Puerto Maldonado – A Gateway to Peru’s Forgotten Amazonian Destination
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Puerto Maldonado, Peru is a great base to explore the Amazon Jungle. Getting from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado is easy and the Amazon near Puerto Maldonado is less touristy than other areas!
This blog is about our experience in the Puerto Maldonado Amazon including everything you need to know to go for yourself!
Puerto Maldonado, Peru – A Guide for Travelers
The Amazon Rainforest is the most diverse region in the world. It produces 20% of the world’s oxygen and is home to 20% of the worlds river water. With 40,000 different plant species and approximately 2.5million insect species, it’s no wonder why it’s one of the most visited places in South America.
The Amazon actually spans over 9 countries which give visitors lots of choice of where to visit. When we were traveling in South America we had a hard time deciding where to visit the Amazon. Some places were too expensive, some were too remote, and some were too mainstream and overcrowded with tourists.
That’s why we chose to go to Puerto Maldonado in Peru.
Puerto Maldonado is a rather forgotten city when it comes to a place to visit the Amazon. In Brazil, you have the famous Manaus, and in Peru, you have the city of Iquitos.
In addition, Puerto Maldonado is rather easy to get to from Cusco and multi-day trips to remote eco-lodges (only accessible by boat) are affordable.
With the millions of people who visit the Amazon each year, finding unique and spectacular wildlife can become more difficult as a place becomes more populated. That’s why during our visit to Peru we decided to make the journey from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado to visit the Amazon Jungle.
Here is my guide and review of Puerto Maldonado, Peru including information on getting there, the wildlife, booking an Amazon trip, what to expect, and more!
Where is Puerto Maldonado?
The city of Puerto Maldonado is a 10-hour bus ride east of Cusco. The city sits along the banks of the Rio Madre De Dios River and is surrounded by thick Amazon Jungle.
Puerto Maldonado is actually located right next to the border of Brazil and Bolivia, and therefore shares the Amazon Jungle with them.
Puerto Maldonado is actually a small city next to the Amazon Jungle. If you want to actually have a jungle experience where you see lots of wildlife then you will have to leave Puerto Maldonado city and actually visit the remote jungle surrounding it.
In the city itself, expect to see some amazing sunsets and river views.
Getting to Puerto Maldonado
You can reach Puerto Maldonado, Peru with either a bus, or a flight.
Most people visit Puerto Maldonado by bus from Cusco as it is the easiest route.
Cusco, being the gateway to Machu Picchu, is a place everyone visits on a trip to Peru. From Cusco, the easiest place to see the Amazon Jungle is to go to Puerto Maldonado (thanks to a highway that was recently built connecting the two cities.)
From Cusco, there are many direct day and night buses that make the long journey through this remote and untouristic part of Peru.
Busbud.com is a great place to book a bus from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. The journey costs about $10 USD and takes about 10 hours.
If you have time, I suggest taking a day bus as the views along the way are absolutely breathtaking! You climb up to over 4,000m above sea level and you drive over the top of a mountain. It is crazy to watch the scenery go from mountain tops with cold weather to thick jungle, rivers, and hot weather within a matter of hours.
There are regular domestic flights to Puerto Maldonado from both Cusco and Lima.
Where to Stay in Puerto Maldonado
Although it is not overly touristic, Puerto Maldonado is not a dangerous city and the people were very friendly in and around the city. Therefore, it is a nice place to stay for a night or two before or after your Amazon tour. Below are our recommended places to stay in Puerto Maldonado:
Tambopata Hostel (budget hostel)
This is where we stayed in Puerto Maldonado and it was a great budget hostel right in the town center. It is a huge hostel with clean rooms and a large common area including a rooftop area and outdoor pool! You can get dorm rooms for as little as $10 USD. They also have budget private rooms available.
