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Peru: Kaleidoscope of Colors. Amazon Cruise, Machu Picchu, Jungle Lodges


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Pink dolphins surface above the currents; Blue and Gold Macaws soar at sunrise; Machu Picchu is cloaked in emerald; copper coated howler monkeys observe from the treetops; Blue Morpho butterflies flit in the sunlight; Red and Green Macaws cling to clay licks; multi-colored kites dance high above Cuzco; Quechuas walk to market in their traditional brilliant red garments; and rows of vibrant textiles are folded neatly in the market. A kaleidoscope!











Red and Green Macaws at Heath River Wildlife Center

Hopes of seeing pink dolphins and macaws brought me to Peru. I thought I’d locate someplace along a river where I could gaze up to see the macaws flocking to the clay banks and then glance down to see the pink dolphins swimming by. A plane ticket, the right river, a little head bobbing, and I’d have it. Wrong!


The pink dolphins live in the rivers north of Iquitos and rapids deter them from heading south to places like Tambopata where Red and Green Macaws frequent the clay licks. In between the pink dolphins and the clay licking macaws is a span of around 1000 miles…and Machu Picchu. Now there’s an itinerary!


So I sent out several inquiries on how to incorporate dolphins, Machu Picchu, and macaws into an under-3-week trip. George Ledvina from Green Tracks replied with the itinerary here. I researched and tweaked what Green Tracks had suggested, emailing like mad, creating spreadsheets and coordinating flights, at one point telling George adios--until I came to my senses and realized George had nailed it on the first take.

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2012 19-day Itinerary

Aug 3 Depart O’Hare to Miami to Lima on LAN.


Aug 4 Arrive Iquitos midday and transfer to Victoria Regia Hotel.


Aug 5- morning of Aug 11 Amazon Boat trip in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve (pink dolphins) on the Ayapua.


Aug 11 Iquitos city tour o/nt Victoria Regia Hotel.


Aug 12 Transfer to airport. Fly to Cuzco. Cuzco city tour. O/nt Casa Andina Koricancha.


Aug 13 Depart Cuzco with driver and guide for Sacred Valley Tour, o/nt Pakaritampu Hotel in Ollantaytambo.


Aug 14 Vistadome Train to Aguas Calientes with guide. Bus to Machu Picchu with guide. Morning guided tour of Machu Picchu. Guide departs after lunch. Machu Picchu (no guide) in afternoon. Bus to Aguas Calientes and o/nt El Mapi.


Aug 15 To Machu Picchu by bus (no guide). Take bus back down to Aguas Calientes in time for late afternoon Vistadome train to Poroy, picked transferred to Cuzco. O/nt Casa Andina Koricancha.


Aug 16 Transfer to airport. Fly to Puerto Maldonado. Day trip to Reserva Amazonica for canopy walk (not normally included). Afternoon motorized dugout canoe to Heath River Wildlife Center in Tambopata. O/nt Heath River Wildlife Center.


Aug 17 Morning boat to clay lick for parrots and macaws. Variety of guided jungle activities in afternoon/evening. O/nt Heath River Wildlife Center.


Aug 18 Optional second morning boat trip to clay lick for parrots and macaws, or other jungle activity. Variety of guided jungle activities in afternoon/evening. O/nt Heath River Wildlife Center.


Aug 19 Morning motorized canoe transfer and walk to Sandoval Lake in Tambopata. Afternoon canoe outing. O/nt Sandoval Lake Lodge.


Aug 20 Morning, afternoon, evening guided jungle activities. O/nt Sandoval Lake Lodge.


Aug 21 Morning canoe outing, then motorized canoe trip to Puerto Maldonado, transfer to airport. Fly to Lima for night flight to Miami.


Aug 22 Arrive Miami, connect to O’Hare.

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Why August?

1. Aug-Sept are the best times to see the macaws at clay licks. Fruit is scarcer then, forcing the birds to eat fruit containing toxins. The clay counteracts the toxins so the birds try to make a trip to the clay lick at least 2-3 times per week. Their behavior is more predictable in the dry season when they can be counted on to arrive en masse in the morning (barring storms or lurking predators). In the wet season the birds straggle in between morning and midday perhaps in a flock or singly.



Red and Green Macaws at Heath River Wildlife Center


2. Odds are good for good weather in Machu Picchu in August. The guides I spoke with said their favorite times for Machu Picchu were late April-May or Oct-Nov because the crowds were down but the weather was still decent. The brilliant green surrounding the city is present throughout the year, including drier times. I was told that the Inca Trail may not be as verdant and lush in the dry season, though. Weather links:








Bono went in February and it rained. My guide told me, “Bono had to see Machu Picchu in a rain poncho.” During my two days of perfect weather at Machu Picchu I was feeling rather smug that my rain jacket was securely stowed, unlike Bono’s.



