A visit to the Amazon is a unique and highly memorable experience, and Peru is one of the best South American countries in which to have this experience. Peru's Amazon is relatively easily accessible, and there is a wide variety of different types of lodges and bases from which the Amazon can be explored. Some of South America's best Amazon lodges can be found in Peru.
Essentially, there are three different destinations from which the Amazon can be visited in Peru - Puerto Maldonado, Manu Biosphere Reserve and Iquitos. There's different reasons for visiting each of these destinations, so read on for some advice.
Puerto Maldonado, in Southern Peru, is probably the most popular, cost effective and simplest place from which to stage a visit to the Amazon region. There's direct flights from Cuzco (good value - the distance is not great) or alternatively it's a very scenic but rough 15-18 hour journey by bus from Cuzco.
Various tour operators operate in Puerto Maldonado, hence it is easy to use this jungle town as a base to take day trips into the rainforest. However, for a more memorable Amazon experience, it's best to head a little deeper into the rainforest to one of the many jungle lodges that are present. Tambopata National Reserve is nearby, and is an excellent place for birdwatching.
From Puerto Maldonado, one can travel onwards to the border with Brazil (about 4 hours), but note that you will need a yellow fever certificate to enter Brazil here.
Manu Biosphere Reserve
Manu Biosphere Reserve, also in Southern Peru, is the best place to visit for seeing wildlife. This enormous reserve is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, and you are likely to see more wildlife here than anywhere else in Peru's Amazon region. Manu is a genuine wildnerness area sporadically populated by remote indigenous tribes - a real experience to remember.
Access to this reserve is strictly controlled, and one can only visit on an organized tour with an authorized tour operator. This means that the cost of visiting Manu is considerably higher than visiting other parts of Peru's Amazon. However, the experience is well worth it.
Many tour operators offer packages to Manu, with accommodation typically in tented safari camps. There are also a handful of remote lodges in the area. Access might be by a variety of means - overland from Cuzco or by charter plane to remote airstrips, or sometimes by boat from Puerto Maldonado. Different packages will be structured and organized differently, but one really should allow at least 4 nights to visit this remote region (though 5 night packages are more common).
Accessed only by boat or plane, Iquitos is a bustling, jungle port city with over 1 million inhabitants. The city lies on the huge Amazon river itself and is the focal point for exploring Peru's Northern Amazon region (NB. although they are in the Amazon river basin, Puerto Maldonado and Manu are nowhere near the actual Amazon river itself - if you want to see the Amazon river, you'll have to travel to Iquitos) . During the rainy season (November to April), the river swells and much of the area becomes like a huge wetland.
Various jungle lodges lie both up and downriver from Iquitos. Upriver lies the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, which is Peru's largest protected area. There's also plenty to explore, and various jungle lodges, downriver.
From Iquitos, a popular backpacker route is to travel by slow river ferry to Manaus in Brazil - this ferry goes down the Amazon river (via Tabatinga and Leticia on the Peru-Colombia-Brazil border) and will take about 10 days.
Which Place is Best?
So which of these three destinations is the best place to visit the Amazon in Peru? That depends on you as a traveller.
Manu is probably the most memorable experience, and has the best wildlife viewing opportunities, but is also the most expensive option. I'd recommend Manu if you have both the time and money, or if you've already visited the Amazon and loved it so much you want to return again. Otherwise, Puerto Maldonado is a great option - simple to visit, economically priced, and if you're short on time it's possible to fly from Cuzco on a morning flight, and stay just a couple of nights and for it all to be worthwile. However, if you're main reason of visiting the Amazon is to see the Amazon river itself, that you'll only be able to do around Iquitos.
Choosing a Jungle Lodge
By far the best way to experience this region is to visit a jungle lodge. Staying in either Iquitos or Puerto Maldonado and taking day trips just isn't anywhere near like the amazing experience as sleeping in the rainforest. So how should you pick a jungle lodge?
First, decide on the region you want to visit (see the travel advice above). Then pick a lodge - there's lots to choose from. Prices are variable, but not to a huge degree. Generally speaking, the more remote lodges are more expensive, often because of the cost of actually getting there by boat. It's normally the case that the more remote a lodge is, the better the wildlife viewing is there.
Note that the standard of the accommodation is variable, and you do have to sacrifice a little comfort when visiting the Amazon. Only a handful of lodges have electricity and hot water - if creature comforts are really important to you, you will have to pick one of the few lodges that have hot water and electricity. Otherwise, cold water is not a problem (the rainforest is hot and humid anyway, so the water is luke warm rather than cold) and doing everything by kerosene lamp is a remarkably charming experience. Another point to consider is the level of privacy you'll receive - sometimes bathroom facilities will be shared, and in some lodges meals are normally eaten communally. Some lodges will specialize in catering to birdwatchers, while others won't have specialist birding guides. A handful of lodges have canopy walkways - this is a great experience and a fantastic alternative dimension of visiting the rainforest. Consider all these points when picking your jungle lodge, as there are many to choose from!