When we decided to travel South America, we knew that we wanted to experience the Amazon. The jungle is quite large and covers part of Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. We chose to see the Amazon when we were in Peru as the logistics were much simpler since we could take a bus instead of having to fly, saving us money.
The day we arrived in Cusco, we decided to shop around at different tour companies to get as much information on Amazon tours as we could. After getting pricing and timelines from all of the companies we went back to our hostel and checked TripAdvisor for reviews. We ended up choosing Carlos Expeditions which had us staying at Monte Amazonico Lodge. Both had great reviews from what we could find online. After booking our tour, the only thing we would need was transportation to and from Puerto Maldonado.
Cruz del Sur Bus
There are a number of different busses that service the Cusco to Puerto Maldonado route. We chose Cruz del Sur as their drivers seem to be much more safe, not speeding or taking corners too quickly.
When we boarded the bus we had blankets and pillows laid out on our seats. I told Andy that I was excited these were larger than other blankets that we had gotten previously and he was confused. We then compared our blankets and noticed that his was quite a bit smaller. Since I’m shorter, I took one for the team and used the little blanket.
About 30 minutes into the ride we were given our dinner which consisted of a cold hamburger with a packet of mayo and a juice box. While I wish that I was joking, I am not. Fortunately we have learned that bus dinners are usually quite bad and always eat before, just in case.
The bus was equipped with on demand TVs which was nice since it was still a bit early to go to sleep. I watched Cinderella, or should I say read the movie since it was only available in English subtitles and Andy watched Robot Overlords which was in English with Spanish subtitles.
As we were waiting for the bus we saw an infant. Both of us crossed our fingers that the baby would not be on our bus, but knew it probably would. Once we saw they were ready to board we prayed that they would be on the upper deck as we were on the lower deck. As luck would have it, they were seated directly behind us.
While we don’t normally sleep well on night busses we had a double whammy. To the side of us we had a guy snoring super loud and to the rear we had a baby who cried what seemed like every 45 minutes for a solid 5 minutes.
While it wasn’t the best bus ride, we learned that it could have been worse. Others on our Amazon tour took a bus that was included in their tour price which did not have air conditioning and the seats barely reclined.
When we arrived in Puerto Maldonado, we were picked up at the bus station. I am pretty sure it was our ride at least, they were looking for a Lim Giurad. We were told we had to wait for a few more people to arrive that were on different busses. While we waited, we took off our glasses and put in our contacts. It was the first time that I had ever had an audience watching me put in contacts. Some local boy was absolutely fascinated with what I was doing to my eye, standing about 2 feet away staring at me the entire time, then watching Andy as he put in his contacts.
When all of the busses had arrived, everyone hopped in the van and we headed to the office where we completed paperwork. From there, we took the van to the river where we rode an hour to the lodge. We then got a run down of the lodge and keys to our room.
Our room was quite large and while basic, had everything that we needed. Believe me, it could have been a heck of a lot more rustic than it was. Wanting to get showered after spending the night on the bus, I hopped in and took the first cold shower of the week. It wasn’t so bad since it was hot out but really woke you up when you got in!
The first activity was a nature hike around the lodge. We saw quite a few plants and learned about their purposes.
Even though we didn’t see a lot of animals on our hike, we still had some fun. There is a boar that lives at the lodge who followed us on the hike who reminded us of the dog that followed us on our nature hike in Costa Rica. The highlight for me though was the little orphaned monkey that rode on people’s shoulders during the hike. For some reason he only liked women, not riding on any of the men.
One of the things that I was most excited about was a visit to Monkey Island. I absolutely love monkeys and had in my head an entire island overrun with monkeys. We hopped on the boat and took a short ride across the river and down a little. When we arrived we hiked through the jungle, not seeing any monkeys the entire way. It was a little muddy as it was rainy season, but the lodge provided everyone with rubber boots. This allowed us to get where we needed to go without ruining our shoes.
We stopped at a certain point and saw a few capuchin and white face monkeys in the trees. Our guide told us that there used to be many more monkeys but the existing monkeys cannibalized the other monkeys on the island. There are only 12 monkeys left on the island, something that makes me think that the name should not be monkey island anymore.
Our guide had brought a bag full of fruit so we could all feed the monkeys. I went first and the somewhat skittish monkey grabbed the fruit from my hand then ran up the tree to eat it. A few more people fed the monkeys before one of the monkeys showed our group his teeth. Our guide told us that we were done and everyone headed back to the boat.
For our night activity, we road in a boat down the river and were on the lookout for caimans, a relative of the alligator/crocodile family. Since it was night, our guide used a very large light to look for the glow of their eyes in the river and along the riverbank.
While I was hoping that we would see some big caiman, we only saw a few babies. It was still good, we were able to see something and finally picked the right side of the boat to sit on. This allowed us to get some good pics of the caiman that we saw.
Even though we didn’t see any larger caiman during our night ride on the lake, we ended up seeing a decent size caiman on our ride back to Puerto Maldonado on our last day. Luckily, the guy driving the boat slowed down and got closer so that we could get some photos.
The second day we had an extremely early wake up call. Breakfast was at 4:30am and we had to be on the boat at 5am to head to Sandoval Lake.
While normally getting up is hard, this was even more difficult as it was pitch black out and there was no electricity so we had to get ready by flashlight. Andy was able to endure a cold shower, but for me it was just too much to take that early in the morning.
In addition to our breakfast, we were given a bag of snacks to eat later in the day. This included an apple, orange, cookies and a juice box. This was essential as our lunch wasn’t until 1pm so it would have been a very long time between meals.