3. The jungle north of Iquitos, including the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve has pros and cons to any season. In August, you can do more walking through areas where water has receded, which appealed to me. But the monkeys, sloths, and other canopy dwellers are harder to see because low water levels can add 20 additional feet between the canopy where the animals and the river where you are.


After my time in the jungle on foot and by boat, I think the boat time was more productive wildlife-wise than the foot time. First, boats are less intrusive from the animal’s viewpoint, so the animals are less likely to flee. Second, you have a greater field of vision along an open river/tributary than in the thick vegetation of the jungle. Third, unless you have only a couple of people on the jungle walk, it is tough for people near the end of the line to glimpse the same fleeting animals as those in the front of the line.


The Ayapua


From Nov-May, more time is spent viewing by boat than on foot, which I think would increase the overall sightings. Still, it is highly worthwhile to spend some time actually walking through the jungle, especially the night walks.


There are huge flocks of cormorants and great white egrets along the shores in the dry season (Aug). Watching these birds take flight as the boat approached and then advance up river in massive flocks to alight along the shore, only to repeat as we again drew close was a magical show and a real highlight of the whole Peru trip. I had done a jungle boat trip on the Agua Rico in Ecuador in December once and there was almost nothing to see looking out from the boat. Such a contrast to the ever present flocks in August. (bird list at end)




The pink dolphins will more likely be in the main river than in the tributaries in August because the water level gets too low for dolphins in the tributaries during dry season. The stationary lodges along the tributaries would be a good place for pink dolphins in the wet season (Nov-May) because the water is high enough for the dolphins to swim in there. But for my August trip George advised that the boat, which is mobile, would be superior to a stationary lodge for dolphins. I agree.


One of the very few and very lucky pink dolphin photos I took

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Red and Green Macaws at Heath River Wildlife Center


Options studied/considered but not chosen for this trip

Miles from Rainforest Cruises was very helpful and prompt with all responses to my questions. His was the only other company that responded to me. The cruise he offered had not met the minimum required participants and therefore was not guaranteed to go when I needed to make a commitment.


I investigated Muyuna Lodge, which looked intriguing and had a private guide option. Booking through Rainforest Cruises was the same price as going direct with Muyuna. Green Tracks did not work with Muyana. Those in Peru that I asked about Muyuna gave the lodge positive feedback. (If you check out Muyana’s detailed and very intriguing itineraries you may see a tiger watching activity. I think there was a lapse in translation.) I opted for the boat to better my chances at dolphins and believe I chose wisely, especially in August.


I thought about Pacaya Samiria Lodge, rather than the boat. When we passed the lodge on the Marañón River, I was surprised how far away from the heart of the reserve it was. It is in the “buffer zone,” which was a long ways from Ranger Stations 1 and 2 WITHIN the reserve.


Those I questioned about the various “Swim with Pink Dolphins” Lodges in Peru were skeptical of the claims that dolphins were actually drawn to any particular lodge with any predictability. My time on the river watching dolphins, and waiting for hours/days without seeing dolphins, makes me skeptical too. Furthermore, I was cautioned that some of the owners/”researchers” of the dolphin encounter lodges were charlatans and not really researchers.


I did not include Manu because I felt it deserved more time than I could devote to it on this trip if I was going to do the cruise and Machu Picchu. I also thought the best option for macaws on a clay lick would be Heath River rather than the Manu clay lick or any other clay lick. I’d still like to visit Manu, but Heath River offers an ideal setup to see macaws: easy/quick to get there & very close views from a comfortable hide/blind (with ensuite Western toilet) for a limited number of guests.


One knowledgeable individual shared this about Heath River vs. Manu: “Everyone thinks Manu is by far the best for wildlife and Heath River is not as pristine and has less wildlife. At one time, Manu was the only wildlife game around and that is where the reputation for wildlife came from. But Heath Wildlife Center has enjoyed protection for many years now and the species are rejuvenating. Heath is improving, while Manu is deteriorating from encroachment and hunting in the area. Heath has less human activity nearby and actually has slightly better wildlife than Manu now. There are about two primate species that can possibly be seen in Manu that cannot be seen in Heath.”



Sunset on Heath River


Both a tour operator and some tourists I spoke with said that the drive over the Andes to get to Manu was something that should not be missed. I’d be interested in the comparison of Heath River and Manu from others who have visited both. Eventually, I hope to be able to chime in on the difference.


I noted that the International Expeditions Pacaya Samiria Amazon cruise emphasized that they are the “only company that will take you to Ranger Station 2.” When we cruised past Ranger Station 2, I asked how IE could make that claim. The answer was that IE is the only company that goes TO Ranger Station 2 (and I think IE goes INTO the station). We technically did not go TO Station 2; we motored BEYOND it. We did go into Ranger Station 1 and got to bury some Sidenecked turtle eggs with the rangers.


We saw the IE boat docked and it looked very nice. Everyone I talked to had nice things to say about IE, me too from my one trip with them. The cost of the IE Amazon boat trip was almost exactly the same as my entire itinerary, but I also had Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Tambopata, in addition to the Pacaya Samiria/Amazon cruise.


Natural Habitat (great company, I’ve done 3 trips with them) just came out with a Pacaya Samiria/Amazon cruise for max 28 (vs. Green Tracks max 18 and we were 8), almost 2x the cost of my Iquitos trip/cruise. Looks similar.





Sunset in Pacaya Samiria

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Your report brought back wonderful memories of our family trip to Peru where our itinerary was very similar to yours excluding the very first part to Iquitos. Macau Pichu lived up to all the hype and we loved Reserva Amazonica. Overall a fabulous trip.

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Why use Green Tracks instead of making my own arrangements?

First, the Ayapua was rented out by Green Tracks and only their clients were on that particular cruise, so the boat trip and Green Tracks were one in the same for the boat.


Second, I was not comfortable doing the Inca culture-Machu Picchu part of the trip all alone, without some direction and guidance. Green Tracks offered a guided trip on the way to Machu Picchu , including a morning visit, and then left me on my own after that--a nice combo. Pricing was similar to what another solo traveler paid with a local guide the previous year.


Third, the Tambopata portion of the trip had published rates and Green Tracks charged those rates. So no financial advantage of going direct there. Green Tracks also was able to get a guarantee that I could book the Tambopata dates I wanted even though no one else had signed up yet, but I would not have to pay for a very costly private trip if there were no other takers. There ended up being other takers.


Green Tracks was very helpful and completely accessible throughout all stages of the trip and smoothed out some rough edges that I don’t think would have ended up as smooth without their expertise and connections. Whenever a concern arose, it was comforting to dial their number and have George answer—not a machine with a return call days later. Emails were responded to within a day, often within an hour or so. The planning, the trip itself, and the post-trip went great with Green Tracks and I’ll use Green Tracks again.


The Ayapua

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AKR1, I followed in your footsteps.



For daylight excursions in the motorboats/motorized canoes, sandals, short sleeves, and shorts were fine. For any excursions (land or water) at night, long sleeves, long pants, and closed shoes are needed to protect against mosquitoes. Daytime land excursions required closed shoes and long pants, but with adequate insect repellent on the arms, short sleeves were ok.



Warn for jungle walk in Pacaya Samiria


The people who wore Permethrin treated clothing to deter mosquitoes seemed to have fewer bites than the rest of us. One person brought gaiters. Tucking pant legs into socks was encouraged on walks. Flashlight/torches were a must for the night walks. I frequently tied a wet bandana around my neck for the walks in the heat and humidity. Of course wear a wide brimmed hat. I wore boots on all walks, but sturdy tennis shoes would be fine.


Rubber boots were provided on the jungle cruise boat (Ayapua) and would be a good idea in the wet season. None of us wore them or needed them.


Cuzco was 40 F in early mornings and toward evening. I liked the extra warmth of rain pants and two pullovers while touring the Cuzco environs in the early eve or the Sacred Valley for the first couple of hours in the morning.


But Machu Picchu is a few thousand feet lower and therefore warmer than Cuzco. I did wear a wool hat for my 6 am arrival, but used just one pullover and most of the time I was in shirt sleeves. I found my many-pocketed safari vest to be helpful in Machu Picchu so that I didn’t have to take my backpack. Rules have tightened to allow one normal sized backpack into Machu Picchu and nothing else for those not arriving by Inca Trail. A foldup rain poncho in case of showers. I wore my boots with good ankle support and needed that support. Of course, a hat for sun and plenty of water.


I was surprised at the heavy attire I witnessed at Machu Picchu. There seemed to be a widespread misconception among many visitors that you’d freeze in Machu Picchu without heavy clothes, even in August. They must have cooked in heavy tights and sweaters, even saw a wool overcoat! There is a coat check at the entrance to MP, along with bathrooms—the only ones.


The best indication of what to wear is to look at what the guides who were posted at various spots around Machu Picchu wore.



Note the guide in the bottom right and the guide taking a photo--that's what all the guides wore each day at Machu Picchu


My attire was similar to the guides, just by coincidence, and resulted in some humorous mix-ups where visitors posed questions to me about everything from how to work their cameras to Incan history. I did my best to respond or direct them to the real guides. Those from North America instantly recognized my accent and we had a laugh together. Not everybody caught on, though. One guest asked me about something my guide, Humberto, had just explained to me and I was able to recount it to her. Humberto looked on as I passed the test.



Me about 20 minutes before reaching the Sun Gate. Nice overlook

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Cameras and Photos

For most nature trips I’ve always felt my high end, IS, 20-24 x optical zoom (no interchangeable lenses) cameras were entirely adequate. The challenges posed by the jungle made me wish at times I had one of those newer 30-40 x optical zooms and a digital SLR that had faster reaction time and let in more light.


Plugs for recharging were readily available everywhere I stayed.


My adapter and the wall plug. Type C was the only style I saw in Peru.


A typical visitor can get gorgeous, classic Machu Picchu shots even with midday crowds, no problem, because most shots are from a distance where people become indistinguishable. (Non-pro speaking here.) Early morning and late afternoon there are far fewer people. I encountered some pro photographers who said they were skipping Machu Picchu altogether because they’d have to compete with photos taken from helicopters in HD that were spliced together.



No helicopters, high definition, or splicing


Cuszo’s Plaza de Armas photos had the best light in afternoon for outside Cathedral shots. I went back in the early morning and while there were no people around to interfere with pictures, but the light was inferior. To photograph the plaza’s flowing fountain, a night time visited is needed—at least it was during my visit.



Plaza de Armas in Cuzco in afternoon........................................................................................................................................................................................Fountain during the day in Plaza da Armas


For the ruins around Cuzco, late afternoon (in August) was nice light. Much beyond 4:30 pm in August and the sun was too low for nice photos of ruins. Don’t know about morning light for the ruins.



Sacsayhuaman, above Cuzco, in late afternoon


I toted my monopod all over and rarely used it. The walks and boat/canoe activities were not conducive to a monopod, nor were the locations and behaviors of the animals. I used the monopod two times from the deck of the big boat on the jungle cruise. Just placing the camera on the boat railing was a good substitute for the monopod. I decided not to haul the monopod around Machu Picchu.


In the hide/blind for the macaws and parrots at Tambopata, a monopod or tripod just does not work. Even a pair of very serious photographers I met in the hide said they couldn’t use their tripods or monopods based on the slant/construction of the hide’s roof. You can rest the camera on a ledge in the hide and a beanbag would be helpful. I did not have a beanbag so I partially inflated my neck- and back-support airplane blowup pillows and wrapped a jacket around them. The serious photographers told me that the previous days they had been in the hide/blind, the river current was so strong that resting the camera on the ledge produced blurry results. Once the wind/current quieted, then resting the camera on the ledge worked well.



Red and Green Macaws at Heath River Wildlife Center


For the night walks especially, make sure you are familiar with your macro feature and flash used in combination. Also make sure the bill of your hat doesn’t protrude so it interferes with the flash. I couldn’t understand why my flash wouldn’t work for me but it worked fine when I handed my camera to Trip Leader, Bill. Well, Bill wasn’t wearing my rigid-billed hat.



Night Walk - Pacaya Samiria

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Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima

Very early arrivals seem to be common. Mine was 4:30 am with a 6 hour layover. There is an airport hotel within walking distance. The seats in the airport allow you to lie down and stretch out, very comfortable. It was a little chilly in the airport, especially while sleeping. My wool hat helped. It is not uncommon to see wool hats on people in the airport.


The Britt Airport shop had big variety of chocolate covered nuts and coffee beans to sample. I sampled liberally during my numerous layovers to the tune of “breakfast” and then bought my favorites for gifts before leaving. Manned money changing booths and an ATM are readily available for all flights, even domestic.


I had become enamored with tres leches cake (three milk cake) during my visit, so to console myself upon departure I indulged in the dessert, which was available at several locations throughout the airport, though I sampled only one.

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At last the jungle makes you realise that you need a more expensive camera. :P Fortunately for you that revelation comes when there are so many great compact options that you won't be obliged to join those of us sweating under an extra 10kg of weight on our shoulders, Your timing is impeccable, Lynn.


Great read as always - love those macaw pics and all the little details you add to begin your reports.


It is such a photogenic country and I am really looking forward to the rest.... are we going to get a step-by-step report or just like this? I'm happy either way - just asking.

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As always, you are providing anyone contemplating a trip to Peru a wonderful insight into conditions there and what to expect. I love the Macaw photos on the clay walls, reminds me somewhat of the Carmine Bee Eaters, but with a different scale. Heath River seems to be a rather prosaic name, I wonder who the intrepid Mr Heath was.


Looking forward to further instalments.

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Would love to do a similar trip. If I ever have any money, you are booking it for me :)

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I'll let Green Tracks book it, Matt! But maybe we could stomp through the jungle together.


The Intrepid Mr. Heath

Story I was told: Dr. Heath was an American who explored South America in the 1870s. He was never actually on the Heath River, but Bolivia wanted to honor this man by naming a river after him and most rivers were already named. The river now known as Heath River was still available for naming, so it now bears his name. I'm sure Dr. Heath would approve.


In checking out this story further, I found out he was born in Wisconsin. So the good doctor and I have something in common, though I was not born in this state. And I have you to thank, Twaffle, for sending me on a mission to find that interesting and meaningful tidbit.


The step by step is coming up, Paul!

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The Ayapua

This is the boat I was on for the jungle/Amazon cruise in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. It can take up to 18 guests. When it’s full, they double up on the naturalists to reduce the group size. We were 8. What a treat to see the jungle and riverbanks from this 100+ year old restored German-made boat from the rubber industry heydays. Not just a boat, it’s floating history! Very fancy, plenty of room to relax, and watch for birds or dolphins. It has a beautiful dining room with a Victrola and A/C. A most comfortable way to travel!




The Ayapua from the outside......................................................................................................................................................................................................and from the inside. Dining room shown.


In fact the Ayapua starred with Klaus Kinski in the 1982 Werner Herzog movie Fitzcarraldo. Mick Jagger was given first shot at the role but had to decline due to scheduling.


It has spacious cabins where you control the A/C and a private bathroom with regular toilets, a wash basin, and shower. There was no hot water per se, but the first two minutes of trickle in the afternoon was solar heated within the pipes. The weather was hot enough in August that room temp water was ok for a shower, and I admit I am a cold water wimp.



Cabin of Ayapua


Food on the Ayapua was great and we had freshly squeezed juices from produce grown in staff member, Judy’s garden. Yellow tomato was a favorite juice and so was Chicha Morada, made from purple corn. Wine was served with each evening meal. Peruvian cuisine included Ceviche, catfish, piranha (a little bony but tasty), Oscar (caught by Judy and her fishing pole) and camoté (sweet potato). One of the cruisers was moved to near tears when Chef Ruth allowed her into the kitchen to help with a doce de leite type dessert and then shared the recipe with her.


I had seen itineraries for other boats which had specifically listed dolphin watching for several hours a day, usually mid-morning. I asked about a schedule for the Ayapua to compare dolphin opportunities and to see what time activities started in the morning. When the day’s start time is a civilized hour, the trip is probably not one for me because usually animal activity begins earlier than a civilized hour. George of Green Tracks told me there was no stated schedule because the Ayapua activities vary with the season, water level, and what is happening day to day. He assured me we’d be up early and spend lots of time out there looking for wildlife; and we did. Moreover, when we were not out on an early adventure, there was stuff to see right off the boat deck, such as a misty sunrise, pink dolphins feeding, or flocks of high flying macaws heading out for the day.



Great White Egret, bottom right. From deck in early morning


As for the dolphin watching hours, technically you could list every moment on the boat when there was sufficient daylight to see when and you weren’t asleep or in the bathroom. It was always dolphin watching because they could be anywhere at any time—or nowhere to be seen.




Upon boarding I overheard one cruiser ask what the odds of seeing pink dolphins would be. One hundred percent was the response. It proved accurate. Odds of pictures are far less. I managed a couple lucky snaps of pink shapes.


Pink shapes are dolphins, really


Activities were optional and catered to a variety of interests and levels of enthusiasm for the jungle. One of our cruisers, who had a delightful demeanor but was no ornithologist, stated upon arrival in Iquitos that she was not going to get up early to “go look at some bird.” Fortunately she did not have to, but the rest of us could depart at daybreak.


The boat does actually cruise The mighty Amazon briefly, not just rivers in the Amazon Basin. We walked on a picturesque island formed at the confluence of three rivers--Amazon, Marañón, Ucayaly—which is the start of the buffer zone of the Pacaya Samiria Reserve. I was impressed that when we returned to the motorboat after that little island stroll, each group of cruisers, unbeknownst to the other, had its own litter bag, filled with garbage. Great minds think and act alike.



The Amazon is behind me


Nightly onboard scheduled lectures: There were none. At least not officially. But on the upper deck in the evening Bill Lamar recounted past adventures and tales of the Amazon that we enjoyed with our Pisco Sours. It was a lecture series of sorts. Pisco Sours are the Peruvian cocktail made with raw egg whites and lime juice. I was too chicken (pardon the pun) to consume raw eggs so I had my Pisco alcohol in tonic with lime. Everybody else braved the raw eggs and had real Pisco Sours--at times many, many of them--and did fine. Well known and respected herpetologist, Dr. Bill Lamar, was a tremendous resource on the trip and a real hoot, whether in the field, at the lunch table, or on the lecture circuit at the bar on the top deck.


Ayapua esprit de corps: The staff, crew, captain, and naturalists did an outstanding job of accommodating our diverse group, which resulted in each of us having wonderful memories of a successful adventure.


Our group had individuals aged 21 to 60 who...had just spent a week birding in Ecuador, would never wake up early to look at a bird, had owned a snake zoo, were on a mission to spread their loved one’s ashes, were talked into going by a friend, were hoping to see pink dolphins, were on a journey of personal self-renewal, had dreamed of visiting the Amazon jungle for a lifetime, were most comfortable on a Caribbean beach, were veteran nature travelers, had never taken a trip like this in their life, loved to fish, hated to fish, preferred kitchen to jungle, owned a vineyard, enjoyed their libations, had a total bar bill of $6, had invested in a new camera for this trip, forgot the memory card for their point-and-shoot camera and it was no big deal, liked to sleep late after a late night on the top deck, did tai chi before dawn and couldn’t wait to get out there.


The fact that we all had a great trip is a tribute to each staff member whose unique talents contributed to the shared sense of adventure and camaraderie.



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Aug 4

Arrival Iquitos at 12:30 pm. After the 20-minute airport transfer to the Victoria Regia Hotel and a little freshening up, three cruisers that arrived with me and I took Guide Joel out to lunch at Dawn of the Amazon, on the riverfront. A delicious choice. Evening free. Iquitos is a known party town and a couple people went out that night to verify the claim. They had fun.


Aug 5

Morning was a good time to walk around the city before the heat. Ok to walk toward the river, about 8 blocks away. Walking in the other direction from the hotel was discouraged. I saved in depth exploration for my post-cruise city tour, escorted by Joel.


In the lobby I chatted with two guests who had returned from Blue Morpho Lodge and Anaconda Lodge in the jungle. I am glad I did not exuberantly inquire if they had spotted butterflies and snakes at their respective lodges and instead just posed the open-ended, “Did you enjoy your stay?” These were not Lepidoptera and Reptile lodges, but instead were Ayahuasca (hallucinogenic plant) Retreat Centers. The Blue Morpho guest was on a repeat visit and liked the stay. The Anaconda guy was leaving a week early and heading home to a doctor.


The locals I spoke with warned about the dangers of taking ayahuasca from incompetent providers, which was a growing segment in the market. In general they had neutral to very positive things to say about doing Ayahuasca, based on their own experiences. My itinerary had no Ayahusaca scheduled but I was hoping for a Blue Morpho or Anaconda. I got my wish.


At 11:30 am five of us departed the hotel for the airport in a private air-conditioned minibus to pick up our remaining three cruisers, arriving from Australia. While waiting at the airport, Naturalist Extraordinaire Victor asked if we’d like to look at birds. Two of us jumped at the offer.


Our airport bird highlight was about 15 minutes of close views of a male Thick-billed Euphonia and his girlfriends. Even got pictures.



Thick billed Euphonias


About 12:30, eight cruisers, Herpetologist/Host Bill Lamar, Naturalist Victor, Bill’s companion/co-worker Judy, and Scott, who was highly entertaining but only along for the road trip, departed for the 2-hour ride to Nauta, where the Ayapua was docked.


Lunch on the boat upon arrival and then we were motoring down the Nauta in high spirits by 3 pm. That afternoon I saw a couple of dolphin silhouettes arcing on the river’s surface in the distance.


5:30 -7:45 pm was our first excursion--a boat ride in the Nauto Cano tributary where we saw one black and many spectacled caiman by spotlight and enjoyed watching the stick-like Potoo.



Sunset in Pacaya Samiria

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That boat indeed looks like it's out of a movie. Very romantic. Stellar reporting, as always. The birds, the dolphins - beautiful, but I particularly liked that one of you gazing over MP. What a beautiful scene that is.


Aaaarrgh! One more of yours to add to my list! Still trying to get to Katmai and that boat...

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For anyone contemplating a trip to the Peruvian Amazon, Werner Herzog's epic movie Fitzcarraldo is a must see. The remains of the ship used in the movie are not far from the Reserva Amazonica hotel and I fondly recall an afternoon in a small boat checking it out. Read about the movie here. Truly a larger than life movie which even inspired a documentary on the making of the movie, itself very good.



