"The Amazon rainforest, covering much of northwestern Brazil and extending into Colombia, Peru and other South American countries, is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, famed for its immense biodiversity. It’s crisscrossed with thousands of rivers, the most exceptional being the powerful Amazon. River towns, with 19th-century architecture dating to rubber-boom days, include Brazil’s Manaus and Belém, and Peru’s Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado."
Two of my best friends visited from Arizona for an amazing trip to the Amazon. We met in Lima, flew to the remote city of Iquitos, and then took a boat about 90 minutes down the Amazon River to our lodge. We stayed at the Heliconia Amazon River Lodge for four days and three nights.
These are some of highlights from our adventure-packed stay. To save time, much of the copy in the post below was taking from the itinerary briefs on their website.
First stop, Monkey Island, a family social enterprise focused on conserving and protecting endangered monkey species in the Northern Amazon. Their goal is to enlighten rainforest guests on the effort to reintegrate monkeys and their survival in the wild. The monkeys are free in this reserve, not in cages, and their temporary stay here depends on their capability to adapt back to its jungle habitat.
After a little rest we were set off to a Native Fishing expedition unto one of the small tributaries of the Amazon River. We learned the local techniques of fishing and tried our hands at fishing for Piranhas. I managed to catch a handful of Piranhas, but none large enough to bring home for dinner. During this excursion we also had the opportunity to look for the Pink River Dolphin. We found two, and were able to hang around them for about 20 minutes, but I wasn't able to capture a good photo.
In our first afternoon we set out to a jungle hike into the Yanamono primary rainforest reserve, for approximately two hours accompanied by our guide. He showed us several flora species such as heliconia flowers, medicinal plants and giant trees. We also had the chance to sight several birds species, a wide variety of insects and spiders, and my favorite, Poison Dart Frogs! I was particularly excited to find quite a few Dendrobates Reticulatus, a tiny red-backed frog the size of your thumbnail, that I used to have as pets bad in the States.
In order to see the birds during their morning feeding time, the day started early at 5:30am. By boat we ventured up one of the several streams to look out for a number of variety of birds. We found birds such as the Capped Heron, Tuki, Ringed Kingfisher, Black-Collared Hawk, Greater Ani, among others.
These are NOT my photos. It was impossible to get a steady shot from the boat.
We boarded a boat towards a lake in Yanamono island where we were able to glimpse the Giant Water Lily, the Victoria Regia, the “Queen of water lilies”. Now renamed Victoria Amazonica, these native flora in the shallow waters of the Amazon River basin are mostly found in oxbow lakes and bayous. Flowers are white as they bloom on the first night and turn pink on the second night after blooming. They can grow to 40cm in diameter. On this excursion we also found several sloths, but they were high in the trees, too far for a good photo.
Between excursions, I spent most of my time exploring the jungle near the lodge looking for whatever kind of fauna I could find. I discovered all sorts of tarantulas, beautiful orb weavers, and other spiders I didn't know existed. There was grasshoppers with every color of the rainbow, and beetles wearing gold plated armor.
I'm not terribly well versed in the types of flora in the rainforest, but that doesn't mean I'm not just as interested in it. The wide variety of fungi was particularly fascinating.
We went on an evening trek to witness the entrancing transformation from daytime to a night atmosphere. The rainforest takes on a very different character as you become aware of the existence and habits of nocturnal jungle animals. It’s the best time to see tree frogs, snakes, and other rainforest creatures that only come out at night.
While it would have been exciting to see a caiman in the wild, we had no such luck on our search. Thankfully, we stopped by an animal rescue and rehabilitation center, where we saw plenty of caiman and so much more. We got up close and personal with playful monkeys, stunning Tucans, and was even able to hold a Sloth and Anaconda.
We visited a riverside town to see an indigenous tribe of the Yaguas community where we had the opportunity to learn and see their way of life in the Amazon River. We saw their homes, school, church, shops and interacted with the people, observing their customs and traditions to be enlightened by their unaffected and austere way of living.
We took a ten-minute boat ride up the river to a family farm for a Trapiche Treatin, a rustic sugar cane distillery located along the river. We learned how the locals process sugar cane extracts using horses and ferment sugar juice in wooden casks for some time to turn to liquor production (I was the horse, and pushed the giant crank in circles). We got a taste of the varied exotic beverages made from the sugar cane liquor and sugar by-products such as molasses.
Iquitos is a Peruvian port city and gateway to the jungle lodges and tribal villages of the northern Amazon. Its district of Belén is known for its massive open-air street market and rustic stilt houses lining the Itaya River. In the historic center, the Plaza de Armas is surrounded by European-influenced buildings dating to the region's turn-of-the-20th-century boom in rubber production. While attending one of the markets, I had to try a local delicacy called Suri. It's a deep-fried beetle larvae, or grub, of the Rhynchophorus palmarum, a palm weevil commonly found in the Amazon.