Our Unforgettable Experience with Amazonia Expeditions
I’m blogging from the comfort of my couch tonight. Perhaps I should be watching a more appropriate movie for travel blogging like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty or Eat, Pray, Love. Instead I’m watching The Hunger Games. May the odds be EVER in your favor.
Today’s post is about an awesome tour company that we used for our trip to the Amazon jungle. We had been to the jungles of Peru once before, a 4-day trip to the Manu Cloud Forest from Cusco. We didn’t see much so we wanted to go back and experience the “real” Amazon. After doing some extensive research about river cruises and lodges near Iquitos we settled on a company called Amazonia Expeditions.
The thing that set Amazonia Expeditions (AE) apart from the other companies is the fact that each family gets their own private guide with the ability to set their own itinerary. Whether you want to focus your trip on photography, birding, adventure or relaxation, you have the opportunity to do as much or as little as you choose. Some activities are grouped together like ziplining and trips to the artisan market in the nearby Chino village but most activities are done with your private guide. The guides also collaborate with each other to ensure that families aren’t going on the same trails in the jungle. The smaller (and quieter) the group, the more likely you’ll be to see wildlife on a jungle hike.
Amazonia Expeditions was responsive and courteous from our first email contact. On our way to Peru we had a 5-hour layover in Ecuador and realized that we had left our bank card at home. We needed enough cash to pay for laundry services and to tip our guide so AE allowed us to send money via Paypal and they had the Peruvian soles waiting for us at the office on our arrival. We were picked up from the airport and escorted to their office right on the river. We arranged to spend a night in one of the rooms above their office both before and after our trip to the jungle. Their rooms were clean and comfortable with a beautiful view of the river. Breakfast was provided for us the next morning.
Do you see that tiny floating hut on the far left of the picture above? That’s a restaurant, Al Frio y al Fuego and I highly recommend going even if it’s just for a drink. They even have a pool out there. I really regret not taking any pictures during our dinner.
Our guide Dustin greeted us the morning after we arrived and gave us a tour of the open market in Iquitos. Then we had breakfast and boarded a boat for the 2 hour trip up the Tahuayo River to the lodge. At the lodge we were greeted with passion fruit juice and got a quick rundown about how everything runs. There is no hot water and electricity is minimal at the lodge but after a long day of hiking you don’t care about showering in cold water and the small LED strips in your room are sufficient for finding your way around. There’s a large cooler filled with sodas for purchase in the dining hall, computers with wifi access and a hammock room for reading and relaxing.
All the rooms are screened in plus the beds have mosquito netting so no need to worry about tarantulas or snakes visiting you in the middle of the night, but both are lurking around the lodge. You can find them if you look hard enough, otherwise you probably won’t notice them. We were assigned Room 7 at the lodge, aptly decorated with a piranha.
At Amazonia Expeditions you’re given the option for 4 different activity time slots each day if you want, built around mealtimes: before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner and nighttime. For longer activities that miss mealtimes your guide will bring along sandwiches. We did roughly two activities per day, our favorite being piranha fishing.
Amazonia Expeditions has an extensive list of activities you could potentially do on your trip but not all of them are possible during the time of year you visit. Also, some activities require a lot of stamina. For example, I really wanted to see the hoatzin bird but that was a 4-hour round trip hike through the jungle, not something an out-of-shape person like me could do. Fishing for peacock bass is another thing I wanted to do but that’s best done during the dry season when the lake is lower, though I did manage to catch a small one unexpectedly. Caiman are very hard to find during a full moon and though we searched for many nights we couldn’t find one for this reason. Your guide will go over your wish list of activities and help you figure out what’s possible to do.
The food at the lodge was SO delicious and fresh. The meals were buffet style so you were free to pick and choose what you wanted. Fish was served almost daily, along with carbs like rice and yucca. On the last night of every family’s trip the cooks would bake a cake that was large enough to share so we were able to enjoy some yummy cake on a fairly regular basis. Clean drinking water is provided but it’s not cold so that takes some getting used to. Brandon and I brought a few bottles of Mio to flavor our water and shared them with the other guests.
Some of the nearby villagers provide laundry service at an additional cost but due to the constant humidity in the jungle your clothes will take 2-3 days to dry. Bring clothes that dry quickly and make sure you get your laundry done a few days before you need it (or before the end of your trip). We paid for laundry once on our 9-day trip and then just showered with our clothes on to wash off mud and dirt from our hikes. We also brought Space Saver bags to separate clean clothes from smelly, dirty ones.
Guests have the option of staying in the Research Center further upriver and more remote than the main lodge. We chose to stay here a few nights. It provided some different scenery and we took a camping trip from there as well. If you’re only staying a few nights then the main lodge is completely sufficient and you will still be able to see plenty of animals. We saw so many monkeys, birds and other animals just on our first day at the main lodge.
Our guide Dustin was extremely knowledgeable and friendly, he was really what made our trip so enjoyable. All of the guides were wildlife experts, having grown up in the same area that we were visiting. Dustin’s English was excellent and he knew every animal we came across. At the end of our trip I sat down with him and we went through all of the pictures on my camera and he helped me identify them so I could write the names down in my journal. He could point out animals we couldn’t even see in the trees and at some points we would just hand him our camera to take the picture before the animal disappeared.
Dustin would always go above and beyond to make our vacation memorable. I really wanted to see a caiman and though we took nightly trips on the river to find them we never came across one. One night, instead of simply giving up, Dustin and our boat driver took us to a massive lake where we floated under the full moon while Dustin told us Peruvian folklore stories from his childhood. It was an evening I would never forget.
The Verdict: Amazonia Expeditions is really an all-in-one tour company. Aside from booking your own flight (which they can help with) they can handle all your needs from the time you get off the plane until the time you get back on. I recommend staying a night in their B&B rooms, especially at the end of your trip, and it only costs about $80 a night. Their company can accommodate anyone: young kids, seniors, active or inactive, solo or groups. There’s no supplemental charge for those traveling solo and though you still get your own private guide for the entire trip you can also join up with other families for activities like fishing and zip lining. The current cost for 8D/7N with Amazonia Expeditions is $1,295 which comes out to $185 per day. Each extra day is only $100 so longer trips are quite affordable. We ran into other guests who were staying for a month!
When to Go: This depends on what you want to do. The rainy season is December through May and much of your activities would be from a boat. If you’re interested in hiking that might not be a good time to visit but it would be a great time if you’re more the inactive type who still wants to see lots of wildlife. Mid-July through November is the dry season so expect lots of hiking, especially if you want to access lakes and other areas that a boat can’t reach in the dry season. We went at the end of June between the wet and dry season so the trails were still muddy in many spots due to record flooding that year but it was manageable enough for hiking.
What to Do: This is completely up to you! You can hike in the higher grounds of terra firme forest to search for poison dart frogs the size of your pinky nail. Don’t forget to check out the giant log with sleeping bats or swing from a vine out over a ravine while you’re there! You can canoe up the river looking for pink dolphins, go ziplining or camping in the jungle, or do volunteer work at the local villages.
Child Friendly? Dustin told us that the youngest guest that ever stayed at the lodge was just over a year old. While I would never take a child that young into the Amazon jungle I do feel confident that AE can keep kids safe during their stay. If you’re traveling with kids Amazonia Expeditions will try to match you with a guide who is especially good with children. There were 4 older children staying at the lodge with us, all about 8-12 years old. This is the age I would recommend for a trip to the jungle as kids this age seem to be very interested in learning about animals and nature and they are responsible enough to follow directions to avoid injury.
Pet Friendly? No