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
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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!
Photo 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!
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!
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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.