The Peruvian Amazon: 8 Great Reasons to Visit the Rainforest

From Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley to colonial cities such as Cusco and Lima, Peru has no shortage of tourist attractions. But the Peruvian Amazon is easily the biggest of them all, encompassing approximately 60% of the country. The fourth largest rainforest in the world, the Peruvian Amazon boasts remarkable biodiversity. In terms of flora, the area has 700 types of ferns and more than 7,300 different species of flowering plants. The rainforest is also home to some 180 reptiles, 262 amphibians, 293 mammals, 697 fish, 806 birds, and 2,500 butterflies.

In short, the area is an increasingly popular hotspot for nature/wildlife lovers for a very good reason. But it also offers rich indigenous cultures, excellent food, and numerous other pleasures for adventurous travelers to discover. Here are eight great reasons why we think everyone should visit the Peruvian Amazon:

Amazon Monk saki monkey

Spotting Amazing Animals

Taking a cruise down the mighty Amazon River (and its many tributaries) is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for animal lovers. Whether on land or in water, the rainforest that surrounds you is positively teeming with life. Eagle-eyed naturalist guides can help you spot wildlife that makes any sort of movement in the trees. From tiny Poison Dart Frogs and Pink-Toed Tarantulas to Giant Armadillos and Giant Otters, the animals in the Peruvian Amazon are both diverse and plentiful. We saw hundreds during our week-long trip, including Amazon River Dolphins, Caiman Lizards, Iguanas, an Ocelot, and numerous different kinds of monkeys (Red and Black Howlers, Saki Monkeys, Night Monkeys, and more). 

Amazon blessing ceremony

Amazonian Shamanism

One of our favorite parts of our trip to the Peruvian Amazon with IE was a chance to spend time with a traditional shaman. In the Amazon, shamanism has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. But it’s in danger of dying out because most young people have little interest in devoting themselves to the practice. With our naturalist guide serving as interpreter for “Maestro” Don Juan, we learned that very plant in the rainforest serves a purpose, and most locals will go to a shaman before seeking help from modern Western medicine. Our meeting ended with a sacred shamanic blessing ceremony, which is said to provide powerful healing abilities for those who believe in the traditional practice.

Scarlet Macaw

Observing Beautiful Birds

With over 1,800 species, of which around 140 are endemic, Peru has more birds than any other country in the world. The Peruvian Amazon is a particular hotbed of avian activity, with some 575 species identified within one 5,500-hectare section of the rainforest. By comparison, only 700 bird species are found in all of North America! Some of our favorite Amazon birds we saw during our International Expeditions cruise included the Dusky Headed Parakeet, Hoatzin (a.k.a. the punk rock bird), Jabiru Stork, Lettered Aracari, and a vivid array of Macaws.

Peruvian cuisine onboard Zafiro

Savoring Delicious Food

Peruvian cuisine is widely regarded as some of the best in the world, incorporating influences from Africa, China, Italy, Japan, and Spain. Food in the Peruvian Amazon is simpler and less culturally diverse than what you’ll find in big cities like Lima. Yet its flavors are as fresh and flavorful as any indigenous cuisine we’ve ever sampled. Juane is among the most popular dishes: Made from rice, beans, meat, olives, and hard-boiled egg wrapped in bijao leaves and boiled, it’s traditionally served during the Catholic Feast of San Juan. You’ll also want to try tacacho (fried plantain mashed with chicharones and served with chorizo), patarashca (fish marinated with local spices, then wrapped and grilled in bijao leaves), and fresh fried piranha. 

Visit an Amazon river village school

Giving Back to Local Communities

As amazing as the flora and fauna of the Peruvian Amazon are, the memories we treasure most from our trip with IE are of the time we spent with the people who live there. The Ribereños who inhabit the villages that line the mighty river are the heart of Amazonian culture. International Expeditions works with several of these villages, visiting a different one on each trip, helping to fund water treatment plants, donating school supplies, teaching the villagers about the importance of ecotourism and wildlife conservation, and bringing in tourist dollars from the sale of handmade crafts. 

Fisherman in Amazon

Meeting the Ribereños

The Ribereños are among the friendliest and most welcoming people we’ve ever met during their travels. We’ll never forget how the children ran out to greet our boat, using it as their personal jungle gym and hamming it up for photos. We loved being welcomed into a family’s home to learn more about their traditional way of life. But our favorite memory was visiting the one-room schoolhouse for an engaging cultural interaction that resulted in big smiles all around. Especially when the kids taught us a simple song in their native language, and our group of travelers gamely demonstrated the fine art of doing “The Hokey-Pokey.” 

amazon rainforest aerial

Relatively Pristine Rainforest

Deforestation has been a huge issue in the Amazon River basin for decades now. By 2004, the forest was being decimated by an average of 10,000 square miles a year, mostly due to logging, slash ’n’ burn agriculture and cattle ranching. The “Save the Rainforest” movement helped for a while, but a recent New York Times story suggests deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia are once again on the rise. The good news is that the Peruvian Amazon is much more pristine than other areas of the rainforest. In 2014 the Peruvian government announced a plan to conserve around 80% of its primary forest, which comprises some 54 million hectares. When you travel with IE, you can explore some of the most wildlife-rich areas at the forest, knowing that a portion of your tour costs help fund community-based conservation initiatives.

Amazon Voyage Zafiro Suite

Relishing Luxurious Accommodations

Whether you are enjoying fresh passionfruit from the breakfast buffet or dancing to the rhythms of your “house band” during Happy House, IE chartered the riverboat Zafiro to offer an unparalleled experience blending perhaps the planet’s most diverse ecosystems with luxury amenities, including airy suites and even an onboard spa.

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.