While I could have happily spent six days within the confines of the two stunning lodges we stayed at with Rainforest Expeditions, apparently most people come to the jungle to actually look at wildlife rather than just flip through field guides and spot agoutis and wild boars from the comfort of their hammocks. So weird, right?
But it turns out we didn’t have to do much searching. This amazing little area of the world is positively bursting with flora and fauna. I had seen a fair amount of wildlife in the jungles surrounding Iquitos, and I was skeptical when I was told that it would be even more abundant around Puerto Maldonado. But the rumors were true. Simply boating to, from, and between the lodges we spied so many creatures on the riverbanks! My favorite was the guinea-pig-on-steroids capybara, though a mysterious otter-like creature was a close runner-up.
Each day at the lodges we took at least one walk through the long network of trails that tangled through the surrounding jungle. As I mentioned in my last post, the size of the rainforest surround Tambopata Research Center in particular astounded me — I’ve never seen such a tall canopy of trees! As with my first trip to the jungle, I was inspired and energized by the patterns, colors, and textures all around me. What an artist nature is!
Warning: if you suffer from an extreme fear of insects, just close your eyes and scroll past the next five or so photos. Because out in the rainforest, they supersize ’em. I almost fainted when our guide tapped a hole in the ground with a stick and a tarantula the size of my outstretched fingers popped out.
That, I managed to keep it together for. The spiders we saw on the night walk? Not so much. Both Anders and I and the other couple that was a part of our group ran screaming through the jungle back to the lodge, Blair-Witch-Project-Style, after we spotted these.
I think I like the jungle better during the day. After all, that’s when the monkeys come out to play! We spotted at least three different varieties — red howlers, capuchins, and spider monkeys. Our guide was a master at identifying which species we were about to be treated to based on details like the sound of the rustling leaves.
What Rainforest Expeditions, and Tambopata Research Center in particular, is famous for is macaws. There are natural clay licks in certain spots around the reserve that are excellent for observing all kinds of colorful birds, and researchers come from far and wide to gather at TRC and study these beautiful parrots.
One morning, we were lucky enough to observe the researchers gathering data at a macaw nest. How many people can say they know what a week-old macaw looks like?
While they were cute in an ugly kind of way, grown up macaws beautiful in a regal kind of way. And we got to see so many of them. So many! Heading to the clay lick meant waking up at 4:30am, but wow — was it worth it.
Throughout our time with Rainforest Expeditions, Anders had an ongoing joke with our guide that he didn’t care about anything we saw — unless it was a jaguar. Fifty macaws would take off in flight in front of us, and Anders would sigh and mutter about jaguars. Howler monkeys would scream overhead, and Anders would ask where the jaguar was.
The joke paid off on our very last day, when not one but two jaguars strolled out on the riverbanks ahead of us.
Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I shrieked to the point that the guide had to remind me to be quiet. With shaking hands I managed to capture proof of the ultimate brag-worthy wildlife sighting. Seeing two jaguars together is extremely rare — the two of them looked on bored as we watched them through trained lenses. Eventually we won the staring match and they sauntered into the jungle, leaving us to hug and congratulate ourselves on a jungle trip well done.
The Where-to-Do-a-Jungle-Trip: Iquitos vs. Puerto Maldonado debate is a common one. Having now visited both, I believe that if wildlife viewing is your first priority, you should head to Puerto Maldonado. While I did view animals in Iquitos that I didn’t see in Puerto Maldonado, such as pink dolphins, sloths, and anacondas, the overall sightings in were more abundant and rewarding in Puerto. It seemed the jungle was bursting with life! My favorite thing about Iquitos and the Amazon was observing the many cultures there and seeing the way people live along the world’s mightiest river, but sadly civilization brings with it many ills, including pollution, poaching, and reckless hunting. I’m very grateful I was able to have both experiences, as it would be impossible for me to choose one experience over the other.
What’s been your best wildlife sighting so far?
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Many thanks to Rainforest Expeditions for their generous hospitality. I was a guest of the company in order to promote them on this site and through my freelancing outlets. As always, you receive my thorough and honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.
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