Hotel Enai (mid-range budget)
After roughing it in the Amazon Jungle for a couple of days this hotel will be luxury. Rooms all have balconies with river views the hotel is right in town center, and they also have a restaurant and swimming pool!
Estancia Bello Horizonte (luxury)
Estancia Bello Horizonte is the perfect mix of jungle and city. It is located 20 kilometers from the city center, so still accessible, but also in the beautiful jungle. They include breakfast, have an outdoor pool and bar, as well as amazing views!
4 Fun Things to do in Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Obviously, the main reason to visit Puerto Maldonado is to go into the Amazon Jungle and do some exploring (see below for information on these tours) but there are a few other things to do in the city itself which will keep you busy before and after your Amazon tours.
Some of the best things to do in Puerto Maldonado (other than a multi-day amazon tour) are:
1. Visit Sandoval Lake
This beautiful lake is only a short 45-minute boat ride from Puerto Maldonado Harbour. Here you can go for a jungle walk to try and spot wildlife such as Macaws, monkeys, and reptiles before just in a canoe in the Lake and trying to find otters.
Wildlife are plenty at Sandoval Lake and day trips here are very reasonably priced (and include lunch at a lodge by the lake!)
2. Visit Monkey Island
Monkey Island (or Rolling Island) is a conservation effort where they rescue wild animals from urban areas of Peru. So not only are you supporting a non-profit organization with your visit here, but you are also guaranteed to see some wildlife including various kinds of monkeys!
You can organize your own boat to Monkey Island from Puerto Maldonado and spend a night or two in an eco-lodge, or you can go on a full-day tour including ziplining and kayaking.
3. Walk on Peru’s Largest Bridge
Puente Billinghurst is the name of this large bridge in Peru and it is located right in Puerto Maldonado. This bridge is important for transport as it is part of the main highway that connects Peru with its neighboring countries.
But for tourists, this huge bridge is the perfect place to go for a walk. It is especially beautiful at sunset as you watch the sun go down over the river.
4. Sunset Cruise and River Night Tour
If you want to do something even more special at sunset, then consider going on a sunset cruise! Here you will have the chance to spot wildlife, watch the sunset, as well as stargazing.
Amazon Tours from Puerto Maldonado
The most common tours we saw advertised at various tour agencies were 3 to 5-day adventures down the Rio Madre De Dio River. Almost all of the tours included a trip to the famous Mineral Mackaw Wall.
The tours include food, transport, English-speaking guide, and accommodation in a lodge in the jungle.
Of course, some tours are more luxurious, and some are more budget-oriented. Below are some great options for tours in the Amazon Jungle from Puerto Maldonado, Peru:
1-Day Trip Amazon Tour from Puerto Maldonado
If you are really short on time you can go on a one full-day trip to the Amazon Jungle from Puerto Maldonado. I recommend spending a couple of nights at an eco-lodge if you can, but if not then a day trip to the Tambopata Jungle is a possibility.
2-Days, 1-Night Amazon Tour from Puerto Maldonado
With only 1 night you will not be able to go too far into the Jungle. On this tour, you will get to explore Lake Sandoval as well as Monkey Island and spend a night in an eco-lodge. Although you do not travel so far from Puerto Maldonado there is still plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife, especially with your experienced guide.
3-Days, 2-Nights Amazon Tour from Puerto Maldonado
This is the most popular trip to the Amazon from Puerto Maldonado and exactly what we did (keep reading below for our complete experience.) The great thing about the 3-day trip is that you have time to go deep into the Tambopata Reserve and explore some of the more isolated areas.
I highly recommend choosing a tour that allows you to stay at an eco-lodge that is only accessible by the river and very close to the popular Macaw Clay Lick (as opposed to the Lodges located close to Lake Sandoval.) This region is also where you have the chance to see Jaguars!
This tour is a great option for being isolated, having a nice eco-lodge to stay in, as well as seeing lots of wildlife.
4-Days, 3-Nights Amazon Tour from Puerto Maldonado
The more time you have to spend in the jungle the better! A 4-day tour will allow you to go very remote, see the Macaws, go on various walks, go on hikes, boat tours, and even go fishing. You definitely pay more for a longer tour but you also have the best chance to see tons of wildlife including wildcats or Jaguars!
*There is also one extensive 5-day tour for those who really want to maximize their time in the jungle!
Our Experience on the Amazon Tour: What to Expect
We booked our Puerto Maldonado Amazon tour through our hostel, Tambopata Hostel, as we found it the most reasonably priced for what we got.
All tours have a slightly different itinerary, but for the most part, they are all very similar in the types of wildlife you can see and the activities offered.
Here is a detailed breakdown of what our Puerto Maldonado Amazon tour looked like:
We opted for the 3-days and 2-nights adventure down the Rio dos de Madre river. Our tour began in the early hours of the morning as we made the 1.5 hour drive through an off-road track that winded its way through the jungle.
Once we arrived in the remote banks of the Rio Madre we boarded a small wooden boat and headed for the eco-lodge.
The boat ride to the lodge was around 30 minutes long and as we moved through the river we realised just how remote we now were. As we pulled up there was no sign of a lodge and simply and small wooden post and step to tie the boat to. Then we headed through the forest led by our Amazonian guide to the lodge.
We breached the thick green jungle to find a small clearing with a few wooden cabins. The lodge relied heavily on sourcing there own food from their gardens and ran off solar power. There were no sounds in the air except for nature. The birds cheered and the trees blew in the wind. This was our home for the next two nights and wow, we were excited.
That day and night our guide took us down a few trails around the camp showing us all the cool, unique and dangerous parts of the forest. We learned about the Amazonian culture and talked about the environmental dangers that now face this once pristine region.
We saw monkeys swing from the trees and huge ants building their nests. Spiders as large as our hands were all too easy to find.
The next morning we rose early from our beds and headed even further down the Rio Madre. This time we were headed for one particular spot, the clay cliffs to watch the Macaws come and lick the clay.
For those unaware, this natural phenomenon is created as mineral-rich soil eroded from the clay on the rock wall. These minerals are a favourite to the Macaws and other birds in the region and every morning they head here for a morning feed.
On some days no birds can show and on others hundreds will be sitting on the wall licking it for the rich minerals. When we were there we were lucky enough to see several macaws and many other birds come to the clay wall for a morning snack. This experience was amazing! But it wasn’t over yet.
After watching the feeding we headed back on the main section of the Rio Madre and went animal spotting. I wasn’t sure how hard finding some cool and unique animals would be but it was actually easy. Within minutes we were only meters from a large Caiman that sat on the banks of the river. Then we saw the world’s largest rodent the Capybara (which looks like an over-sized guinea pig!)
That day concluded with an after-dark bush walk searching for nocturnal creatures. We didn’t get too lucky this time though and only spotted a few huge spiders and a frog.
On the last day, we headed down some smaller streams and went Piranha fishing. With some red meat as bait, we put our lines in the river and hoped for a catch. Within minutes we all had bites and I ended up landing one!
Seeing these guys up close I realised where they got their reputation from. Their jaws where large and their bite was strong. These little guys were fierce and getting them off the hook was difficult!
We ended the day with two fish which we cooked up and shared for lunch.
It was day three and our time in the Amazon was over, but what a fantastic time we had!
Our Review of the Puerto Maldonado and the Amazon
Overall, we had a great time! It was nice to experience the Amazon Jungle in such a remote location from our lodge only accessible by boat.
While the experience is much more expensive than most trips in Peru, it was well worth it. If you are already planning a trip to Cusco, then consider extending for a few days to visit Puerto Maldonado!
Have you been to the Amazon Jungle before? If so, where did you go? Tell us in the comments!
If you are planning a trip in Peru be sure to check out our Peru Travel Guide for tons of great travel tips!
January 5, 2020