Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If … You Slept in the Amazon Jungle?

My friend Torrie and her boyfriend Ben did! In November of 2008, they vacation in the Amazon for one week like real explorers. Read on for the details of their amazing experiences hiking in the jungle, canoeing down the river, and playing with monkeys.

Name: Torrie Behrens
Software Consultant
Current City: Park Ridge, IL

Why did you decide to vacation to the Amazon jungle?
We actually decided to go to the Amazon first, then added a trip to Machu Picchu. The exchange rate in Peru is extremely favorable, accommodations are cheap, and South America is so close to home. We were so excited to go on an adventurous wildlife vacation. We had never done anything like it before. It’s truly so different from anything we’ve ever experienced, and it ended up being very easy to plan.

How did you get to the Amazon?

We flew from Chicago to Miami then Miami to Lima, Peru then to Iquitos, Peru. We took a guided bus to the Amazon River and took a 45 minute boat ride to our first lodge. From there, we changed lodges every few days by boats and hiking. Luckily we weren’t hiking with our packs — the staff took care of transporting them between lodges. There’s really no way to go unless you’re on a tour. We went with Explorama Lodges and loved it.

Where did you sleep while in the Amazon?
We stayed at three different lodges in different parts of the jungle. At the first two lodges, we each had a small bed, a mosquito net, a chair, a kerosene lamp, and a mirror. We did not have locks on the door, electricity, heated water, or plumbing. The building was open air, so the frogs sang you to sleep at night and the birds woke you up in the morning (actually we were up before the birds most mornings). The third lodge we stayed at was a “luxury” lodge and was much more like a hotel room with a ceiling, plumbing, and optional AC. It even had a pool! Originally I was a bit bothered by the idea of staying somewhere so accommodating when I wanted to just hike, but after 6 days in the jungle, a pool is so refreshing.

What did you pack? What did you wear?
We packed hiking clothes and boots. Unfortunately, you have to wear pants and long sleeves to protect against bugs and plants. We really had the same schedule as the native species — up early, relax mid day, back out before nightfall, and then out again after nightfall to see frogs and snakes. We avoided a lot of the mid-day heat, but still wore lots of tank tops and shorts when we were out on a canoe trip or visiting the local village or clinic. We packed lots of bug spray, and used all of it. We did not pack enough underwear. We didn’t realize we’d be showering and sweating so much. Ha. Finally, binoculars, camera, deck of cards, head lamps, wildlife guide books, and reading books. There was limited electricity at most of the lodges but they’d turn on a generator for a few hours a day so you could charge your camera battery. Otherwise once it went dark around 6 PM you were left with kerosene lamps and your flashlight. So a deck of cards was very well used.

What did you do?
We hiked a lot and went on a lot of boat rides. We saw amazing things. With our guide’s help we identified hundreds of birds, insects, plants, and animals. We met a lot of River People and even went to a clinic sponsored by Rotary International that was run by a female Wisconsin native doctor. We ate like kings and showered three times a day. We were able to go on a canopy walkway built by a group of biologists and go to their field research station. We even got to fish for piranhas (and caught three!). We saw so many species of monkeys and got to play with some at a sanctuary. Butterflies and humming birds are everywhere you look. And we even got to talk to bilingual parrots and watch macaws fight. We saw frogs, snakes, birds, tons and tons of spiders, and other insects — even pink river dolphins. My favorite were the sloths, and I even got to hold a baby! Ben loved the leaf cutter ants. Our guide gave us the canoe one evening so we could search for toucans which we did find! It made us feel like true adventurers.

What was the best part?
The best part of the trip was spent on a place called Monkey Island. It was a sanctuary for animals that were confiscated in Peru while they were being illegally transported for exotic pet trade. The sanctuary provides a halfway house or permanent home for these wild animals so they can stay where they belong — the jungle. Many of them are hand fed and become really accustomed to human interaction. When we arrived, we fed them papayas, held their hands, acted as human jungle gyms for them, and just spent hours playing with monkeys of all different species. There were about five different species of tamarins, howlers, woollys, and spider monkeys. The tamarins were timid but the howlers loved to cuddle and would sit in your arms like a baby. The spider monkeys loved to be twirled around on sticks, and the woollys would climb all over you.

What was the worst part?

The worst part was the Peruvian government. They’re really corrupt and there are no national laws protecting the Amazon at all. Plus the native River People are completely uneducated because they don’t have much access to grade school, and almost no access to anything beyond that. Unfortunately, most of them have never been educated about sustainable farming, endangered species, or even malaria. It’s even worse because you know the rainforest could be protected so much better and that the people deserve so much more.

Do you have any advice for others who’d like to vacation in the Amazon? Any websites or travel books that you recommend?
Do it. It’s amazing. Explorama has accommodations for all types of people and adventurers. We even saw grandparents at the luxury lodge, canes and all! Plus it really is astounding — how massive the Amazon River is and how expansive the rainforest really is. It’s hot and buggy with primitive lodging conditions, but you’ll never forget it. Plus, when watching episodes of Planet Earth or Life you can actually say “I’ve seen that in the wild!” How cool is that? And eco-tourism is a great way to convince corrupt governments to protect their land. The American dollars keep pouring in. But do not try to sleep in the Lima airport! The best book is Travellers’ Wildlife Guides to Peru. It’s a field guide of all the animals in the country. Going to the Amazon will show you how amazing the world can really be. You can’t even imagine how amazing it is until you go.

Thanks, Tor! I always thought you had to be super-adventure-y to go on this kind of trip, but now I know that grandparents with canes have done this! It sounds incredible!