After our activities, everyone was able to veg out in the afternoon. I believe that just about everyone including us used this time to take a nap. We also got on our computer to save pictures on the computer and write an article for the blog.
We took a short 20 minute boat ride and then had to hike 3 kilometers or just under 2 miles to get to Lake Sandoval. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal the entire path was muddy. I thought I had seen muddy before but this took it to a whole new level. Luckily we had rubber boots provided by the lodge so I was able to walk through the mud without wrecking my shoes.
Along the path, en route to Lake Sandoval, we saw quite a few different animals. Sadly, we just missed the macaws who arrive early to feed on a dead palm tree, rich in nutrients, in the area. We were able to see squirrels, monkeys, caterpillars, leaf cutter ants, butterflies and fire ants – one of which decided to bite me.
When we arrived to Lake Sandoval we hopped into a canoe and paddled through a swampy area before we reached the lake. When we were on the lake we saw many turtles, long nose bats, lots of birds and more butterflies. One of the butterflies landed on my arm and was eating my sweat. Even though it sounds disgusting, butterflies know what nutrients they need and where to get them.
There are over 7,000 different types of butterflies in the Amazon and 1,000 types in the area that we were in. It seemed like every time we looked around, we saw a different extremely beautiful butterfly that put our most beautiful butterflies to shame. We also learned a fun butterfly fact – to attract them, all you need to do is urinate and they will come. That is the scientific method that scientists use to attract and document different varieties of butterflies in the wild.
By the time that we returned to the boat, walking another 3 kilometers down the muddy path, both Andy and I were impressed with how much better I had gotten at walking in the mud. It was leaps and bounds better than my first, rather horrible attempt in Sapa, Vietnam.
After some time to relax, we gathered and went on a night walk near the lodge. Once we started the walk, the first 3 trees had tarantulas on them. One of the girls in our group had a fear of spiders so this freaked her out beyond belief. She knew that there would be tarantulas, but had no clue that there would be so many, especially so close to the lodge.
We didn’t see any large animals on the walk – mostly just spiders, other insects and a frog. While it wasn’t the most exciting wildlife, it was still interesting to see a different side of the jungle.
Taking pictures in the dark is always hard but fortunately, Andy was able to get a few good shots from our walk. By the end of the walk, we were ready to get inside. Even with our insect repellant, there were mosquitos everywhere trying to bite us.
The third day was dubbed “adventure day” or as I called it “lazy day”. We had some rain and opted out of other activities because I just did not feel that the safety standards were high enough.
I really like fishing so naturally I was excited to go piranha fishing. We used old school poles which were basically a branch with a line and hook on them. To attract the fish our hooks were baited with pieces of lamb. I kept feeling bites on my line but wasn’t able to hook a fish.
Andy was lucky to catch the only fish of the day. Unfortunately, it was not a piranha, only a sardine. Shortly afterwards, the rainclouds that we had seen lurking nearby opened up. It was an absolute downpour. We put on ponchos that we purchased before the trip and rode as fast as we could in the boat back to the lodge.
The rainstorm that had started during our fishing trip was still going on when it was time for our next activity – kayaking. I decided that even though I would be in a swimsuit, getting soaking wet and kayaking wasn’t my idea of a good time. I relaxed in the nice dry lodge instead.
Andy, along with everyone else in our group, were more adventurous than me and went kayaking. The group took the boat up the river and paddled down the river, using the current to their advantage. Part way through their kayak ride, they made a stop at a beach on monkey island which Andy said had pretty soft sand.
Andy then returned to the lodge dripping wet, ready to change into some dry, warm clothes and relax.
Zipline and Canopy Walk
When we booked the tour I was very much looking forward to the zipline and canopy walk. Once I got a look at how everything was built, I decided that I just did not feel comfortable on it. Even the walk up was scary, as if you made a misstep and slid down the stairs, there was nothing to block you from falling off the platform. The workmanship was shoddy and the argument of “nobody has died before” was not the assurance that I was looking for.
We decided to opt out, knowing if something were to happen that we would be in the absolute worst place – an hour boat ride to a small town, not exactly the best medical care available. While I felt lame, I knew that it was the right decision for us. The group that went was fine but did say that the adrenaline rush was mostly from knowing that the safety wasn’t fully there.
We are really glad that we experienced the Amazon jungle. Even though the accommodations were a little bit rustic, they had everything that we truly needed and made us appreciate all of the basic things that we have at home like electricity and hot water.
We knew that it would be hot but it was HOT and the humidity was off the charts! Andy argues that it was hotter than Cartagena but I disagree on this, putting the Amazon as the 3rd hottest place I have been putting Cartagena at the top spot and Panama City in the second spot. The reason I don’t think it was as hot as Cartagena was that there were more places with shade in the Amazon which helped make the temperature feel a bit cooler.
The biggest annoyance for me was the fact that the tours were given in 2 different languages – English and Spanish. This made explanations about the plants and animals take twice as long as it would have taken had the groups been split into English and Spanish. Luckily, the second day we were split into groups by language which helped speed things along.
We were sold a 4 day, 3 night tour but it was more like a 3 day, 3 night tour. The last day we arrived in Puerto Maldonado, the city outside of the Amazon, at 10am. This left us almost 12 hours before our night bus back to Cusco. We booked a hostel for the day so we could drop off our bags and relax. While it wasn’t the best hostel, it only cost us 53 sols or $16. In hindsight, we should have booked a 3 day, 2 night tour as we could have caught an afternoon bus after our fishing and kayaking expeditions.