Our plane touched ground in Iquitos, Peru and we funneled out the doors down to the black tarmac. The humidity hit us like entering a steam room in heavy clothing. We wore the heavy air like an extra layer of clothing clinging to our skin. Welcome to the Jungle played in the back of my mind as we waited for our backpacks to make it around the conveyor belt.
We located the desk for Amazonia Expeditions, the company hosting us at their lodge in the Amazon for 8 days. They organized our flights from Lima and transported us from the airport to the Tahuayo Lodge in the Amazon. We splurged on this trip, $1,200 per person for 8 days, to experience something unique.
The company was started by Dr. Paul Beaver, an American Zoologist and researcher who visited the Tahuayo river basin for its biodiversity and discovered a unique opportunity to start a travel adventure company named Amazonia Expeditions. Forty years later this camping adventure company runs a luxury lodge and a rustic Research Center in the National Reserve of the Peruvian Amazon and are the only company with lodges in this area. Paul married Dolly, of Iquitos, and they run the company locally and through an office in Florida.
Our personal guide Javier met us at the office in Iquitos, handed us a bagged lunch, and we hopped in the metal sword fish-looking boat to head three hours up the three rivers of the Itaya, Amazon, and Tahuayo to the lodge. The Itaya river looked polluted by its proximity to Iquitos and from all the floating trash tossed in the waters. Luckily, when we reached the brown waters of the wide Amazon River, that runs from Colombia to Ecuador to Peru then to Brazil, there was less trash. When the water turned the color of milky coffee, we knew we had passed into the black waters of the Tahuayo river. We passed several communities along the waters edge. The communities along the river were the Tamshiyacu, Huaisi, Esperanza, Buena Vista, and the closest to the lodge was El Chino.
A lot of the local guides are hired from Chino. The company also runs a nonprofit named Angels of the Amazon and uses their funding to build schools in Chino and a health clinic in Esperanza. As we pulled up to the Tahuayo Lodge we marveled at the stilted network of cabins, walkways, and decks. It looked like an elaborate tree house in the forest.
Our room sat at the back end of the lodge in the peaceful, yet noisy amphitheater of the Jungle. The room surpassed any of our expectations and felt more luxurious than any place we’d stayed on our trip thus far. We had a king-sized canopy bed with fluffy pillows and a full white canopy, two hammocks and two lounge chairs, with an ensuite bathroom and two twin beds if we had kids.
Everyday they served us elaborate meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The chefs amazed us with their beautiful presentation and delicious dishes that were a fusion of Peruvian, Amazon, and International foods. We left each meal feeling fully satiated and sometimes over full.
We spent three days at the main lodge and three days at the remote research center further into the jungle. Each evening we met with Javier after dinner and set a plan for the following day. They offer full day hikes or activities for the morning, afternoon, and even the night. It’s up to you!
For the second day after arrival and first tour day, the day we named “snake day”, we went on a full day tour of the “high ground.” There you can search the leaves of bromeliads for the small and exotic poison dart frogs that come in bright yellow and black or red. On our way there, Ethan wanted to pull the boat closer to the beautiful monkey’s brush flowers in the bush that stand out with their red and yellow bristles. While snapping pictures of the exotic flowers, Javier pointed frantically into the bush at a green anaconda resting on a branch. I immediately yelped and backed up, while Ethan moved in for a close-up video and Javier snapped off branches to get a closer look. Before they could truly analyze it, the 5 ft adolescent anaconda unwound itself and dove into the river.
We continued our journey to higher ground and arrived to a cloud of mosquitoes on the shore. These mosquitoes accompanied us through the forest, hissing in our ears and feeding on our fresh blood. I almost lost my mind smacking them away every few seconds. On the hike through the thick jungle, we met another baby snake on the path. It was small enough, I even found it cute despite my snake phobia.
Along the path Javier spotted a lizard clinging to a tree trunk, a pointy-nosed frog hiding in a pile of leaves, a toad, a fancy yellow caterpillar with a black pointy spine, colorful rainbow trogon birds chirping in the branches, and 300 year old trees. He showed us the different types of sap dripping from the trees. One tree’s sap smelled like citrus and is used by natives as an antiseptic. Javier sliced open the rubber tree and let the whitish gray liquid drip out. He told us about the rubber boom of the 1800s and fashioned us rings of rubber and performed a silly wedding ritual for us.
We looked in the leaves of 50 different bromeliads searching for a poison dart frog and finally found a bright yellow one peering out of the large green leaf. Then Ethan spotted a snake on the path very close to Javier and he told us to back up quickly, because that coiled snake ready to spring at us was none other than the lancehead, which could kill us within two hours of being bitten. We diverted the path while Javier and Beto, our boat driver, shooed it off the path with a long stick. We all took deep breaths as our hearts pounded through our chests knowing that could’ve been the end for one of us. They can’t kill it, because it’s a conservation area.
The rain started to pour down through the trees right as we reached the large fallen tree trunk serving as a cave for bats. I snapped a picture of a cute bat at the entrance, before we all darted out of the forest to the shelter for lunch. It was a very wet ride home.
