When I started planning my trip to Peru, the Amazon was not on my original itinerary. Wanting to see and do everything along the typical gringo trail, I couldn’t fathom missing any of the world famous sights along the way. Many first time travelers to Peru arrive in Lima and proceed counter clockwise around the south and east of the country (Lima – Pisco/Paracas – Huacachina – Nazca – Arequipa – Puno/Lake Titicaca – Cusco – Machu Picchu – Lima).
With 3 weeks, this would have been the perfect itinerary for my boyfriend K and I. But then I thought about the Amazon and how close we would be. With so much bad news floating around these days about how the Amazon is facing serious environmental destruction, I thought maybe this is my chance to see the world’s largest rain forest before its too late (depressing thought, I know). The more I looked into it, the more I felt the Amazon should be a priority for us on this trip. We would forgo the gringo trail and after exploring Cusco and the Sacred Valley, we would fly north to Iquitos.
After many hours searching through guide books and pouring over the internet, I found the Amazon experience I was looking for in Otorongo Expeditions. Located 2 hours down the Amazon River from Iquitos, they offer a genuine Amazon experience. The number 1 thing that attracted me to this lodge was the personal guide that is assigned to each couple or group visiting the lodge. There is no set itinerary either, just a long list of possible activities that your guide can organize on your own personalized schedule. Many of the lodges in the Amazon have set schedules with one guide for the entire group, meaning there is no room for spontaneity or improvisation.
Given our time line, K and I signed up for a 4 night 5 day all-inclusive package (all stays are all-inclusive). This meant that from the time we arrived at the airport in Iquitos to the time we are dropped off back at the airport, everything was taken care of for us.
Getting To The Amazon
There are many access points to the Amazon Rainforest itself but I chose to head north to one of the main gateways in the small city of Iquitos. Dubbed the “capital of the Peruvian Amazon” there are daily flights to Iquitos from Lima and back. The only other way to get to Iquitos is by boat as the city is technically located on an island, measuring approx 90 km by 80 km. It’s surrounded by 3 rivers: the Amazon, Nanay and Itaya.
K and I caught a flight from Cusco to Lima and then another flight up to Iquitos. Landing in mid-afternoon, we were given a warm and wet Amazon welcome. The heat and humidity smacked us hard in the face and it began to pour rain as were got off the plane directly onto the tarmac.
Our guide Carlos met us at the airport and with him, we jumped into a taxi and headed straight for Otorongo’s head office in downtown Iquitos. We met one of the lodge’s owners, Ivonne, who I had been corresponding with for months. She made sure everything was in order for our stay in the rain forest and soon we were off to the marina to catch our ride down river.
I have to say, taking a 2 hour boat ride down the actual Amazon River was an incredible introduction to one of the world’s most famous rivers! The river water was a light chocolate brown color due to the high sediment content in the river. The water level low as we were visiting at the end of dry season. During the boat ride Carlos offered bits of information and pointed out a few points of interest. However, due to the noise of the boat engine, much of the ride K and I were left to take in the scenery and snap a few pictures.
Tucked away just a few minutes off the Amazon River down a small tributary, the lodge is located right in the rain forest. The main area had been cleared away to allow for the construction of the buildings that make up the lodge, though some beautiful garden vegetation remains.
All the buildings have been raised off the jungle floor as the Amazon river floods every year during the wet season. Water levels can vary up to 15-20 feet and much of the rain forest endures yearly flooding. Otorongo is located on high ground and rarely sees flooding this high. But the rains can make the ground quite muddy and wet, thus everything is raised off the ground.
There are 12 rooms, each sleeping 2 with their own private bathrooms. At one end of the building is a common room with a few hammocks and book shelves. At the other end is the large dinning room with adjoining kitchen. Most of the dinning room is screened in on the upper half allowing you to see the beautiful jungle around you. The hammock room has a wall on only one side while there are floor to ceiling screens on the other 3.
On my visit, K and I opted to up grade from the lodges standard rooms to the Honeymoon Suite. The Honeymoon Suite is a stand alone cabin with a screened-in common room, bedroom, bathroom and deck. It cost difference was marginal and it was my birthday after all.
I should mention that the lodge runs completely on solar power. Each room has a charging station and there’s one in the dinning room as well. There are LED lights throughout the lodge but you are asked to use them sparingly to conserve power. Besides, at night the lights attract bugs so it’s best to keep the lighting to a minimum. All showers are cold water but its so hot and humid in the Amazon that you really don’t want any heat!
Helping Local Communities – And Birds!
One of the things I love about Otorongo in particular is their involvement and dedication to supporting the local communities. The lodge was constructed on land that belongs to the near-by village of Oran. The village receives regular rental payments and part of the arrangement stipulates that the lodge must hire locals. During my stay I learned that our trail guide Tyo, and housekeeper, Otelea, are both from the village. There were a also a few young men who were hired to work on construction projects at the lodge.
Otorongo also has an arrangement with another, much smaller, village a bit further down river. We visited the village of San Gerogio (located on the Yanayacu River off the Amazon) the day we went piranha fishing. We were able to rent a traditional dugout canoe from the village as K and I really wanted to try paddling one as we are avid canoe-campers back home. It was much more tippy than what we are used to!
We were given a glimpse into traditional life in the Amazon by going on a tour of their very small village. We supported the village by purchasing a few traditional handy-crafts from the residents. While our guides used one of the villages kitchens to cook our freshly caught piranhas, K and I had the opportunity to interact with the kids and watch the adults prepare a meal of freshly caught fish.
