Exploring the Peruvian Amazon Jungle Responsibly: Iquitos

1 May 2018

Finding tours and experiences to visit the Peruvian Amazon is easy. The hard part is finding tours, guides and experiences with truly responsible ecotourism practices.

As you may already know, I'm Peruvian. Yet I first visited the Amazon for the first time only a few years ago when Chris and I were visiting my family for the holidays. When mum mentioned we could go on a jungle adventure for four days, including flights, lodging, meals and excursions, for £320/ US$500 (for both of us!) we booked our trip without thinking it twice.

Before you keep reading... I also wrote a guide to 2 Weeks in Peru. It's a free downloadable 1-page PDF and you can get it here.

Where Can You Stay in The Amazon Rainforest? Eco-Friendly Accommodation

Since the rise of Eco-tourism in Peru in the 70s, there's been a boom in Ecolodges and sustainable tourism operators. Trips to the Amazon are generally booked as a package because lodges lie in remote locations. Activities, transport, food, etc. are all organised for small groups at a time, and you can see what each lodge offers on their websites.

We booked a 4 day/3 night package with Cumaceba Lodges and Tours because they were recommended to us by my mum's trusted travel agent (a small independent business). The lodge uses sustainable energy (solar panels charge a generator that is turned on during reduced hours in the evening) and it has low environmental impact facilities.

I've done some digging into alternative lodges that are certified green. Though a lot of the material seems to suggest there are varying degrees of sustainability, I found out Rainforest Alliance has their own certification (Rainforest Alliance Certified™) and they carry out audits on specific practices before giving their seal of approval. The only lodge in the Northern Amazonian jungle that is RA Certified is The Tahuayo Lodge.

What Can You Do in the Amazon Rainforest? Adventures and Animal Welfare

We were welcomed at the airport in Iquitos and taken to a small hostel in town. From there, we caught a motorised canoe to our lodge in the jungle. Lodges are elevated to avoid flash floods from the overflowing river and to stay out of the way of snakes and other crawlers.

One of the things that first hits you when you go to the jungle is the oppressive heat and humidity. The canopy of trees under which the lodge lies is a welcome retreat.

The lodge consists of several huts interconnected by raised steps or walkways. There's a dining area and a chilling out area with hammocks. As we step onto the main area, we're handed Camu-camu juice and then we're ushered into our hut to freshen up before lunch.

For lunch we eat delicious fried fish with traditional jungle accompaniments: fried bananas, beans with salsa, rice and Camu-camu sauce. Jungle lodges are very good in catering for vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free, etc. - you just need to make sure you state your dietary needs/preferences well in advance (at the time of booking). The cooking is basic (and so is the kitchen, powered by an open flame and the most rudimentary of tools) but the food is tasty and fresh. Everything is sourced on location.

Soon after lunch, we we're off on our first excursion. We board the motorised canoe again to visit the land of a family that keeps several animals in what's dubbed an "animal sanctuary" or rescue centre. I'm not sure how much of an animal sanctuary this really is.

Chris Reed and monkey in the Amazonian jungle
Blue and Yellow Macaw sits on a think branch on a tree in the Peruvian rainforest

There's Capuchin Monkeys, turtles, sloths, birds and a boa constrictor. They're all roaming freely, but visitors are allowed to interact with the wildlife (even hold the boa), which is not considered a responsible animal welfare practice. Chris and I stay clear of the animals except to photograph them - but soon a monkey climbs atop Chris and starts rubbing her bits all over his head!

Before we return to the lodge we go looking for pink and grey dolphins. We get lucky and spot several feeding and happily jumping out of the water. A small boy in our party has brought his swimming trunks with him and is now going for a swim in the Amazon river. We don't tell him about the piranhas.

Back in the lodge there's time for relaxation. At some point between the hammock naps and the unlimited trips to get tea I decide to nip into the kitchen and try to learn a thing or two about regional cooking.

