Expedition Amazon - March 31, 2017 - Atlas Obscura Trips

Tambopata, Peru

Expedition Amazon

What does it take to discover a new species? What can you do to help conserve the Amazon rainforest? What’s with those butterflies drinking turtle tears? And why do birds and monkeys like to chow down on clay?

These are just some of the questions that drive scientists to spend weeks and months—sometimes years—living in the jungle. Come join us to get a glimpse at this lifestyle by spending a week full of adventure and learning in some of the most remote rainforest eco-lodges in the world, deep in the Peruvian Amazon.

This isn’t your typical Amazon tour. With the help of local tour guides and expert wildlife biologists, you’ll enjoy a rainforest experience unlike any other, showing you how real-life field biology works, offering a chance to discover and observe new species, and providing a living lesson on the ecology and conservation of one of the planet’s most important habitats: the Amazon rainforest. 

After arriving in the river-side Amazon town of Puerto Maldonado, our close-knit crew of 15 explorers will set off up the Tambopata River by motorized canoe—the only way to reach the still-untouched Tambopata National Reserve. After leaving civilization behind (don’t worry, the lodges have comfy beds, warm showers, delicious food, and generator-powered electricity in the mornings and evenings with basic wi-fi), you’ll have a chance to experience some of the most breathtaking wildlife the Amazon has to offer. The itinerary includes:

  • Wildlife observation: Spot capybaras, jaguars, brown capuchins, oropendolas, predatory glowworms, giant river otters and more on daily hikes, boat rides, and climbs into canopy towers deep in the rainforest.
  • Conversations with researchers: Watch scientists present on their research, ask them all the questions you can think of, and even assist as they collect information. (Think: parrot researchers weighing chicks and aerobotany researchers programming their drones).
  • Night hikes in the jungle: Equipped with top-of-the-line Coast headlamps, wander into the rainforest after dark to catch a glimpse of unique species of nocturnal frogs, spiders, scorpions, snakes, and more.
  • Sunrise boat rides: Climb aboard our motorized canoe, led by our local Ese-eja indigenous guide, and head out right at dawn to visit macaw clay-licks and watch the sun rise over the water—and at night, the Milky Way.

Your Expert Tour Organizers & Guides

Dr. Jason G. Goldman is a science journalist and wildlife reporter who covers stories in animal behavior, wildlife biology, conservation, and ecology from around the world. He’s collared foxes on California’s Channel Islands, gotten sneezed on by iguanas in the Galapagos, tracked lions in South Africa, and traveled deep into the Peruvian Amazon in search of some social spiders. He has written for publications that include Scientific American, The Washington Post, and the BBC. He co-founded SciCommCamp, a science communication retreat and workshop series, and contributes to Scientific American’s “60 Second Science” podcast.

Phil Torres has been bitten by an anaconda, tackled a tiger shark, and gotten lost in a forest full of quicksand… all in the name of science. As a researcher and science communicator, he spent two years living in the Amazon and has worked in Mongolia, Venezuela, Sweden, the Bahamas, the Arctic, and the bottom of the ocean. Phil has made several significant discoveries at the Tambopata Research Center including the decoy spider, a thieving butterfly, and silkhenge, which he will personally show you on this trip. He is the creator and host of The Jungle Diaries and has hosted over 70 episodes of TechKnow on Al Jazeera. His research and wildlife photography has been featured by National Geographic, Wired, and the BBC.


$250 non-refundable deposit is required to secure your spot, as we have a very limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill extremely quickly. The trip will cost $4,250—the $250 deposit plus the $4,000 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs including all accommodations, meals, and activities listed in the itinerary below. 

Day 1
Travel Day: Arrive in Lima

Arrive in Lima, the capital and largest city in Peru, by 7pm for a briefing on your journey and an overnight rest for your morning flight into the jungle. A hotel booking in Lima is included in the price of your trip. Travelers will be responsible for arranging and booking their own flights to and from Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport and for their transportation from the airport to the hotel.

Start getting to know your expedition companions over a group dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. After dinner, our guides will provide a brief orientation and overview of the upcoming week of adventure.

Travelers who arrive in Lima earlier in the day will have the option of visiting the Catacombs at the Monastery of San Francisco, the Room of 10,000 Skulls, and/or the Museo Larco to see their famous collection of pre-Colombian erotic art, after checking in to the hotel. We’ll provide recommendations for lunch (Peruvian “sanguiches” are to die for). Don’t forget to try some ceviche!