Not only does Otorongo help support the local communities, they take in rescued birds! During our stay they had 4 beautiful Scarlet Macaws (Ada, Pom Pom, Pelacho and Osmar) and a green parrot named Aurora. We could always find the birds hanging out in the tree tops or by the kitchen door waiting for a banana. While they are completely free to fly away at any time, they remain at the lodge as it’s their home (the parrot tends to leave for a few days and then return).
My favorite resident by far was a little Tucan named Juanito. He was a recent rescue and was missing some tail feathers and flight feathers, thus grounding him. He spent most of his days hanging out in his bird house perch or hopping along the porch railing by the kitchen.
Juanito was mischievous little guy, always chasing the macaws if they came to rest on his railing, or trying to chew on anything he wasn’t supposed to. Juanito liked to play and would gently grab onto your hand with his large beak and then shake his head back and forth like a dog playing tug-of-war. Other times he enjoyed an affectionate pat on the head. Although he was the newest arrival (and couldn’t fly), he was top dog among the resident birds simply because he has the largest beak!
There’s so much exploring to do in the Amazon! One of the highlights of staying right in the jungle is that you really didn’t have to look far to see wildlife. A troop of cute little Tamarind Monkeys make daily visits to the lodge and for our night hike, we didn’t even need to leave the grounds! By simply looking closer at our surroundings, we found a huge Tarantula, Giant Monkey Frog (man are they LOUD!), Spotted Leg Frog and a small owl with a dead frog dangling from his beak.
Carlos organized our daily activities based on what we wanted to see and do. Our trail guide Tyo came with us on every outing as he was our boat driver and rain forest specialist. He knew the jungle and its inhabitants better than anyone and thus kept the group safe.
Rain Forest Walks & Wildlife Spotting
One of the main reasons people head to the Amazon is go trekking in the jungle and search for wildlife. We went on a jungle walk of some sort daily and Tyo was incredible at spotting hidden wildlife. Without him we would have missed seeing the 3 toed sloth high in the trees, a monkey (not sure what kind) swinging in the branches, tiny poisonous frogs and too many birds to count.
The flora was just as interesting (and dangerous) as the fauna. We came across spiky trees, weird jungle fruits, poisonous plants, rubber, cocoa and banana trees.
Though the Amazon is one big rain forest, there are regions of the forest that are different from one and other. Our first hike took us through a section of low lying forest that becomes completely flooded during the wet season. Another day we went on a hike right from the back of the lodge into a section of forest that was located at a higher elevation. The forest there was much thicker with vegetation that the low lying forest.
Carlos and Tyo were constantly informing K and I of the world around us. They would point out and explain various medical plants and their properties or explain what rain forest animals eat which fruit.
An Amazon must is going piranha fishing! It was surprisingly easy to catch them and required a simple stick with fishing line, hook and bait (beef chunks). Carlos and Tyo found a quiet little spot down one of the Amazon tributaries called Yanayacu and tied our boat to shore.
Carlos explained there was a simple technique to catching the piranhas. First you have to make sure the bait on your hook is covering the tip of the hook. Piranhas are smart and won’t go near the pointy hook. Next you dip the tip of your fishing rod in the water and do a few little splashes. Then you drop your bait in the same spot. When you feel your bait being nibbled at (which is almost immediately), you give the fishing rod a hard jerk straight up in the air and out of the water. Hopefully you’ll have a piranha one the end of your hook! The reason for the quick jerk is to hook the piranha in the mouth as they won’t actually take the entire piece of bait in their mouth like other fish.
In the end I caught about a dozen piranha, a small cat fish and a small trout. We only kept 4 piranha to be cooked for lunch, releasing all the other fish back into the river.
Swimming With Pink Dolphins
Pink dolphins are one of a select few species of fresh water dolphins in the world. They are made pink by the food that they eat, much the same way flamingos are pink due to their diet of shrimp and krill. Luckily for us, there was a pod of pink dolphins that regularly hunted in the middle of the Amazon River right in front of the lodge.
We took the boat to the middle of the pod and tied off while we watched the dolphins constantly break the surface of the water all around us. Without hesitation, I jumped into the Amazon River as the curious dolphins moved in for a closer look. Though they never came any more than 20 m to us, it was still a thrill to be there.
The Amazon is like no other and definitely a place that should be on your bucket list. There is so much life in the rain forest, literally everything is living, moving, breathing and trying to survive the very competitive jungle environment. Otorongo Expeditions gave K and I a truly incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I would highly recommend this company to anyone wishing to explore the planet’s largest rain forest!
A Few Interesting Facts About The Amazon
The word “Otorongo” means Jaguar in Spanish.
Iquitos is the main gateway to the Peruvian Amazon and can only be reached by boat or plane. It’s technically located on an island, being surrounded by 3 rivers: the Amazon, Nanay and Itaya.
Iquitos is the largest city in the world with no road access.
The Amazon River is home to 2 of the 4 species of fresh water dolphins in the world: Grey and Pink Dolphins. Pink Dolphins are also known as “Amazon River Dolphins” as they are found nowhere else on earth.
There are over 50 indigenous languages spoken in the Amazon.
Traditional dug out canoes only last 1-2 years before they rot.
The sand islands and sand bars in the middle of the Amazon river change location yearly with the flooding.