Rustic Peruvian rainforest kitchen in Iquitos Ecolodge
image of caught piranhas on a table waiting to be cooked

After dinner we go looking for Caymans (similar to crocs) in the dark. There's no moon, only the faint light from the stars shining above us. There are a thousand noises of the jungle at night - it's overwhelming and beautiful and powerful all at once. There's the croak of toads, the chirp of birds and the buzzing of cicadas.

The darkness is interrupted with tiny specks of light from light worms and fireflies flying here and there. The guides are experts, they sail smoothly and incredibly quietly, shining their torches looking for a pair of red eyes. At one point our guide captures a small Cayman (definitely not ethical!) and passes it to me - I'm sat just behind him. Behind me, there's 5 other people including Chris, all in a line in this narrow canoe. I can't see anything but I'm warned that I must hold on tight otherwise the Cayman can shake and free itself. If it does, it will bite me. I'm not impressed with this.

Tribal Tourism: Meeting the Yaguas Tribe

The next morning I wake to the most amazing birdsong. The noise this bird makes is like it's dropping into water, then coming out and singing. In the distance someone's beating a drum made out of hollowed tree-trunk: it's breakfast time.

At breakfast we're told we're going to visit the Yaguas tribe. This is a tribe native to the area with only about 4,000 tribe members left. they live in independent communities (due to the distance between communities), led by a chief priest. Their main economic activities are fishing, hunting, gathering and itinerant agriculture. The small group we'll see today also produce handicrafts and make an income from tourist visits and from selling these handicrafts.

We meet the Yaguas and learn about them, deforestation and the practices that disrupt them and drive them away from their homes for the gain of large corporations and industry. After a chat, we get time to interact and talk to the tribe. We get face paint and are taught how to use the Cerbatana (blowgun) - I hit the target on the first go.

In order to write this blog post, I research the Yaguas community and enter "Cerbatana" on google images. I find several images of the same Chief Priest I saw all those years ago - he must be so much older now. I feel saddened at the thought of this group of people having to meet tourists day after day for years on end to make a living, but I am glad to have met them and learnt about their way of life and the practices that endanger their communities.

Paiche Farm and Piranha Fishing

We go back to the lodge for lunch and some more hammock time. In the afternoon we visit a "Paiche" farm set in a village off the river. The Paiche is an Amazonian pre-historic fish the size of a large human adult. In recent years its meat has become prized for Peruvian and Brasilian cooking, and farmed Paiches get exported to the States and beyond. You may have tasted it if you've been to Sushi Samba or if you buy your groceries at Whole Foods.

Luckily, thanks to extensive conservation efforts, the government announced that Paiches were no longer in danger of extinction in the region.

Later in the night the party goes looking for tarantulas - I give it a miss and read a book under my solar-powered bedside lamp, feeling itchy.

On our last day in the jungle we go Piranha fishing. Fishing in the Amazon is tightly controlled - and is only allowed for personal consumption, not for commercial purposes. Chris & I catch a few Piranhas, which are cooked for us later that night by the lodge staff.

The following day we return to Iquitos town by boat. We spend a day and a night there exploring the town and market - we wrote about it here.

Closing Thoughts

Our time in the jungle has been eye-opening. I have had more contact with nature in the last four days here than I've had in my entire life. The experience has left me thinking about the thousands of tourists visiting the Peruvian jungle every year and the efforts local government has made to ensure the preservation of wildlife, flora & local communities. Is enough being done to protect this area? I for once, know what I would do differently if I were to do this again.

If you're ready for your jungle experience, I wrote some tips you can't miss before you go and some stuff you can do in a day in Iquitos town.

Do you have any specific questions, need advice or have a great tip to share? We love to answer questions and discuss! Leave us a comment!

This post was originally published in 2012 and has since been updated. This is not a sponsored post.


  1. Me encanta este post Cate <3 Preciosas fotos. No lo dejes.