Amazon Voyage with Guillermo Knell

An Interview With Amazon Expert Guillermo Knell

Amazon Voyage with Guillermo Knell

Get To Know Expedition Leader Guillermo Knell

Though he was raised in Lima, the bustling capital of Peru, Guillermo Knell fell in love with nature and wildlife at a very early age. He was especially drawn to the Peruvian Amazon, where his father had taken him as a young boy. Now, Knell is known is one of the finest naturalist guides in the country, thanks in large part to his passion for (and knowledge of) the Amazon’s diverse flora and fauna.

After earning a B.S. in biology at Ricardo Palma University and a M.S. in ecotourism at Agraria University, he became a field manager for the international environmental and conservation program of the Field Museum in Chicago. His work organizing studies in the Peruvian Amazon eventually led to his career as an expedition leader, working on ships from the High Arctic to Antarctica and all along the coasts of South America.

But Knell is best known as an expert on the Peruvian Amazon, and the Tambopata National Reserve in particular. He has designed responsible travel activities for Amazon eco-lodges, coordinated with crews from the BBC and other filmmakers, and devoted his life to encouraging responsible, community-based travel to the area.

Amazon expedition leader Guillermo

Here, we get to know Guillermo a bit better, from his earliest inspirations to his favorite animals and places in the Amazon:

You grew up in Lima, which has a metro population of around 12 million people. Was there a particular person or experience that inspired your early interest in nature and wildlife? 

Several events in my life, while I was growing up, increased my interest in nature. I think I was born with an interest in any kind of creature. Then my father took me to Iquitos when I was very young, because he was working in that region for a few years. That trip really meant something to me, and it was my first connection with a wild place and adventure. I remember we got lost in the Amazon river near Iquitos until late at night, just the two of us. I can say that that experience marked a step in the evolution of my interest in nature.

When did you develop a similar passion for travel? Was there an early travel experience that stands out in your memory?

When I started to work for NGOs and native communities around Peru. That experience and the new contacts I made from it opened several doors for me to start working in the tourism business. Soon I was working on expedition cruise ships around the world.

What led you to your first job as a naturalist guide in the Peruvian Amazon? 

Back in 1995, when I was studying to become a Biologist, I went to work on my thesis in the southeastern part of the Peruvian jungle. While working on my collection of data, I got exposed to the world of naturalist guides. I started to do it in my field of expertise, which by that time was reptiles and amphibians. I started to do it while finishing my education, and eventually, I wanted to stay in that kind of job.

Guillermo Knell

You went on to get your Master's Degree in Ecotourism. Can you share with our readers your thoughts on why ecotourism is an important segment of the travel industry? 

It is important because, if you are truly practicing Ecotourism, that means that you are helping to fund the protection of the site you are visiting. You’re also generating sustainable income for the local people who live in the surrounding areas as well. It is KEY to involve the local people because they can either be your best partners or your worst enemies. Long-term protection and continuity depend on how you manage to involve the local people in the tourism business.

You've done a lot of different jobs in the industry, from designing eco-friendly activities for Amazonian ecolodges to being a field manager of the international environmental and conservation program for the Field Museum of Chicago. What is it that fuels your passion for this kind of work?

First of all, there is nothing routine in what I do. After so many years of doing these mixed jobs, I always to avoid routine. And because there’s no routine in what I do, I always have the same kind of enthusiasm and energy when I start every different project, trip, or experience. In my work, I’ve always been lucky to meet different kinds of people, and that feeds me as a person as well. I learned to have a lot of patience. But all of these different experiences are in some way connected to conservation and nature tourism.

You're considered an expert in the Peruvian Amazon. What is it about this region in particular that fascinates you? 

Thanks for the “expert” description! I’m a lover of rainforests in general, but I’m really amazed by the biodiversity found in the Amazon River basin I love the symbiotic relationships between animal and plants, and the survival strategies that various species have. That, for me, is something truly incredible.

Guillermo Knell

Can you talk about a few of your favorite Amazon rainforest animals?

Since I started working with reptiles when I was younger, one of my favorite creatures that you can find in the northern Amazon region during high water season is the Caiman Lizard. This is a type of lizard that looks like a small dinosaur, with incredibly vivid coloration. They are very good swimmers and specialize in feeding only on snails. Their teeth are round and well adapted to crushing the snail shells. Pink dolphins are also one of the stars of the Amazon basin. They’re able to navigate the flooded forest during high water season: They’re nearly blind but have an effective echolocation. Besides their incredible coloration and weird shape, they are also important in the local myths and legends.

What’s your favorite part of the Peruvian Amazon that IE's Amazon Voyage allows guests to explore? 

The Upper Amazon… basically the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve.

What do you hope International Expeditions’ travelers will take away from their journeys in the Amazon?

The understanding of the complexity of the Peruvian Amazon, and the importance of the biodiversity as a unique system that works together in order to survive. To understand the local people is also important, and key for the area’s conservation. After the experience, they need to understand why it is so important for us to protect this vast ecosystem as a whole. –Bret Love

BIO: Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.