That night, after we warmed up from the rain and a cold river water shower and put on dry clothes, we recounted our day with other guests. I couldn’t sleep that evening listening to the cacophonous symphony of the forest’s nocturnal creatures. The night echoed with buzzing cicadas and crickets, croaking frogs, and shrieking monkeys. It sounded like a wild party.
I awoke the third day feeling very exhausted. We spent the morning high up in the canopy of the rainforest ziplining. Also from the top canopy lookout we spotted all different types of tanager birds. Their small bodies displayed so many colors. We watched the bright paradise tanagers with their aquamarine chests, Kermit the frog green heads, and black wings flitting around the tree branches right above us as we swatted away mosquitoes. We swooped through the trees from platform to platform, then shimmied our way down the line to the ground.
In the afternoon, we took the boat out down the river to search for pink river dolphins. Along the way, Javier spotted a sloth resting high up in the tree. Once we reached the point where the Tahuayo and Amazon river meet, we immediately saw pink dolphins breaking the surface to check us out. They popped up all over the water with their long thin nose and pink bodies. We hopped in the water for a quick swim hoping they would join us. Unfortunately, they were too shy. They were so hard to capture on film, so we just enjoyed the moments when they emerged from the water. We stuck around for an hour, then revved the engine and powered home. Two more three-toed sloths hanging in the trees greeted us on the way home. So we deemed the day “sloth day”.
We were feeling cocky by day four after spotting so many animals that our luck caught up with us and we didn’t see much for two full days. We did enjoy a nice relaxing canoe ride through the flooded forests. The enormous walking trees spread their many trunks and roots across the shallow waters. We ducked under low branches and weaved between trees. We reached a lake with caimans, but didn’t see any. The day felt peaceful though and we got a workout trying to paddle back.
That afternoon, we made a community visit to El Chino to see the school they are building, meet the villagers, and see the family of Pygmy marmosets living in a tree behind one of the houses. Wild chickens with poodle haircuts darted around the fields and below houses with their multicolored chicks. Kids played on the playground and tossed volleyballs and kicked soccer balls in the central field. Everyone appeared shy, but friendly. We observed the progress of their work in the community. A man alerted us to a red tailed boa in the tree by his property, so we followed him to see it. His grounds were covered in snorting pigs. We enjoyed seeing the people of the area and their happy simple lives. It really shows you that you don’t need much to have a happy life.
Our last night at the main lodge we braved the dark forest and went for a night hike for nocturnal animals, amphibians, and insects. I felt my skin crawling as we shined the flashlight on trees and under leaves. I cinched my hood tight to avoid mosquitoes. In total we found four Amazon tree frogs clinging to the stilts under the lodge and three pink-toed tarantulas crawling on tree trunks. We found them all near the lodge and found nothing lurking in the woods.
We transferred to the Research Center for our fifth through eighth days. After the two hour ride upriver, we found the smaller lodge in the more secluded part of the Amazon away from any communities. On our fifth day in the Amazon, we found ourselves unlucky again. We suffered through a two hour hike through deep mud and swarms of mosquitoes, searching for monkeys, but there weren’t any.
That night we took a moonlit boat ride to spot more nocturnal beings, but there was not a one out. Instead, we admired the stars and pointed out the constellations including the southern cross and Orion.
Our sixth day, we regained our good karma and spent the morning boating and hiking to a lake deep in the jungle. On the way there and back Javier spotted 7 different species of monkeys for us. We managed to find the red titi monkey, the dusty red titi monkey, Pygmy marmosets, capuchins, 4 separate groups of squirrel monkeys, saki monkeys, and saddleback tamarin monkeys. They all clung to branches and darted across the canopy. We deemed this “monkey day”.
At the lake, which was covered in wild cabbage making it all neon green, we heard caimans scurry into the waters as we approached and peak their eyes out to peer at us. Blue and yellow macaws held conference in a tree across the water, sitting in pairs. Large white herons swooped over the waters. The trees were all a chatter with different species of birds hiding from the cayman. We sat on a fallen trunk and ate our breakfast with the mosquitoes.
That afternoon we fed the resident woolly monkey and her son with bananas that we tossed to her in the trees. She waited patiently with her arm outstretched. Her son hid timidly in the tree behind her. We canoed afterwards through the flooded forest again searching for river otters, but never finding them.
On our last adventure day, we sat on the still waters and spent our morning fishing. Ethan caught two catfish and I caught a piranha and a smaller fish. By pure luck we finally spotted those elusive river otters bobbing above the water.
That evening we took our final night walk around the lodge and spotted more tarantulas, four species of frogs, and a common boa laying in wait in a tree ready to eat a late night snack of chick eggs.
The following morning we packed up and returned to the main lodge then to Iquitos. We felt sad to leave, but happy to escape the humidity and mosquitoes. Our guide Javier brought us around Iquitos for a quick tour and to the market for Ethan to try eating a grub. One last memory to leave the Amazon with.
Despite the mosquitoes and the humidity, the trip was worth it for all the amazing wildlife and the tranquility of staying in the dense Amazon Rainforest. It was hard to transition back to city life, where there’s traffic, pollution, and the only animals are those who drink too much and holler in the streets when you are trying to sleep.
To visit Tahuayo Lodge with Amazonia Expeditions go to Http:/www.perujungle.com