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Aug 6

Our boat started moving upriver at 5:00 am and our small motorboat excursion lasted 6:30 – 8:00 am near the village of San Isidro where we observed several vultures on a bloated caiman carcass.



Black Vultures on Caiman Carcass...............................................................................................................3 toed Sloth holding baby-toes are visible, not much else visible


A more uplifting sight was mother Three-toed Sloth cuddling her baby in a Cecropia tree.


We encountered a fisherman who told us that he had caught an Anaconda in his fishing net the day before and invited us to take a look. He had it in a wooden box. We also had the privilege of meeting his family and saw his home. He’ll be getting some family photos, taken by several of us, to be delivered when the Ayapua returns. When I asked, through an interpreter, what he planned to do with the snake, the reply was that he would let it go, as the snakes are not eaten. The release would be either that day in a day or the next day, in case another boat of visitors would like to see the snake, a timetable that would be ok for the snake. I was told the snake finder was tipped for services, which he deserved.





Midday, I spied my first pink dolphin!



Capped Heron


A motorboat wildlife viewing trip from 4-6 pm produced a pair of Capped Herons, my favorite South American bird, several macaws, and a couple of busy but elusive Squirrel Monkeys.



Squirrel Monkey near bottom, on the tree trunk


Due to the low water it took until 8 pm that night to reach Ranger Station 1 of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. We tied up at the station for the night.

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AKR1, thanks for the movie comment.


The idea for the overlooking MP photo was taken from someone else taking the same photo.


Aug 7

I enjoyed some pre-dawn tai chi on the deck and watched the sun come up. We motored along until 8:30 am when we reached the trailhead for a leisurely walk of 2.5 hours. Naturalist Victor had grown up in the jungle and was intimately familiar with all its plants, roots, and fruits--from strangler figs to cat’s claw. He explained how his family had used the jungle as their medicine chest, pointing out the various medicinal plants as we walked.




A highlight of the walk was a tree rat--a little beady-eyed, striped-headed guy--peeking out of a knothole in a tree.



Tree rat


We saw a couple more pink dolphins during our daytime cruising, and several surrounded the boat as we got ready for our afternoon boat excursion.


3:30-6:45 pm we saw Squirrel Monkeys in trees along the shore and watched a small Spectacled Caiman suffer the continued annoyance bees landing on its eyelids, which barely protruded from the water.



Squirrel Monkey..................................................................................................................................................Caiman

Then we fished for piranha in two locations. While fishing, we heard a splash mid-river and Victor explained it was one of the largest fresh water fish, the Arapaima Gigas, locally known as the Paiche. The low water level meant reduced oxygen levels and the giant fish were surfacing for air. It was especially exciting to see this rarely observed fish because the reserve was created in part as a sanctuary for the Paiche. We spent an hour watching a couple of Paiche, momentarily surface and gasp for air, trying to snap a photo of the unusual occurrence. A quick glimpse of howlers rounded out the excursion.



Paiche fish coming up for oxygen


8:30-10:45 pm we did a night walk and saw: a Gray Four-eyed Opossum; several frogs, including the whimsical Clown Frog; a Prehensile-tailed Porcupine, and loads of spiders and arthropods.




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Aug 8

We passed beyond Ranger Station 2.


6:30 – 8:30 am morning walk with a highlight of a Blue Crowned Trogan.


9:30- 11:45 am Another motorboat excursion where we found a small troop of howlers with several visible. A mother and baby howler were observing us observing them. Simply enchanting! Near the howlers were blue and gold macaws.





By 4 pm we were back at Ranger Station 1 and ready for another motor boat excursion past the biggest flocks yet of cormorants and great white egrets.








Cormorants and Great White Egrets


Time for more piranha fishing while a Bluish-fronted Jacamar watched from the underbrush. Then we motored to San Martin Lake to enjoy an exquisite sun set.







8:00-9:30 pm was a night walk that just two of us went on with Bill Lamar. We had a Common Opossum run across the path, practically over our feet within minutes of starting the walk and then it perched in a tree looking down upon us from a tree when we returned. We got to see another Clown Frog. But that was about all, prompting Bill to declare that our walk had been the slowest he had been on in 20 years. There was a reason for that. The past rainy season had been particularly wet and water levels had hit 100 year highs, flooding well into the jungle and clearing out a lot of species that reside on the jungle floor. They had not returned yet.

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Edited by Atravelynn
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Aug 9

We awoke, moored at Ranger Station 1. From sunrise until 8:00 am I could see pink dolphins feeding in the waterway that connects the Marañon River and San Martin Lake. This region offered a transition between the faster flowing river and the stiller lake water. Transition habitats are often fertile areas. Fish like them and dolphins like the fish. Sightings were at a distance and brief, although there were dolphins that thrashed on the surface for several seconds at a time at unpredictable spots. Not conducive to photography but good for binocs. My guess was between 4 and 6 pink dolphins accounted for 75 to 100 appearances of some body part of a dolphin. A thrilling early morn!



