The next post is written by Daniel Alfranca Gil, a Spaniard who has been living in Tarapoto for three years, a small city located in the center of the Amazon jungle of Peru. Daniel contacted me personally wishing to write an article about the Peruvian jungle, so I agreed to his request to tell us a little about an interesting tour that you can follow if you intend to meet it from Tarapoto. With nothing more to add, I leave to Daniel:
Beyond the Andean summits and the Incas, there is another less well-known Peru, but one that vindicates itself with forcefulness just by looking at the map. More than 50% of the total area of the country is composed of tropical moist forests, which is popularly known as the jungle.
It is not, also, a small forest, much less insignificant. The Amazon is the green lung of the earth and here is a large part of the animal and plant biodiversity of the whole world. Only in the area where I live (Tarapoto) can you find 10% of all the birds on the planet, and many of them are endemic and only inhabit here.
It is true that there are certain areas of the Peruvian jungle more or less known and even, in some cases, overexploited. That is the situation of Iquitos, in the easternmost part of Peru, or Puerto Maldonado, which is closer to Cuzco; but usually, the majority of the Peruvian Amazonian territory remains hidden before the predatory eye of mass tourism.
Of course, that’s great news for the backpacker who runs away from the crowds and who is curious about unexplored places. The jungle of Peru has hundreds of sites so they also have the fortunate quality of being good, beautiful and, if you follow the advice of this guide, also cheap. In what comes next, you can discover some of those places and find some ideas to do it without squeezing too much your pocket.
1- Starting point: Tarapoto
If you are not Peruvian, the most likely thing is that the city of Tarapoto is not very familiar to you. It is not well known outside the country, but you should know that every day you receive a minimum of six direct flights from Lima. Of all the airlines that land at their airport, the cheapest are Viva Air and StarPerú.
It is advisable to start the adventure from Tarapoto because this city has a much more centered position on the map than Iquitos and is halfway between the mountainous high jungle and the plains of the Amazon lowland jungle. From Tarapoto, you will find it much easier to move to any of those points and it is also one of the safest and quietest populations in all of Peru.
Of course, expectations will determine the amount of day you want to stay here. In reality, it is not a very beautiful city and the most interesting is in the lush jungle that surrounds it. However, it is important to know that Tarapoto is a very popular destination due to the consumption of the sacred ayahuasca plant, and many people from all over the world come here to perform the shamanic ceremonies.
If you are curious about this ritual and healing root, it is a good opportunity to try it although then it is preferable that you stay three days in the city: one day for preparation, another for the ceremony and another for rest as the effects are quite intense. A recommended center for the shot is Tangaranas and the price per session is around S / .200 soles (about $ 61 at the current rate).
To stay you can find many very cheap hostels below S / .50 soles ($ 14) per single room, but I can recommend two that are specifically aimed at the backpacking public: Colibri and Mishki Shunku.
By the time you make the decision to leave Tarapoto, I suggest you go north. Following the course of the Huallaga River, you will be able to enjoy the landscape changes and the temperature of the high jungle to the low jungle, to then ultimately reach the largest river in the world: the Amazon.
2- Way to Yurimaguas
The final destination of your next stop should be Yurimaguas, which is about two hours by car from Tarapoto. From this city, located in the district of Loreto and belonging to the Amazonian lowland forest, you can board a boat that will take you to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, where some of the most beautiful photographs of the Amazon rainforest have been taken.
However, it is recommended that to get to Yurimaguas take public transport, as the distance is not very long and is the cheapest means. The best-known company that performs this type of service in the region is Turismo Selva, and today the price per person on the Tarapoto-Yurimaguas route is S / .10 soles (less than $ 4).
It is also important that you consider the schedule. Yurimaguas is undoubtedly a place of passage, and it is sure that you will be able to spend a good night there although during the day there is not much to see. The boat you should take in the direction of Pacaya Samiria leaves at 7 am, so it is best to spend the night in Yurimaguas. As in the case of Tarapoto, you can find many hostels at reasonable prices.
3- Start of the Fluvial route towards the town of Lagunas.
On your pilgrimage to Pacaya Samiria, you must first pass through the town of Lagunas, which is the western gateway to the reserve. A local company that makes this route is Botes Rapidos Bravo. As its name suggests, this company has a fleet of speedboats that will take you from Yurimaguas to Lagunas in less time than a normal boat. In the 6 hours that the journey lasts, you will have time to take refuge in your thoughts and contemplate the beautiful landscape of the route. All this will cost you around S / .40 soles (about $ 12 more or less).
Once you get to Lagunas, I recommend you go directly to find accommodation. As in the rest of the region, you will be able to find very competitive prices for lodging, although without great luxuries in the facilities. For you to have any reference, I can recommend the Renaco Inn, which is where I was. There the night will cost you S / .40 soles and a few mosquito bites if you do not have a protector.
As for Lagunas itself, it is a pretty picturesque town and a passing area on the route that goes from Iquitos to Yurimaguas. Its inhabitants live basically from the benefits of that intermediate position between the two populations, agriculture and a little tourism. If you like to take pictures, Lagunas is a good place for social photography. However, do not go to sleep too late because the next day starts early (around 8 am) the trip to the destination of the trip star: The Pacaya Samiria reserve.
4- The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
As Pacaya Samiria is a protected area, a special permit is required to enter it. You will only be able to enter with operators that have it. So far, in Lagunas, there are two agencies that have that permission, but it is best to ask directly at the hotel. They will gladly inform you because they will most likely take a commission to send you to the operator they work with.
At a general level, for you to take it into account and do not charge tourist tax, the price per day of excursion to the reserve is around S / .170 soles (about $ 50). If it seems high, keep in mind that this cost includes transportation, the reservation guide, and three meals. I mean, basically, you have the day covered.
To know a little more about the reservation, I will tell you some interesting information:
- The name Pacaya Samiria comes from the two rivers that run through the area, the Pacaya and the Samiria
- Motor navigation through these rivers is prohibited so as not to disturb the animals and the environment. That is why the journey is made with rowing boats.
- Some of the most outstanding animals are the pink dolphins, the choro monkey, and the spider monkey, the lazy bear, the ronsoco (the largest rodent in the world), several types of turtle and if you are lucky you will see anacondas and boas.
- If you want to delve further into the reserve, I recommend that you prepare to stay to sleep in one of the different positions that exist.
In general, the minimum to visit it and not stay wanting more is 2 or 3 days. If you stay to sleep inside the reserve, you can go deeper into the jungle and visit the most unexplored areas. In fact, it is the most recommended.
Keep in mind that from there you can not continue your route to the Amazon. You will have to return to Lagunas before heading to Nautas and Iquitos, the last stop of the trip.
5- Arriving at the Amazon from Nauta and Iquitos
The river that you have been traveling all the way to Lagunas is the Huallaga. If it has seemed very extensive, you should know that the flow of this river goes to an even larger one: the Marañón, which does flow directly into the Amazon.
Your destination, Nauta, is a town on the banks of the Marañón River and is much more prepared for mass tourism because it is less than 100 kilometers from Iquitos. It also has a road that connects directly with Iquitos and therefore the boat transports that transit the Marañón River stop here, since it is easier to make the last stretch by car. Nauta is also one of the entry points to the Pacaya Samiria reserve, but as everything is more exploited, entering this side will be more expensive.
When you arrive, you can spend the night here or in Iquitos, but in both cases try to have the previously booked accommodation since you will arrive just when the sun is setting.
When you finally arrive in Iquitos, you can continue the journey following the course of the Amazon, or take a flight back to Lima or back to Tarapoto.
For my part, here I finish this writing. I hope you have enjoyed the trip and do not hesitate to ask your questions with a comment, which will gladly help you answer them.