Ultimate Guide to Visit The Amazon from Puerto Maldonado

I made a Visit The Amazon from Puerto Maldonado in May 2022 and had an absolutely great time. Puerto Maldonado is the city that is the gateway to the Amazon Jungle located on the river Rio Madre de Dios. I chose to do a 4 day 3 night tour arriving by night bus from Cusco and going onto Puno. Here I explain the full itinerary of my experiences and the highlights of my time in the Amazon.

canopy walk puerto maldonado
Me in the trees of the Amazon!

About Puerto Maldonado

Puerto Maldonado is the city that is the gateway to the Amazon Jungle in Peru. In the city there is not much to visit with respect to tourist activities however it is the perfect spot to visit The Amazon from Puerto Maldonado. The city itself is home to 85,000 people.

Puerto Maldonado is located on Rio Madre de Dios, the river from the Amazon Basin that runs through Peru and Bolivia. Puerto Maldonado is located just next to the Tambopata National reserve, a protected area of rainforest and home to a huge variety of nature. Tambopata National reserve also includes Sandoval lake that can be toured by boat and is home to many Macaws.

Boat lake sandoval
Boats to go to Lake Sandoval

How to get to Puerto Maldonado

Puerto Maldonado is close to a grand total of nothing. Which makes the nature amazing but getting there is the biggest challenge. It is ‘close’ to Cusco by an overnight bus, this is the option I chose. I left Cusco after my Salkantay Trek to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu and this was the perfect balance after time in the mountains. The bus was meant to be 8 hours but ended up being 11 as it stopped often. I visited in the dry season which meant the roads were fine to drive down. I have heard that during the wet season there can often be issues with the roads flooding and the busses cannot pass.

If night busses are not your style, you can visit the Amazon from Puerto Maldonado by plane. Puerto Maldonado has an airport which offers internal flights to Lima.

I enjoyed climbing the trees so much!

Where to Stay in Puerto Maldonado

There are many hotels in Puerto Maldonado city including Tambopata hostel if you are on a budget. However, I recommend staying outside of the city in a lodge in the Amazon itself. These lodges have a wide range of options depending on your budget. The lodges are all inclusive as they tend to be remote and accessible by boat only.

Monte amazonica lodge
The view from my room

Why Visit Puerto Maldonado

The Amazon Rainforest in Puerto Maldonado is impressive and well protected. The variety of animals is extremely impressive. Visit The Amazon from Puerto Maldonado is a must do for your trip to Peru. The highlights of the area are:

  • Monkey Island
  • Macaw Clay Lick
  • Visit to Sandoval Lake
  • Possibilities to see jaguars (although rare!)
tambopata reserve
Spotted in Tambopata Reserve

Tour of the Amazon from Puerto Maldonado

I chose to visit visit The Amazon from Puerto Maldonado using a tour from Cusco. This was the simplest option and as I was travelling alone organised tours are a great way to meet fellow travellers.

I booked the tour through Amazon Manu Tours in Cusco. It turns out that this was contracted out to Carlos Expeditions based in Puerto Maldonado. I paid $250 (USD) in total for 4 days and 3 nights. As well as this, a night bus from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado and from Puerto Maldonado to Puno was included. Within the price of the tour all accommodation, food, lodging and activities were included. For 4 days plus 2 night buses I found this really reasonable.

Lake Sandoval in the Tambopata Reserve
Lake Sandoval in the Tambopata Reserve

I found Carlos expeditions and the Lodge (Monte Amazonica) really good. However, I found Manu Expeditions who I booked with in Cusco a bit chaotic and the communication was not the best. An example of this was that Manu Tours told the Puerto Maldonado office that I spoke Spanish – my Spanish is very basic. This meant that I was part of a Spanish speaking group with a Spanish speaking guide. My guide Cesar was lovely and it ended up being very good for me to practice Spanish but it was a surprise at first!

Can you visit Puerto Maldonado without a guide?

Like all things, with research everything is possible! There are many people that choose to visit The Amazon from Puerto Maldonado without a guide. As long as your Spanish is good enough to be able to negotiate transport with the local boat drivers to the locations you want to get to – the world is your oyster. The one thing is that the canopy walks and ziplines detailed in this post were attached to the lodge I stayed in. If you are not staying in a lodge that has this, I am not sure how easy it is to do activities like this.

Boat along the Rio Madre de Dios

Manu Reserve Vs Puerto Maldonado

When I was looking for a tour to go into the Amazon from Cusco I initially thought that the Manu reserve would be the best option. This is because the Manu reserve is significantly closer to Cusco than Puerto Maldonado. However, after speaking to many tour agents I found that the Puerto Maldonado options were the same price for significantly more time. This is because the 4 day tours on offer to Manu meant travelling for 8 hours during the day on day 1 and day 4. This meant although the tour was 4 days, only 2 of them were not in a bus. For me, it was an easy choice.

Although I have not visited Manu and I cannot comment on it. Many of the travel agents I visited told me that the nature was better in Puerto Maldonado as the area was less touched by humans. As well as this, the Manu Tour didn’t include a canopy walk which I really wanted to do so that was an additional win for me.

Baby giant otters Sandoval lake
Baby Giant Otters on the Sandoval Lake

El Nino effect

Every 7 years, the El Nino phenomenon causes significant flooding of the Rio Madre de Dios. This is to the point that the canopy walks that I mention you must get a kayak to be able to reach the stairs to climb up. I am not a meteorologist so please don’t ask me to explain why this happens but it is something to be aware of if you are visiting during the wet season for an El Nino year.

4 Day 3 Night Amazon Tour from Puerto Maldonado

Day 1: Arrive in the Amazon and visit Monkey Island

My visit The Amazon from Puerto Maldonado Day 1 started really on day 0 for me with a night bus from Cusco. I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t sleep well with the windy roads and my mood was not 100%. We (me and 2 other travellers doing the same tour) were met at the bus station and taken to Carlos Tour Operators.

Here we were checked in with out passport details and given 30 minutes for breakfast (the only meal not included in the tour). After this, we hopped on a boat to the lodge (which is only accessible by boat for 30 minutes from Puerto Maldonado). If you want a remedy for a night bus, this is it. Nothing quite like the breeze in your hair as you get you first glimpses of the amazon rainforest.

Chill time in the hammock!

We arrived at Monte Amazonica lodge and settled into the cute rooms, each with it’s personal hammock – win! Before lunch we went on a walk to the jungle, welcome to the Amazon! The walk began with an introduction to the local fruits of the area; star fruits, cocao, coffee beans and so many more. It sounds very obvious, but I was completely overwhelmed with how tall the trees were. It was like nothing I had ever seen and was truly impressive.

Monkey island puerto maldonado
The last squirrel Monkey

Monkey Island

After lunch, we jumped back on the boat (only 15 mins) to visit monkey island. Monkey island is home to (spoiler alert) monkeys. We saw capuchins as well as 1 squirrel monkey. The squirrel monkey was actually the last surviving monkey on the island.

Monkey island only exists as a result of a scientific study of monkeys from decades ago. The monkeys were intentionally brought to the island by scientists and they were left there after the study ended. Now they are a massive tourist attraction in the area. Our guide brought a trusty bag of bananas meaning the monkeys got very close to us and we were able to hand the monkeys our bananas.

Red Capuchin on Monkey Island puerto maldonado
Red Capuchin on Monkey Island

After our adventures on monkey island, I sat overlooking the sunset on the Rio Madre de Dios from the benches in the lodge. I noticed 30 minutes after sitting there that there was an enormous Tarantula on the tree just next to me. Positives and negatives of being in the Amazon eh?

After sunset, the first evening’s activities was an evening boat ride. The night that I did this, the sky was clear and the almost full moon was reflecting perfectly on the water, it was truly magical. From this night boat ride, we saw many white caimans chilling out on the river banks. The white caiman can handle the strong currents of the Rio Del Madre whereas it’s cousin the black caiman only exists in lakes.

Tarantula in the Amazon
I didn’t realise I was next to this!

It was then back to the lodge for the evening meal and a very early night for me, ready for an early wake up call.

Day 2: Tambopata Reserve and Night walk

Day 2 started early with a meeting time of 4.30am, yep in the morning. Was the wake up call worth it? Ahhhh yeee. With time for a quick coffee at the lodge and to pick up takeaway breakfast it was time to jump on the boat again.

Tambopata Reserve

The boat took us to the beginning of the walkway at Tambopata reserve. This wooden walkway is slightly above the ground and is a quick 3km walk to the waterway. We made a few detours off the path to spot some parrots which was pretty special.

Walkway tambopata reserve
Walkway in the Tambopata Reserve

The boat tour of Sandoval lake starts off through a winding creek through the trees. This was the spot that we saw at least 3 black caimans with their heads out of the water just chilling out. The boat is a rowing boat only to protect the nature. Our guide did most of the rowing apart from when we got stuck on some submerged roots which was all part of the fun.

Sandoval Lake Trip

The boat trip took us around the shores of the Sandoval lake. I don’t think I have ever seen so many colourful birds as I did on this boat ride. The Sandoval lake is famed for being home to the giant otter. The giant otter is an endangered species due to logging in the area. We saw not only 2 adult giant otters but 3 of their young as well. They were super cute although the parents were very clear that they didn’t want our boat to get close.

