I could have been listening 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, hi-def screen. I was sprawled out, slowly sinking into an expansive futon on the screened-in porch of my cabana. As two fans twirled slowly above, I looked out over large palm fronds and plants with leaves the size of umbrellas. Branches twitched as monkeys scampered from tree to tree, disturbing the tranquility. Relaxing at a 30-degree angle with a coca tea in hand, I was luxuriating 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 maybe, but it is possible to experience the raw wildness of nature while enjoying some decadent creature comforts. My wife and I were spending 3 days at Inkaterra’s Hacienda Concepción hotel — a 25-minute boat ride from Puerto Maldonado on Peru’s eastern border — in the lush Amazon Rainforest. We were not going to be roughing it just because we were in the jungle.
Built on the site of a former cacao and rubber plantation, the 2,000-acre site features 25 private cabanas. The cabanas were clean, airy, and roomy. Two fans provided a draft when the electrical generator was switched on (typically in the mornings, a couple of hours at lunchtime, and again in the evenings). Two spectacularly soft beds had mosquito nets that were sufficient to protect but not suffocate.
I woke at first light to the sound of howler monkeys calling out “good morning” as they scampered over the roof of the cabana and fell asleep to the sound of cicadas chirruping. Maybe it was the exercise, the good food, and cocktails, or more likely the fresh, virgin air, soothing temperature, and comfy mattress that did it. But I have never slept so well.
2. Take A Night Time River Excursion
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 downriver on a night tour armed with a powerful searchlight and a wish-list of things to spot. It gets dark quickly and early (sunset was just before 6 p.m.), so we didn’t need a late start. The trip revealed not only exotic wildlife (a capybara and a yellow cayman were the highlights) but also a sky resembling a million diamonds strewn onto black velvet. It felt wonderfully remote and natural.
Pro Tip: Wear long sleeves and long pants at nighttime. Although each cabana has two flashlights for use, it would have been useful to have brought our head-mounted lights for walking after sunset.
3. Explore The Rainforest — See “Walking Trees” And Critters That Will Kill You
It was an early 6 a.m. start the next morning to see the wildlife before it became too hot. A guide led our small group of eight about 5 miles on flat and very easy terrain into the adjacent Tambopata National Reserve. We were joined by a father and his 8-year-old son as well as a couple well into their 70s. The path 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 down from having to hack my way through the undergrowth with a machete.
We were serenaded continuously by a cacophony of sound. From rainbow-colored macaws, which always seemed to be arguing, to chattering parrots and different types of monkeys, which also seemed to have a lot to say. Our guide was outstanding, spotting killer critters at 50 paces. We saw inch-long ants that will give you more than a headache should they sting you; and an orange, furry caterpillar that looked cuddly but was laden with poison. It just sat on a tree bark waiting to be stroked. I kept my hands in my pockets. We passed giant, centuries-old trees, and others that had gone walkabout. Yes, really. The “walking trees” do just that. In their search for a better position to catch sunlight, the above-ground roots actually travel to a new position and actually move the tree. I stood and watched and waited and waited. When I learned the trees travel about an inch or so a year, I rejoined the rest of the tour.
Pro Tips: Don’t touch anything unless your guide says it’s OK. Innocent-looking critters may not be as innocent as they look. Don’t scrabble about in the undergrowth, especially under the cabana deck. Years ago, a visitor dropped her lighter and was poking around for it in the leaves. She was dead 8 minutes later, having been bitten by a Bushmaster snake. Rare, but it happens.
4. Fish For Piranha
Sitting in a wooden canoe with a guide and five other city dwellers at the edge of a lagoon off the Madre De Dios River, fishing for piranha, is one of those exotic experiences that make for great dinner party tales.
I am no fisherman — in fact, I had never fished before. Here I was, bamboo cane in hand with its string dangling in the tranquil, brown water, focused intently on some imaginary spot on the surface a few feet away.
It wasn’t long before I felt a tug on the line and excitedly snapped the rod back, almost smacking our guide in the face. The hook was bare. The piece of raw meat I had threaded onto the hook was gone, but there was no sign of the thief. I felt cheated. I had the crazy idea of just swirling my finger in the water, but a swift nudge in the ribs from my wife quickly put paid to that schoolboy thought.
Another tug and I quickly pulled back my bamboo rod, causing my fellow adventurers to lean apart like palms swaying in the wind. A thrashing, angry-looking, silver and yellow piranha was hanging on the end of my line. My fleeting moment of victory quickly dissolved into cowardice as the guide had to do the unhooking and release it back to the water. Before releasing it, he used his machete to prise open the mouth and show us the teeth that would have happily taken off the tip of my finger had I gone through with my foolhardy idea.
5. Get Into The Tree Canopy
Our tours were designed to expose and educate us on the various levels of the rainforest — including the highest level, the tree canopy. We sailed a short distance to a sister resort, where we climbed hundreds of steps to access a series of six rope bridges. We were 90 feet high and walking (and occasionally swaying) in the tree canopy. My wife, who is not afraid of heights but was decidedly unsure about standing on a swinging rope bridge, tentatively crossed the first 150-foot bridge while holding onto the ropes with a vice-like grip. By the last bridge, she was all but skipping across, stopping only to take in the spectacular view. The three-toed sloth, doing what sloths do best, struggled to raise his head as we passed within a few feet from his treetop perch.
Pro Tip: Wear sturdy footwear. This is not for people who have difficulty climbing stairs, are afraid of heights, or have general mobility issues.
6. Enjoy 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 both lunch and dinner. I suspect any stay over a week would soon see the menu repeating. The food was gourmet and very tasty, focused on organic and locally sourced ingredients with regional seasonings. The fresh vegetables were a much-welcomed alternative to the high carbohydrate potato and rice regimen offered in other parts of Peru. The Casa Grande is a great place to relax at the Hacienda Concepción, especially at afternoon cocktail hour, and share stories with fellow adventurers.
Pro Tip: Some of the finer details of the food can get lost in translation, so quiz the wait staff. We were offered “sponge cake” for dessert. I wasn’t impressed until I realized it was actually tres leches — a totally different league! It was excellent, and I could not get enough.
7. Visit Nature’s Pharmacy
Our final tour was to the “pharmacy” — an area on the Inkaterra property that has been cultivated with naturally occurring plants that, for centuries, have been used as medicine. It was cool to see turmeric growing in the wild, pick our own coca leaves, and be introduced to plants that, well, make you see things. I was invited to bite down on a plant root — just a tiny nip between my front teeth. Within seconds my tongue was numb. I wasn’t going to die, but it sure was a great anesthetic.
Experience 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 its own habitat, but we also engaged in activities we had only previously seen on TV. We learned so much, and we did it spoiled in relatively luxurious comfort.
For more of our writers’ incredible experiences in Peru, check out: