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Having already spent a fair amount of time in the rainforest surrounding Iquitos, I wanted to make sure my time in the Puerto Maldonado jungle wasn’t repetitive. Luckily, Rainforest Expeditions offers an array of trips focusing on interests like photography, holistic wellness, and adventure. While all trips share the common rainforest exploration base, use the same lodges, and boast the same wildlife, the specialized emphasis makes these tours truly unique.

Classic rainforest tours consist of morning and afternoon jungle walks plus either extremely early morning trips to a macaw clay lick or evening expeditions by land or river. Anders and I were signed up for the Five Day Multi Sport Adventure Package, which meant that we subbed one jungle walk per day for a more adrenaline-based activity. This was the perfect fit for us. The other couple that we were paired with throughout the trip were serious birders and were more than content with the classic outings, but for these two hyperactive adventurers, that would have gotten a tad repetitive.

Stand Up Paddleboarding

I’ve become a bit of a SUP fanatic lately, paddling in Hawaii, Florida, and even in Cusco! I never would have dreamed that I’d round out the year Stand Up Paddling through the Amazon.

Stand Up Paddling at Refugio Amazonas

Stand Up Paddling in the Jungle

SUPing with Rainforest Expeditions

Stand Up Paddling at Refugio Amazonas

A motorized riverboat brought us upstream from Refugio Amazonas and the river pushed us back towards home, meaning that there wasn’t much cardio involved in this particular workout. However, these were some of the trickiest boards I’ve ever used in terms of balance, meaning it was still quite the challenging outing.

There was the psychological challenge as well — after all, this was the same river that the caiman-spotting expedition had taken the night before. Luckily we didn’t spot any toothy friends, though we did pause to watch pocket monkeys play in the trees along the riverbank.

SUPing in the Jungle

Stand Up Paddling at Refugio Amazonas

Stand Up Paddling in the Jungle

Canopy Climbing

Canopy climbing was by far the most physically challenging activity of the week. Replicating the work of the macaw scientists at Tambopata Research Center, we were to scale a 115 foot tall tree using nothing but our own brute strength.

Tree Climbing with Rainforest Expeditions

Tree Climbing with Rainforest Expeditions

As I watched our guide shimmy up the tree — the process involved yanking the upper ascender as high as possible and then using your lower body strength to pull yourself up — I started to doubt if I could make it. My tactic for ensuring I would? I just kind of spaced out when the guide explained what to do if we needed to turn back. No knowledge is power!

I shouldn’t have doubted myself. In around fourteen minutes, I had made it to the top. As I flopped onto the platform, exhausted, I could have sworn it had been twice that long.

Tree Climbing with Rainforest Expeditions

Spider at Tambopata Research Center

Tree Climbing at Tambopata Research Center

The view from the top was stunning, but when I spotted some particularly menacing looking insects I started cheering Anders on a little harder. Now, I’m not one to gloat — so you’ll have to ask Anders who won.

(That’s a lie. It was me! I won! Me me me!)

Tree Climbing with Rainforest Expeditions

Tree Climbing with Rainforest Expeditions

I had thought the hard part was over, but then I realized we had to rappel back down. You can tell from my expression how excited I was at being dangled over a hundred feet in the air by a single rope. Eventually, we made it back down to high-fives and high-adrenaline all around.

Tree Climbing at Tambopata Research Center

Tree Climbing with Rainforest Expeditions

Kakaying

Rain clouds were looming on the afternoon we were scheduled to kayak out of the Tambopata Research Center. “You might get a little wet,” the adventure guide warned, and Anders and I shrugged in response. We wouldn’t let a few raindrops stop us!

Adventure Tour with Rainforest Expeditions

Kayaking with Rainforest Expeditions

Kayaking in Puerto MaldonadoPhoto by Mike Langford of Tambopata Travel

Of course, a few raindrops turned into torrential downpour as we paddled through the heart of a thick, angry storm. It lasted for only a few minutes but the experience is one of my favorite memories of the trip — unable to see, we paddled harder and shouted out animalistic-cries over the thundering sheets of rain. When we came out on the other side I was drenched and laughing. Feeling the intensity of nature literally beat down and blind me temporarily was humbling.

Kayaking with Rainforest Expeditions

Kayaking at Tambopata Research Center

Again, we were paddling with the flow of the river and so it wasn’t an overly physically challenging endeavor. But traveling slowly and stealthily along the river is the best way to see wildlife — no boat motors here — and we drank in the macaws flying overhead and the capybaras observing us from the riverbanks.

Kayaking in the Jungle

Kayaking at Tambopata Research Center

Biking

While canopy climbing may have been the most challenging activity to my body, mountain biking was the most challenging to my mind. Ever since a mentally scarring motorbike crash in Thailand, I hate the feeling of being out of control of my speed on bikes, ATVs, and snowmobiles (strangely, my driving record will testify, this sensation does not apply to cars.)