Sandoval lake bird puerto maldonado
Spotted from Sandoval Lake

Breakfast in Tambopata Reserve

We stopped off at a breakfast spot halfway round the lake to eat our takeaway breakfast. The breakfast spot has a view of the whole lake but (bear with me here) one of the most interesting things happening there was the massive movement of giant ants. They were carrying huge pieces of leaves to their nest, there were thousands upon thousands of them. It’s small things like this that you don’t think about before visiting the jungle but makes such interesting viewing.

Baby Giant Otters
Baby Giant Otters

After breakfast and with all of our rubbish with us, there are no rubbish bins in the reserve, everything must be taken with, we got back on the rowing boat. This is when our guide whipped out a bag of bread. After he threw small pieces into the water it was very clear that there were many piranhas in the water, they all fought over the pieces!

View from the Breakfast spot

After the row boat ride, we walked back along the walkway to the Rio Madre de Dios. We stopped to see tarantulas and enormous butterflies on the way. We then got back on the motor boat to be back in time for lunch at the lodge.

The afternoon was free which was the perfect time for me to enjoy a nap in the hammock followed by a quick dip in the swimming pool – it’s a tough life right?

Bird Lake Sandoval
Spotted from Lake Sandoval

Night Walk

The evening activity was an walk in the jungle in the dark. There is something somewhat unnerving but thrilling about being in the jungle in the pitch dark with all the noises. The aim of the walk was to find spiders and snakes. We didn’t see any snakes which I was very happy about because snakes are not my friends. We saw loads of tarantulas including baby ones as well as many other insects.

Day 3: Canopy walk and Kayaking

If the early bird catches the worm, what is the equivalent for a human that wants to spot birds? The early worms catch them? Day 3 was another early start with meeting at 5.30am for a canopy walk.

Canopy Walk

The canopy walk was rope bridges and platforms at the top of the trees, a short walk away from the lodge. This unique view is a brilliant way to observe the forest. We sat on the platform for at least an hour watching the birds fly past and watching the forest. I found it so peaceful as the sun was coming up and the noise of the forest all around. I am not the biggest fan of meditation (I fidget too much) but this was so relaxing it made me into an almost meditative state.

Canopy walk puerto maldonado
The Canopy Walk Platform

After a really relaxing morning, we were back at the lodge for breakfast at 7.30. Breakfast at the lodge was bread, eggs, cheese and avocado. With time for a quick change, it was back to the river this time for kayaking.

Kayaking on the Rio Madre de Dios

The kayaking wasn’t the most interesting activity as there was not that much nature on the river banks. However, what made it fun was the currents of the river. We tried to stay close to the river bank to avoid the worst of it but there were still times when we got caught in it. It was really funny especially when there were trees jutting out into the river to avoid.

Ziplining

The afternoon was back to the canopy walk, this time with the added adventure of ziplining! This was so much fun. It was only 2 ziplines and a thin bridge walk between the 2. I have done this before but doing it among the trees of the amazon was just so different. We were of course attached by a harness. The only thing is that I wished this part was longer.

Sunset over river amazon
Sunset over the River

The evening was free which was a perfect opportunity to take in the sunset and a game of table football with other members of the group.

Day 4: Walk to the Depths of the Forest and goodbye to the Amazon

Day 4 was optional activities for us. There were members of the group that had left the day before as they were doing the 3 day 2 night option. Our guide gave us the option of what we would like to do, we chose an extra canopy walk followed by a walk in the jungle.

Me in the tree roots

This day was a choice (yes, choice!) to wake up at 5am for a canopy walk. I even chose to do a bit of yoga and stretching in the canopy with a sunrise background. It is not everyday you can say you did that!

We then went back to the lodge for a coffee and some breakfast, After a short break to organise our bags, the final activity began. We chose to do another walk within the trees although this time longer and deeper in the forest. This time I saw even more enormous trees. At this point after 4 days in the amazon, I was basically Tarzan so decided to climb lots of them.

Leaving the Lodge

We then returned to the lodge for the final lunch. The lunch happened to be presented wrapped in a leaf I cannot tell you the name of – it was like a parting gift. We then jumped on the final boat ride to the city of Puerto Maldonado. We regrouped at the office of Carlos Expeditions to sort out bus tickets and onward journeys.

The lodge I stayed in

I had a few hours to kill before my evening bus to Puno so I wandered around the city and then ended up in the café Gustitos Del Cura which was really nice. I used the time to write this post, wow efficiency I am not used to.

So know you know all for your Visit The Amazon from Puerto Maldonado!

I hope you have the best trip. Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed yourself and what animals you saw.

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