An Amazon cruise guest

Peruvian Amazon Travel Tips

An Amazon cruise guest

Before we explored the Peruvian Amazon with International Expeditions, we had no idea what to expect. We knew the Upper Amazon basin was huge, hot, and chock full of plants and animals. But there’s nothing that can prepare you for waking up that first morning, surrounded by the foggy vastness of a river teeming with life. Nothing, that is, except for our Peruvian Amazon travel tips!

Bugs Away!

There are around 30 million species found in the Amazon River basin, with thousands of new species discovered each year. An estimated 2.5 million of these are insects. One acre of Amazon Rainforest is estimated to contain as many as 70,000 species of insects, and scientists once found 700 different species of beetle on just one tree!

Some of these creepy crawlies are really cool, such as the Jewel Caterpillar, Leaf-Mimic Katydid, Longhorn Beetle, and Pinktoe Tarantula. Others, including the Assassin Bug, Bullet Ant, and Tarantula Hawk Wasp, possess surprisingly potent bites or stings. But the most common insect likely to bug you during your Amazon River expedition is the common Mosquito, which tends to swarm as soon as the sun goes down.

To keep bugs of all stripes off your person is relatively easy. Wear a sturdy pair of hiking boots when you venture into the forest, with long socks you can tuck the hem of your pants into. We recommend buying pants and long-sleeve shirts made with Insect Shield, which repels mosquitos, flies, ants, ticks, and more (available from ExOfficio, Orvis, REI, and other outdoor retailers). And though we usually recommend more eco-friendly products, for the Amazon you’ll want to use a bug repellant with 100% DEET. Keep it handy at all times to reapply as you sweat.

Get Weather Wise

Weather in the Peruvian Amazon is no joke! It’s generally hot and humid all year-round. The average high temperature during the low-water season (June through October) is around 100ºF, with an occasional tropical shower to cool things off. More than 60% of the region’s rainfall occurs during the wet season (November to May), when average high temps are around 12º cooler. But the excess humidity makes it feel moist and muggy, especially in the rainforest.

It goes without saying that you should dress appropriately, with light, moisture-wicking pants and long-sleeve shirts to protect you from the sun. Sunscreen and a hat with good coverage are also an absolute must at all times. I always brought a washcloth or towel along on our excursions, just to mop up the copious amounts of sweat. And of course you’ll want a lightweight rain jacket for those unpredictable showers I mentioned.

Overheating is a serious concern in the Amazon, particularly during the middle of the day. Always take twice as much water as you think you’ll need. I also highly recommend taking some electrolyte and potassium tablets. We would put one in almost every time we filled our bottles with water to help us stay hydrated.

Pack For a Purpose

One of our favorite thing about travel is the opportunity to immerse ourselves and learn more about cultures around the world that are very different from our own. In the process, we always try to give something back to the communities we visit, in hopes that our travels will ultimately have a positive impact on the local ecology and the people.

The ribereños (or “river people”) who inhabit the villages along the banks of the Peruvian Amazon ended up being our favorite aspect of our IE river cruise. The children exuberantly rushed out to greet our boat. They were excited to pose for pictures, giggle at seeing themselves on the camera screen, and lead us around on a tour of their village. We eventually wound up at their colorful one-room schoolhouse, where we learned a few words in each other’s language and then sang silly songs (they got a kick out of “The Hokey Pokey”).

IE’s Peruvian Amazon include installing point-of-use water treatment options and creating water treatment plants in numerous villages, and working closely with CONAPAC on the Adopt-A-School program. If you’re feeling generous, consider packing some school supplies– paper, pencils, crayons, inflatable globes, etc.– to leave with the children’s teacher. It’s an easy way to say thank you for their warm hospitality.

Amazon cruise photography

Upgrade Your Camera & Photography Skills

In the 20+ years I’ve been a professional writer/photographer, I’ve traveled to over 40 countries on six continents. In my experience, few places in the world offer more wildlife and greater challenges at getting good photos of them than the Peruvian Amazon.

If you visit the region during the wet season, as we did, it’s slightly easier. You’ll do most of your exploring via small boats, and you’ll often see a diverse array of birds, monkeys, and iguanas sunning themselves in the trees 10-20 feet above the water. But the further up in the canopy they are, the more difficult it is to get a good photo. And of course when you’re actually in the rainforest, the humid conditions and low light make getting clear shots very difficult, especially if the animals are moving.

If you’re serious about getting good wildlife photos, make sure you have a DSLR camera with a long-range lens, preferably 300 mm or more. Ideally you’ll want one with a low f-stop, or aperture: An f/5.6 is acceptable, but an f/2.8 is excellent for catching animals in action and providing tight focus in low-light situations. You’ll also want a wide-angle lens for capturing close-ups (like when you’re catching Piranha), scenic shots and those dynamic Amazon sunsets. But, given all the challenges, perhaps the most important tool in an Amazon photographer’s arsenal is patience!

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.