Iquitos: Maniti Expeditions Amazon Tour
Get There: Jr. Huallaga 210, Iquitos, but if you’re not in town yet, check out their website: http://www.manitiexpeditions.com/
Cost: $529 for five nights at the ecolodge for one person, but it gets cheaper if you’re lucky enough to have mates.
It’s a pretty surreal feeling, laying in a hammock while your boat cruises down the Amazon river and delivers you to your final destination: a quaint wooden lodge tucked amongst the thick vegetation of the Amazonian jungle.
For me, venturing into the Amazon, a place largely undiscovered and teeming with foreign monkeys and bugs the size of your head, was a quintessential South American experience, as unmissable as Machu Picchu. Given it’s reign over the continent, there are an array of launching points for your adventure; however, if you’re in Peru, it’s hard to look past the isolated town of Iquitos.
Famous for the origin of Ayahuasca and for holding the title of the largest city in the world inaccessible by car, Iquitos is worth a visit in its own right. There’s a distinct South-East Asian vibe to the city, which is overrun by tuk tuks and bars allowing you to take in the sunset over the Amazon.
Most importantly, Iquitos’ isolation is due in large to the dense Amazonian jungle surrounding it, making it the perfect place to experience the rainforest. Naturally, tour operators almost outnumber the tuk tuks, so working out who to choose can be hard. After weighing up various hobo considerations, I went with Maniti Expeditions.
Maniti were super accomodating from day one, picking us up from airport and ensuring we had everything we needed to have a good time in the Amazon. If there is anything you want, you can always ask your guide where to find it, and they will even arrange a Shaman to come out to the lodge for you if you want to experience Ayahuasca.
We jumped on a custom tour, wanting to experience staying in the lodge on the banks of the Amazon and camping in the dense jungle of the revered Pacaya Samiria National Park.
The tour began as we clambered into our boat to witness Belen floating village before heading to the lodge to try our hands (and possible lose our hands) at piranha fishing. The fishing was terrifying successful for two reasons. Firstly, whenever a fish was caught by an inexperienced tourist, it was excitedly thrown in the air from the rod, landing on whichever unsuspecting victim was paying the least attention at the time. Secondly, I am the shittest fisherwoman in the world, and was unable to even pull the fish out of the water without it flapping off my rod, yet there I was reeling the bad boys in. I took this to mean that there are obviously a shitload of piranha in the murky water, the same water I was scheduled to swim with dolphins in shortly after.
We woke up the next day to check out the wildlife surrounding the lodge, which was immense. On our short stroll we spotted pygmy monkeys and cut down half the rainforest to get up close and personal to a sloth. Even in the lodge you may find you encounter wildlife: one girl on our tour was horrified when she realised she had accidentally shat on a frog tha’d had the misfortune of jumping into our toilet.
Wanting to get even closer to the animals, we managed to haul ourselves out of the hammocks we would inevitably find ourselves lazing in after another delicious meal and venture to Monkey Island. Monkey Island was fucking fantastic. They rehabilitate injured wildlife and we were lucky enough to have a baby sloth to cuddle, amongst other monkeys, birds and a huge anaconda, which were all seemingly irrelevant once put in front of the baby sloth.
To top off our slothtastic day, we trekked for two hours to camp in the treetop lookout of Palo Alto. We were fairly unprepared for what we had gotten ourselves into for the camping section of the trip. Palo Alto was to be our most luxurious nights. We were provided with a mattress and our mosquito net for our night amongst the trees – and spiders, snakes and mosquitoes. Having survived the night without waking up spooning a tarantula, I’d say the experience was fantastic, but like everywhere else in the jungle, ditch any clothes that aren’t loose enough to make you look like you’re already the five kilos fatter you are bound to be returning home from your trip. Also keep in mind that insect repellant strong enough to transform you from a delicious BBQ to a shitty hostel breakfast is going to be your best mate.
The next day, we left our luxurious lodge for some very basic camping in Pacaya Samiria. Immediately, the Ukayali had a different feel to the Amazon. The thin stretches of river are almost encompassed by the forest’s totalitarian hold over the landscape, making you feel distinctively more isolate. The wildlife is overwhelming: howler monkeys swing through the trees, their haunting call acting in place of an alarm each morning, while toucans swoop the sky and dolphins glide effortlessly past the boat. The accommodation is less than basic here. While we had in no way envisioned a glamping-style experience, we were definitely expecting a tent of sorts. Instead, we found ourselves sleeping on tarps, usually straight on the ground, with a mosquito net the only protection from the tarantulas, caiman and anacondas I imagined were surrounding us. While sleeping on a tarp on the ground is about as basic as it gets (not to mention rough on your back), the pay off for an authentic jungle experience is worth the hours of physiotherapy required once you get back home.
Be prepared for some serious waiting time while on this tour. Nothing moves quickly in South America, and the jungle is certainly no exception. The term “itinerary” seems to not translate to Peruvian Spanish, so if you head in expecting any sort of defined schedule, you’re likely to be disappointed. If, however, you’re happy to go with the flow in regards to the activities on offer, then you’re likely to really enjoy the tour.