Ker & Downey’s Bekah McNeel recently returned from a trip to Peru’s Amazon basin. She recounts her trip below.
Stepping off the plane in Peru’s Amazon basin, my skin immediately recognized the tropical air rich with oxygen and Vitamin D. Only a one hour flight from Cusco’s high altitude chill, Puerto Maldonado feels like a different country.
Peru is known for the diversity of its ecological regions. The desert coast of Lima, the Andes, and the Amazon ebb and flow across the land, yielding endless variations of flora, fauna, and climate. No one shows it off better than Inkaterra, Peru’s avant garde of ecotourism. After being wowed by Machu Picchu Pueblo’s exquisite blend of luxury, education, and preservation, we looked forward to seeing what Reserva Amazonica would reveal in the basin.
Airports in the tropics also have a distinct charm with their natural ventilation. Color is everywhere in Puerto Maldonado, and after fog of February in the Andes, we were ready for some sunshine. We must not be alone in this, because Reserva Amazonica’s open air transport perfectly accommodated our thirst for sun, breeze, and experience.
After checking in at the butterfly house, we made our way to the dock, where a Reserva Amazonica motor canoe waited among the colorful local boats. Ferrying 45 minutes up river to access the property is genius – not that there’s any other option. Even the pinkest cheeks were cooled by the breeze, and we fell silent as we cruised away from transit and into the adventure.
Once we arrived in the magical world of Reserva Amazonica, where wellington boots are the accessories of choice and everyone smells of eau d’ DEET, we were immediately swept into the spirit of Inkaterra.
We wanted for nothing – this was far from “roughing it.” Each cabaña was remarkably well-sealed. We encountered remarkably few six-legged friends, considering the proliferation of insect life a mere 20 yards away. Even mosquitos avoid the clearing where the cabañas were built. Why risk the open air when the safety of the jungle is so close at hand?
Meals were fantastic and authentic, but the true luxury of Reserva Amazonica is the guides. These naturalists quickly endear themselves and accommodate the educational and recreational of each traveler with ease. They live on site and conduct research in the canopy, where the Inkaterra Canopy Walkway stretches from tree to tree with bouncy, swaying bridges like on childhood playgrounds, except that these are 90 feet in the air.
The customary first afternoon at Reserva Amazonica is an orientation walk through the jungle and a twilight boat safari after dinner. Passing from the manicured clearing dotted with cabañas and agoutis into the jungle, life closes in around you. The fight for survival is everywhere, with stunning effect. Flowers growing brighter and bolder to compete for attention from pollinators. Root systems racing across the forest floor searching for food in the nutrient-poor soil. Under every leaf an exotic fungi. Butterflies visible from fifty yards away.
Twilight on the Amazon is so thick you can smell it. The din of insects and bird songs was rising to a roar, as we loaded into the boat to creep along the shore once the last of daylight faded. Our guide used a spotlight to find caimans, turtles, and snakes along the banks where they take shelter in the riparian tree roots.
Later, under the mosquito net, the generator hum reminded me of the adventures of my past in places remote and tropical.
Except that this time I was so very comfortable.
I’d had a gourmet 3-course dinner, a cocktail, and refreshing shower. My hair was clean, and I drifted off to sleep to the soft and distant jungle songs.
In the morning we toured Gamitana Creek and meandered through a working fruit farm for a culinary tour. Starfruit sliced by machete, banana plucked from the tree. Our faces were sticky with nectar, but we barely noticed, as we savored one delight after another.
Later, a canoe trip down the creek gave me time to lean back and survey the landscape as it glided by in shades of green and earth. To the left and right the guide identified wildlife sharing our current. Turtles, fish, and birds watching for some lunch.
After a refreshing lunch and a cold shower, we enjoyed a siesta in the hammocks on our porch. The midday rains arrived as predicted, and the din of raindrops on the roof of the cabaña lulled us into an easy sleep. Nothing in the world invaded that porch. Not a single bug and not a single worry. It would be entirely too easy to forget that we were not permanent residents of our hammocks, without care or responsibility.
After the nap, and the rains had passed, we visited the canopy walkway, to see the penthouse wildlife for ourselves. One at a time across the swaying bridges, we put our childhood playground skills to good use. The more daring in the group bounced and rocked 90 feet in the air, while the timid took light and deliberate steps. In the end they all agreed that it had been worth whatever acrophobic apprehensions they had to conquer. The canopy is a magical place of wings and sloths, and prehensile tails. It is a world where humans cannot roam freely, but thanks to the walkways, can observe and marvel.
When we left Reserva Amazonica the next day, we wished for one more day. We left things undone – like the trek to Lake Sandoval to feed piranhas. But cruising back down the river as the midday rains came, we relished out last moments of unadulterated nature, and let ourselves be soaked.