I could have listened to David Attenborough’s soothing English accent while watching one of his wildlife documentaries. His voice was in my head, but my view was better than any super wide high definition screen. I was sprawled, slowly sinking into an expansive futon on the screened porch of my cabin. As two fans swirled slowly overhead, I looked over tall palm fronds and plants with leaves the size of umbrellas. The branches shook as the monkeys ran from tree to tree, disturbing the peace. Relaxing at a 30 degree angle with coca tea in hand, I basked in the Amazon rainforest.
I had the following amazing adventures in the Amazon; and you can have them too.
1. Sleep on soft beds in the jungle
Something of a juxtaposition perhaps, but it’s possible to experience the raw savagery of nature while enjoying decadent creature comforts. My wife and I spent 3 days at Hotel Hacienda Concepcion of Inkaterra — 25 minutes by boat from Puerto Maldonado, on the eastern border of Peru — in the lush Amazon rainforest. We weren’t going to be rough just because we were in the jungle.
Built on the site of a former cocoa and rubber plantation, the 2,000-acre site includes 25 private cabins. The cabins were clean, airy and spacious. Two fans provided draft when the electric generator was on (usually in the morning, a few hours at noon, and again in the evening). Two incredibly soft beds had enough mosquito nets to protect but not suffocate.
I woke up at the first light of day to the sound of howler monkeys shouting “hello” as they ran up the roof of the hut and fell asleep to the sound of cicadas chirping. Maybe it was the exercise, the good food and the cocktails, or more likely the fresh, pristine air, the soothing temperature and the comfortable mattress that did it. But I have never slept so well.
2. Take a nighttime river trip
Our days were filled with tours suitable for children and (with the exception of the canopy walk) those with limited mobility. On our first evening, we sailed downstream on a nighttime excursion armed with a powerful searchlight and a wish list to spot. It gets dark quickly and early (sunset was just before 6pm) so we didn’t need a late check out. The trip revealed not only exotic wildlife (a capybara and a yellow caiman were the highlights) but also a sky resembling a million diamonds strewn across black velvet. It was wonderfully remote and natural.
Pro Tip: Wear long sleeves and long pants at night. Although each cabin has two flashlights to use, it would have been helpful to have brought our headlamps for walking after the sun went down.
3. Explore the rainforest – Discover the “walking trees” and the creatures that will kill you
It was early the next morning at 6am to see the wildlife before it got too hot. A guide led our small group of eight about 5 miles on flat, very easy terrain in the adjoining area Tambopata National Reserve. We were joined by a father and his 8 year old son as well as a couple well into their sixties. The way through the reserve was mostly on a boardwalk – easier for tourists, but somehow I felt a bit cheated. I was hoping for something half a step after having to smash my way through the underbrush with a machete.
We were continuously serenaded by a cacophony of sound. From rainbow-colored macaws, which always seemed to argue, to talkative parrots and different types of monkeys, which also seemed to have a lot to say. Our guide was outstanding, spotting killer creatures 50 paces away. We’ve seen inch-long ants that will give you more than a headache if they sting you; and a furry orange caterpillar that looked cuddly but was loaded with poison. He was just sitting on a tree bark waiting to be petted. I kept my hands in my pockets. We passed giant centuries-old trees and others that had wandered around. Yes really. The “walking trees” do just that. In their search for a better position to catch the sunlight, the aerial roots actually move to a new position and displace the tree. I got up and watched and waited and waited. When I learned that the trees moved about an inch a year, I joined the rest of the tour.
Pro tips: Don’t touch anything unless your guide tells you it’s okay. Innocent looking creatures may not be as innocent as they look. Don’t rummage through the underbrush, especially under the cabin deck. Years ago, a visitor dropped his lighter and was looking for it in the leaves. She was dead 8 minutes later, bitten by a Bushmaster snake. Rare, but it happens.
4. Fish for piranha
Sitting in a wooden canoe with a guide and five other townspeople on the edge of a lagoon off the Madre De Dios River, piranha fishing is one of those exotic experiences that makes for great dinner tales.
I am not a fisherman – in fact, I had never fished before. There I was, a bamboo cane in my hand with its string dangling in the still, brown water, intently focused on an imaginary point on the surface a few feet away.
It wasn’t long before I felt a tug on the line and excitedly snapped the rod, almost punching our guide in the face. The hook was bare. The piece of raw meat I had put on the hook was gone, but there was no sign of the thief. I felt cheated. I had the crazy idea of swirling my finger in the water, but a quick nudge in the ribs from my wife quickly put that schoolboy thought to rest.
Another tug and I quickly pulled out my bamboo rod, causing my fellow adventurers to lean like palm trees swaying in the wind. An angry-looking yellow and silver piranha dangled from the end of my line. My fleeting moment of victory quickly turned into cowardice as the guide had to unhook and put him back in the water. Before releasing him, he used his machete to open his mouth and show us the teeth that would have happily ripped out the tip of my finger had I come up with my reckless idea.
5. Enter the tree canopy
Our tours have been designed to expose and educate us about the different levels of the rainforest – including the highest level, the tree canopy. We sailed a short distance to a sister station, where we climbed hundreds of steps to reach a series of six rope bridges. We were 90 feet tall and walked (and sometimes swayed) through the canopy of trees. My wife, who isn’t afraid of heights but was decidedly unsure about standing on a swinging rope bridge, tentatively crossed the first 150 foot bridge while holding on to the ropes with a shaped handle vise. At the last bridge, she was almost jumping off, only stopping to admire the spectacular view. The three-toed sloth, doing what sloths do best, struggled to lift its head as we passed a few feet from its perch.
Pro Tip: Wear sturdy shoes. It is not for people who have difficulty climbing stairs, are afraid of heights, or have mobility issues in general.
6. Savor gourmet meals in the jungle
Meals were served in the comfortable and airy Casa Grande lodge, all wood and windows. The menu was varied and three courses were served at lunch and dinner. I suspect that any stay longer than a week would soon see the menu repeat itself. The food was gourmet and very tasty, focusing on organic and local ingredients with regional seasonings. Fresh vegetables were a popular alternative to the carbohydrate-rich potato and rice diet offered in other parts of Peru. Casa Grande is a great place to relax at Hacienda Concepción, especially during afternoon cocktail hour, and share stories with other adventurers.
Pro Tip: Some of the finer details of the food can get lost in translation, so ask the servers. We were offered a “genoise” for dessert. I wasn’t impressed until I realized it was actually tres leches – a totally different league! It was excellent and I couldn’t get enough of it.
7. Visit Nature’s Pharmacy
Our last visit was to the “pharmacy” – an area of the Inkaterra property which has been cultivated with natural plants which for centuries have been used as medicine. It was cool seeing turmeric growing in the wild, picking our own coca leaves, and learning about plants that, well, make you see things. I was asked to bite off a plant root – just a little pinch between my front teeth. Within seconds, my tongue was numb. I wasn’t going to die, but it sure was an excellent anesthetic.
Discover the Earth in raw luxury
It was great to explore this diverse planet in the raw. Not only did we see and hear wildlife up close and personal, in their own habitat, but we also engaged in activities we had only seen on TV before. We learned so much, and we had it spoiled in relatively luxurious comfort.
For more amazing experiences from our writers in Peru, check out: