don’t have to get too close unless you want to!) and other creatures that are, to the untrained eye, totally invisible against the lush foliage.

High in trees there are languid sloths, which sleep for up to 20 hours a day. Closer to the forest floor there are numerous birds and monkeys and, notably, you’ll have the chance to swim in the river at a respectful distance to beautiful pink river dolphins. The largest freshwater dolphins take their name from the distinctive color caused by blood vessels close to the surface of their skin.

Late afternoon is the time for another boat excursion or trek, when a clicking cicada chorus marks the start of the forest awakening once more. Keep an eye out for caimans, the small but equally fearsome members of the alligator family that hunt along the river banks at dusk.

For local tribes, the South American rainforest is their supermarket, providing everything they need for food, house building and medicines. You’ll be fascinated to meet a shaman, or local spiritual healer, who visits local villages to practice curative rituals and give out medicines made from  plants collected from the rainforest.

The experience is a world away from South American charlatans that ‘promise’ tourists’ spiritual awakening by selling hallucinogenic drinks, sometimes with serious or even fatal consequences.

Here, you will be shown remedies such as the wonderfully named dragon’s blood, a harmless red tree sap that soothes skin irritations. Like everything else in this isolated region it’s a totally authentic experience completely removed from commercial and questionable tourism.

Published 01.01.24