Amazon sunset

Meet Peruvian Amazon Expert Freddy Avalos

Amazon sunset

Cusco native Freddy Avalos was fascinated by the nature and wildlife of his homeland from an early age. He started out guiding treks on the famed Inka Trail in the mid-1990s, and began working with IE as an assistant guide on our Machu Picchu journeys in 1998. After earning his degree in Tourism Studies, he learned more about conservation and preservation while volunteering as a ranger at Manu National Park. Now, with more than 20 years of experience under his belt, he’s one of the world’s most respected authorities on the Peruvian Amazon. Check out our Q&A with one of IE’s most popular Expedition Leaders:

Freddy in Machu Picchu

As a Cusco native, you started out guiding tours in Machu Picchu and the Inka Trail. What was it that originally sparked your interest in wildlife and becoming a naturalist?

While hiking on the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu, I began to feel connected with Mother Nature and the beauty of the wildlife. We would see so many birds, and we were surrounded by the sounds of the nature. So I decided to learn more about it.

Remember that this was 20 years ago, and back then it was almost impossible to find books about nature. So it was very challenging to find the information I wanted. But a few years later I was very lucky to start working with International Expeditions on their Machu Picchu tours. This is where I connected with other tour guides in Cusco who had a deep knowledge of Peru’s flora and fauna.

So that is how I learned more about our incredible Peruvian wildlife. This opened my appetite to share my interest with travelers. Now I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon, which is a haven for nature and wildlife lovers.

Excursion in the rainforest

Can you talk about how your experience as a ranger in Manu National Park inspired your interest in the preservation and conservation of Peru's natural resources?

When I went to Manu, I had just graduated from my tourism education. I had no idea what to expect, but I always loved to learn. I had a chance to work in the highest-altitude ranger's station, Ajcanaco, where every morning I could see the clouds below me. This is one of just two places on Earth with a unique magical sunrise, where our ancestors believed that the sun danced.

A month later I was moved to the Pakitza ranger's station, which is the last point of vigilance in Manu. The work I did during this time really allowed me to appreciate the beauty and magic of how mother nature works. I realized that every single life in the rainforest is an important part of the Amazon, and every square foot has an incredible amount of life.

Being a volunteer ranger in Manu National Park showed me why it is so important to share the importance of the conservation of our rainforest. I think if people know more about our Amazon rainforest and its natural resources, they can be our ambassadors and help spread a better understanding to of why protecting the Amazon is vital.

Freddy Avalos

Of all the places in Peru you've explored, what it is that makes the Peruvian Amazon so unique?

Just to be there makes me feel calm. Every breath is a sigh. My favorite moments are when the sunrise and sunset happen. I cannot describe a better moment to see the presence of god. It’s amazing to have a chance to see the beauty of nature manifested in the vivid colors of the birds. The sounds of nature are a treat, allowing you to forget for a second the noise of the big, chaotic cities.

I’m always struck by the immensity of the mighty Amazon River during the day. During the night, it looks like a reflection of the milky way on Earth. It doesn't matter how many times I go back: It’s always different, always unique, just like the very first time.

Monk saki monkey

You've got some impressive photography skills. What are a few of your favorite Amazonian species to photograph?

I especially love the birds, like the Plum-throated Cotinga, Hoatzin, White-throated Toucan, Capped Heron, Snail Kite, Scarlet Macaw, Blue and Yellow Macaw, Paradise Tanager, Masked Crimson Tanager, Black-tailed Trogon, Black and White Hawk-eagle, Slate-colored Hawk, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, and Bare-necked Fruitcrow. In terms of mammals, my favorites are the Red Howler Monkey, Monk Saki Monkey, and Three-toed Sloth. And of course there are the Red-backed Poison Frog and other amphibians, and much more.

One of my favorite things about exploring the Peruvian Amazon with IE was the chance to spend time with the local people. What can tell us about the lifestyle and culture of the Ribereños?

The Ribereños lifestyle is very quiet. There is no traffic noise, no worries about political issues, and no worries of the many dangers you find in the big cities. The Ribereños start their day early in the morning: They build their own homes, they make their own tools, they fish and hunt when they need… Ribereños are smiling all the time because they have a happy life.

They don't have much, but they have enough to live happy in harmony with Mother Nature. They get most of what they need from the rainforest. Their culture is ancestral, and one of the best ways to see this are through the shamans, who are extremely important for the communities of the Amazon basin.

Kayaking in the Amazon

The Amazon offers different experiences depending on whether you visit during the wet season, when water levels are high, or the dry season. Can you talk about those differences, and whether you prefer one over the other?

Either season will give our guests great opportunities, no matter what their expectations may be. There are always amazing views and incredible opportunities to photograph the rich wildlife and interesting plants. Most of them can be found in either season, as well as unique experiences interacting with the local culture.

As far as the differences, during the high water season the river rises 22 feet. So during this time we have better opportunities to explore more creeks and lakes. We’re closer to the tree canopy, which gives us a better chance to watch and take pictures of the beautiful wildlife. It’s also the best season for visitors to find the Giant Water Lily, Victoria Regia.

The low water season will provide similar Amazon wildlife, but during this time we have more chances to walk in the forest. This is a great way to discover and learn more about the plants, insects, and frogs of the forest. There are also great opportunities for fishing, and to watch the migratory birds in flight. With IE, we also offer the unique experience of walking on the Amazonian beaches, with incredible sunsets.

What's your primary goal for travelers who come on IE's Peruvian Amazon cruise? Other than a good vacation experience, what do you hope they come away with?

My primary goal is to send our guests home with a deeper knowledge of our destination, and an appreciation for the importance of preserving our natural habitats. We want to help them understand the local culture, taste the local flavor, and  enjoy the every moment learning about the Amazon and Perú.

We love to share our knowledge about the spectacular Amazon wildlife, the Ribereños, the amazing plants. We love the fantastic stargazing that’s available on clear nights, and the joy of tasting our Peruvian cuisine and learning the history behind the dishes. We love to give lectures to reinforce what we see during the expeditions, and to plan all kind of activities to cover all kind of expectations.

We especially love to end our great days by pleasing guests with the best Peruvian band in the Amazon. We want our guests to go back home with the feeling that they really know the destination. And we want to be sure they go back full of fantastic memories.

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 website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.