Biking at Refugio Amazonas

Biking at Refugio Amazonas

Refugio Amazonas boasts over six miles of dedicated jungle biking trails. While Anders and the guide zipped off at full speed, I pedaled along cautiously, wary of the sticks snapping beneath my wheel and the tree branches brushing across my face. While the flat terrain was manageable, the ups and downs nearly ended me.

At one point, despite my grandma-like riding speeds, I managed to fall backwards off my bike while trying to make it over a hill. A monkey sighting soon after lifted my spirits.

Monkey at Refugio Amazonas

Biking with Rainforest Expeditions

Our ride ended at a clearing by the river, where we watched the sun set over the serene Tambopata River. I was glad I had faced one of my anxieties — and also glad it was over. Talk about series off-roading!

Biking Through the Jungle

While the lodges were stunning and the wildlife awe-inspiring, the unique activities we took part in are what I’ll remember most about our time with Rainforest Expeditions (okay, and maybe the jaguars). Not many people can say they’ve Stand Up Paddled through the Amazon, scaled a primary rainforest tree or mountain biked through the jungle! I’ll never forget this trip that managed to so seamlessly blend my love of good design, exotic flora and fauna, and heart-pumping active outings.

Would you be happy with a classic rainforest trip, or would you sign up for a specialized rainforest tour? If so, which one? Tell me in the comments below!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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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48 Comments...
  • Dad
    January 13 2014

    Wow, you added three more notches on your belt of amazing activities. Did Anders SUP? In the only picture he is kneeling. Might be another chance to gloat. Love Dad

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      Ha, he did stand up in one of the photos! The boards were quite challenging to balance on though and given his size he definitely had some issues.

  • Breanna
    January 13 2014

    The kayaking would probably have been my favourite. Even with the storm!

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      That was the best part 🙂

  • Andi
    January 13 2014

    I literally think you have the best travel blog right now! WOW!!!!!
    Andi recently posted..Germany With AirBerlin: Day 1

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      Thank you my dear! I really appreciate that coming from you!

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad
    January 13 2014

    Great post! I love the sepia-ish filter you used on your photos (or however you get them like that 🙂 ) That’s the most intense SUP I’ve ever seen!
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..How to Plan an Inexpensive but Awesome Trip Abroad

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      Hey Ashley, thanks! My point and shoot camera has started to really crap out on me and that was the one I used for most of the photos in this post. Hence I had to work some magic in post production, and I played with quite a few actions and filters to make them look funky! Glad you liked the results!

  • Stef
    January 13 2014

    What a great post. Amazing activities you guys did there. I think I would be a bit scared to do SUP in the Amazon. Climbing up the trees must be incredible!
    Stef recently posted..14 (Travel) Resolutions and Goals for 2014

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      For some reason I wasn’t too nervous! But maybe that’s because I already went swimming in the Amazon in Iquitos 🙂

  • Hogga
    January 13 2014

    this looks like such an amazing time! I’ve always wanted to do the stand-up paddle boarding

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      You’ve got to try it girl! It’s amazing.

  • Rachael
    January 13 2014

    Wow! This was a great post, thanks for sharing. I have added a few things to my bucket list.
    I don’t think I would be too thrilled about paddling around in caiman infested waters though….

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      You are so welcome Rachael! Thanks for reading and I’m glad I could help pad the bucket list 🙂

  • Krystle
    January 13 2014

    All of these activities sound amazing, especially the SUP! I think I would have signed up for the adventure activities as well. 🙂
    -Krystle
    Krystle recently posted..A Look Back

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      It was an amazing trip! I was super tempted by the photography courses as well.

  • Michael Hodson
    January 13 2014

    Looks like a blast — and p.s., your photography is really rocking it these days. Well done.
    Michael Hodson recently posted..6 Unique Things to Do in Pittsburgh

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      Thanks Michael! That’s much appreciated. Especially considering these were mainly with my crapping-out point and shoot.

  • Annie of TravelShus
    January 13 2014

    OMG SUP in the Amazon? Super awesome and now I’m even more jealous.

    Amazing photos as well. I love this post!
    Annie of TravelShus recently posted..Essential New York: The Garrison

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      Thanks Annie! I loved the trip, and I loved writing about it too!

  • allison
    January 13 2014

    Did you see the Macaws? We stayed at Wasai last summer and my 10 year old daughter absolutely loved the macaws and the kayaking great fun in the Amazon!

    • Alex
      January 13 2014

      Hey Allison, all the photos in this post are my own — as you can see, we spotted dozens and dozens of macaws! I’m glad you had a great time in the Amazon as well!

  • Gaelyn
    January 13 2014

    Love your enthusiasm! Ascenders are a work out for sure but repelling is a breeze. This is an amazing place. Think I’d have to mix up the adventure with birding.
    Gaelyn recently posted..Sunset from the Grand Canyon Lodge

    • Alex
      January 15 2014

      That was a great thing about this package, actually — it had a great balance of both! We usually did three excursions per day, one adventure one and two “regular” rainforest activities.

  • Heather
    January 13 2014

    I am 100% envious of your trip! The ‘adventure’ tour is exactly the type of tour I’d like to do. You did some activities you had done before, but it seems to have been all very different in the Amazon. You guys have TONS of energy!
    Heather recently posted..Departing Zambia – 100 Words of Reflection – Part 4 of 5

    • Alex
      January 15 2014

      Somehow in spite of the crazy humidity the jungle does give me a lot of energy! I find it very refreshing and inspiring just to be there.

  • Ellen
    January 13 2014

    Awesome post! Looks like so much fun. And I’m loving the photos.
    Ellen recently posted..pumpkin pie.

    • Alex
      January 15 2014

      Thanks Ellen! And happy travels!

  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    January 14 2014

    You keep talking about SUP and i’ve never tried it! I really want to and hear it’s a great work out. I was telling my bf you were in the amazon and there were caimans, and how I would never do that… and hes like didn’t you swim in the Nile? haha it was 3 years ago, I think each year I get a little less adventurous!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..Breaking Stereotypes of American Travelers

    • Alex
      January 15 2014

      Ha, I know that feeling! I can’t believe I went skydiving last year. Whenever I say it I’m like, um, did that really happen?!

  • Emily Roth
    January 14 2014

    The adventure tour looks fun. But I have bad balance on dry land so I’m not sure how well I’d do paddle boarding the amazon. Looks fun though.

    Makes me want to visit the jungle. If only I could find a travel buddy, cause I’m not brave enough like you to travel alone.

    • Alex
      January 15 2014

      Definitely try SUP with a big wide stable board first! Having done it a couple times now I can see how wildly the balance of different boards varies. And while I do travel alone often, I did have my travel buddy Anders with me on this trip. My first jungle trip in Iquitos was a solo one, though!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    January 14 2014

    Wow, I love the look of all these activities, but especially climbing up that tree (even though that would have somewhat terrified me at the same time). The view must be amazing!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..The day Chris lost his wedding ring

    • Alex
      January 15 2014

      It was fun to feel like one of the rainforest creatures for a few minutes 🙂

  • Jello
    January 14 2014

    I would gladly go through everything you’ve done and maybe add a marathon with the jaguars! Kidding! Seriously, you make me want to book a trip to South America right now!
    Jello recently posted..2013

    • Alex
      January 15 2014

      Ha! This comment made me laugh out loud. Thanks for that 🙂

  • Corinne
    January 15 2014

    Wow..that’s a lot of adrenaline! I have always wanted to try the ascender, but it looks grueling to say the least.

    Love, love, love your jungle photos!
    Corinne recently posted..Instagramming the Berlin Wall

    • Alex
      January 15 2014

      It reminded me of my first time trying rock climbing and trapezing… in the morning, I felt sore in muscles I had literally never felt before! It’s a surreal feeling.

  • Camels & Chocolate
    January 21 2014

    Girrrrl, you are all over some SUP!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..The World’s Coolest Shipwreck

    • Alex
      January 21 2014

      True story: I briefly entertained the idea of starting a SUP business in Thailand last year 🙂

  • Mike Langford
    January 27 2014

    Wow, you guys really did do a lots of activities in Tambopata!

    • Alex
      January 31 2014

      One per day! It was an action-filled trip.

  • Rebecca
    February 17 2014

    Okay, I’m about to reveal just how much of a wuss I am… but I just don’t think I could have paddleboarded in that water!! Eeek!
    Rebecca recently posted..Bali sunsets

    • Alex
      February 17 2014

      After seeing all the caiman eyes at night, I don’t blame you! Let’s just say I had a lot of confidence I wouldn’t fall!

  • Zee
    October 6 2015

    Hi Alex,

    I have just found your blog and am quickly becoming a fan. We are off to Peru next year and are trying to decide between going to Refugio Amazonas and going to the Tambopata Research centre. We only have 4 days/3 nights so the Refugio seems more convenient (and the rooms look nicer, which would be good straight after the Inca Trail and right before heading home to work) but it seems from the website like the Macaw clay lick is right next to the Research centre and we might see more animals by being out there? What do you think? Can you tell me the name of the package that you guys did? You seem to have done/seen/experienced everything we want to! Thanks so much! Z

    • Alex
      October 8 2015

      Hey Zee, check out my other posts in this series (there are three!). There’s a link to the package we did in the second paragraph. We did both lodges and loved it! You really can’t go wrong…

  • Jerridan
    January 15 2016

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for doing this 3-post series 2 years ago. I am planning a trip to Peru, and have had trouble deciding between going to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco or making the trip up to Iquitos. Both seem great, but this is convincing me that PM will likely be the better choice this round.

    • Alex
      January 17 2016

      I LOVED both and would have a hard time choosing between them. That said, they had really clear cut differences in my mind, so depending on the person it could be relatively easy to pick.

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