Pink dolphins


8:00-8:45 am we visited Ranger Station 1 and got to assist in burying Sideneck and Yellow Spotted Sideneck turtle eggs. How exciting, since the reserve was created in part as a sanctuary for these turtles.



Burying Sideneck Turtle eggs with a Ranger at Ranger Station 1


Shortly after leaving the ranger station a Sideneck turtle dashed (yes dashed) down the bank into the water as we passed. I hoped we had not disturbed any egg laying. We continued back down the river toward civilization. From 11:00 to 12:30 we visited a village and were graciously invited into several homes.


At 4pm those who wished to go for a swim could do so in an area known as the Tiger River. I remained on board the Ayapua, but those in the water could claim they swam with river dolphins because some gray dolphins came by to check out the commotion. The dolphins were within 20 feet of the swimmers and at least one photo from one camera captured all swimmers and a dorsal fin!


8-9:30 pm we did a night boat trip on the Nahuapa Tributary and saw a Giant Cane Toad, Gallant Frog, Kinkajou, Boat-billed Heron, and the star of the evening: the deadly Fer-de-lance!




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Aug 10

Our last morning walk from 8:30-11:30 provided three Scarlet Macaws and a diminutive Whip snake.



Whip Snake


A final activity took us to the confluence of the Amazon, the Ucayaly River and the Marañón River. One of our cruisers had brought her mother’s ashes in a small decorative urn to cast into these waters. We held a simple ceremony on the small motorboat, all holding hands, as naturalist Victor (a man of many talents) said some impromptu and moving words. It was quite touching. There even were some gray dolphins and a pink one visible for a few moments.


Then things turned a little humorous. The high humidity prevented the ashes from sprinkling out and into the currents. Instead, they clumped together in the lovely urn which had to be banged a few times against the boat, breaking the mood of solemn silence and causing some giggles. Our giggles turned to laughter when we learned that it was not only Mother, who had always dreamed of visiting the Amazon, whose ashes filled the urn. Father’s ashes were in there too. Although Father had absolutely no desire to become one in spirit with the mighty river, years ago the ashes of both her parents had been mixed. So if Mom was Amazon bound, Dad was too. As a compromise, there were still some of their mixed ashes back home on dry land.


Quote of the Trip

This thoughtful and witty lady also provided the quote of the trip. Our first night on the boat she was unable to sleep, so she informed us that for Night #2 she’d be taking an Ambien and warned about any potential odd behavior she might exhibit. Apparently the last time she took Ambien she unknowingly performed some late night grooming and plucking. She recounted, “I got up the next morning, looked in the mirror, and had no g0dd@mN eyebrows.” Fortunately all eyebrows remained accounted for on this cruise.



med_gallery_108_718_27596.jpg med_gallery_108_718_49058.jpg

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A condor flying over Machu PIcchu? What a rush!


I'll have to rent Fitzcarraldo and look for Mick. On the topic of Mick Jagger, he rented out Reserva Amazonica Lodge, which AKR1 mentioned, for his whole family, I was told.



Aug 11

A final breakfast on board and a 2-hour road trip by private air-conditioned mini-bus back to Iquitos, in time for the Iquitos city tour with Joel, on foot and by mototaxi. The Australian family was not feeling well, so it was just Joel and me. The floating city of Belen and food markets were particularly interesting.






Palm nut grub


I asked to visit Casa Morey, a rubber boom period mansion and hotel that would pair nicely from a historical perspective with the restored rubber boat, The Ayapua. The Casa Morey lobby was exquisite.




Casa Moray Hotel, nice complement to Ayapua, celebrating booming days of rubber business


When I asked why there was so much painting going on around the city, Joel explained that the annual Amazonas Wonder of the World Festival was going to be held that night. That prompted my request to Scott at the Green Tracks Iquito office, who arranged for Jonathon (the motorboat driver/spotter from the Ayapua) and Priscilla (Judy’s sister) to be my escorts for wandering around the late night Iquitos Amazon party. I was impressed how I was able to partake in this unique and lively annual event with the last minute assistance of Green Tracks.




Poster announcing the upcoming party to celebrate the Amazon

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I'm so enjoying your report which has appeared with perfect timing as this weekend I am tackling (again) the Amazon planning for next year's trip. That was a very good anaconda sighting and the pink sunsets are amazing.


I'm looking forward to reading more,




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