Planning a trip to the Peruvian Amazon can be daunting. There is an overload of information, trips ranging from 3 days to 3 weeks, from $200 to $2000. We planned out our trip when we were already based in Cusco, so this was especially overwhelming. There are endless tour companies claiming that they have the best package for the best price, and it can be difficult to discern which company is really telling the truth.
We spent a full afternoon in Cusco walking from company to company, asking for their prices and getting printed information describing what their trip included. This ended up being key for us; having a tangible, written itinerary helped us out more than we initially expected.
We eventually decided on a 4-day, 3-night trip to Lago Sandoval with the company offering the most for the best price. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the company we went with wholeheartedly; they had a TripAdvisor sticker posted on all of their promotional material, but they did not have an active TripAdvisor page, and we got the impression they were trying to pass off as another company with a similar name.
We purchased our bus tickets from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado; bus tickets weren’t included in any of the packages at various tour companies we visited. We took a bus with “semi-cama” seats, so our seats reclined very far back and we could fall asleep for the ride. When our taxi driver arrived at the bus station in Puerto Maldonado, he brought us to the main office, which was closed. Someone eventually arrived to open up, but we waited around the office for about 3 more hours before it was actually time to go. Four more people arrived to join our group — 2 people from China, 1 person from London, and 1 person from Ireland.
From there, we took an hour long boat ride that brought us over to Lago Sandoval, and then a canoe brought us to the other side, where we would be staying at Maloka Lodge. If you want an authentic-feeling “Amazon” experience, Maloka lodge is the spot – no AC, no electricity, candlelight dinners after the sun goes down. It was awesome. But if you want a place to hide from the sweat-inducing, extremely high temperatures, this might not be the place for you.
After the journey to Maloka Lodge, there was a bit of confusion when we first arrived. Our first guide, Tony, left and told us someone else would be coming for our group, but another guide never came. We hung out on the hammocks for a while, then finally decided to ask if we were getting a guide. Everyone in our group had purchased different packages from varying companies; Colin, Tyler, and I had purchased 4 days, 3 nights. Others had purchased 3 days, 2 nights, and even just 2 days, 1 night. No one at Maloka Lodge at the time spoke English, so I explained our predicament. This is where it was helpful to have a written itinerary; I showed them the print-out with all of our “promised” tours and activities so we could make sure that we were able to fit it all in. The main manager took care of us for that night, and our main guide arrived the next day.
After we sorted out all of this initial confusion, things went pretty smoothly from there. We went on a few boat rides out on Lago Sandoval, during the day and at night. Our guide found caiman resting in the waters of Lago Sandoval, and actually picked one up to show us. We saw giant river otters, and before we left, we even managed to see an anaconda as well. We woke up early one morning to go bird watching and saw some of the beautiful macaws that live in the region. One of the guides on site took us to a “safe” swimming spot (though we were pretty skeptical, given all the creatures that live in those waters…). The guides were all extremely knowledgeable; most of them had grown up in the area, and they could identify different plants and animals at first glance. We even get a chance to attempt piranha fishing (no piranhas were actually caught, to the boys’ disappointment), and we got a quick zipline experience in before we went on our way back to Cusco.
Despite our rocky start to this trip, it ended up being one of the highlights of our time in Peru. You can watch a video compilation of our trip here.
Top tips – Our main piece of advice for planning a trip to the Amazon would probably be to remember this – you get what you pay for. We booked a bargain trip, and it ended up being a bit disorganized, but that was to be expected. Do your research, get out a written out itinerary to bring with you, and if you want it to run flawlessly, you might have to fork over a bit more money. And if you take the bus from Cusco, definitely get the semi-cama seats so you can sleep on the way.