Day 2
Into the Jungle
  • Enjoy breakfast with your new companions in your Lima hotel.
  • Hop in a van to the airport for a three-hour domestic flight from Lima to Puerto Maldonado with a pit stop in Cuzco. There, we’ll meet our local guide and take a quick van ride to Rainforest Expeditions HQ, where you can re-pack and change into more comfortable jungle attire.
  • After another van ride to the port in the community of Infierno, we’ll board a motorized canoe and head less than an hour upriver to our first lodge, Posada Amazonas, located in Infierno’s Primary Forest Private Reserve. We’ll spot turtles (watch for butterflies drinking their tears!), caimans, and more.
  • While speeding along on our boat, we’ll enjoy a traditional, tasty, leaf-wrapped lunch.
  • After a briefing from the lodge manager and checking into our rooms at Posada Amazonas, we’ll head out for a canopy tower climb just in time for sunset. High up above the trees, we’ll watch for canopy-dwellers like toucans and the seven types of monkeys that live in this area: red howler monkeys, brown capuchins, dusky titi monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, owl monkeys (also called night monkeys), and saddleback tamarins.
  • Back at the lodge, we’ll get to talk about our days’ worth of new observations over dinner, followed by a presentation on community-supported ecotourism by the Ese-eja indigenous guides. Posada Amazonas is co-managed by Rainforest Expeditions in partnership with the local Ese-eja community of Infierno.
  • The entire rainforest changes once the sun goes down. After dinner, if you still have energy, join us for an optional evening jungle walk; we’ll be looking for spiders, frogs, snakes, and other nocturnal critters.
Day 3
Posada Amazonas
  • Breakfast at sunrise.
  • Our first opportunity for parrots! Just a 20-minute walk from the lodge sits a blind that will allow us to observe as dozens of parrots and parakeets show up to eat the clay. (Species to watch out for: Mealy Amazons, Yellow-headed Amazons, Blue-headed Parrots, and Dusky-headed Parakeets). On the walk back, we’ll talk about tropical ecology and how to identify different forest types.
  • Lunch back at the lodge.
  • After a twenty minute boat ride, we’ll arrive at Centro Ñape, a communal organization that produces traditional medicines from the forest and administers them at a small clinic. A trail walk will allow travelers to learn about (and possibly try) the different medicinal uses of jungle plants. Many people from local indigenous communities still go to their local shamans for treatments for everything from insomnia to cancer.
  • After resting up, we’ll enjoy dinner back in the comfort of Posada Amazonas.
  • After dinner, we’ll be treated to a presentation by Phil on his research in the region—and how, exactly, one discovers a new species.
Day 4
Back on the River
  • Another early wake-up for a sunrise breakfast.
  • After a 30-minute boat ride, we’ll arrive at Tres Chimbadas Oxbow Lake. From a catamaran, we’ll try to find the resident family of giant river otters as well as other lake-dwelling critters, like black caiman, anaconda, and hoatzins. Also known as stinkbirds, hoatzins are the only birds that eat leaves, which basically makes them flying cows.
  • Transfer six hours upriver to the world-renowned Tambopata Research Center (TRC), one of the most remote ecolodges in the world. As we cross the confluence with the Malinowski River, we will leave the final traces of human habitation behind. Within the 700,000 hectare uninhabited nucleus of the reserve, capybara, caiman, guans, macaws and other large species will become more frequent. We’ll enjoy a tasty lunch on the water and we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for a tapir or jaguar sighting!
  • If the weather is cooperative, we’ll stop on the way at Chuncho Clay Lick, the world’s biggest, most spectacular macaw clay-lick where you can see dozens of brilliant, squawking, fantastically colored birds. Scientists have long debated why these birds like to chow down on clay, but research conducted here suggests that it provides a critical source of sodium, which is otherwise lacking from their diets.
  • After a briefing from the lodge manager at TRC, we’ll check in to our rooms.
  • Our afternoon jungle walk on the Overlook Trail will take us into a more pristine habitat than we saw the last two days, and we’ll be on alert for howler monkeys—the loudest animals in the Western hemisphere—and dusky titi monkeys.
  • After a long day of river travel and wildlife observations, we’ll enjoy dinner together back at TRC.
  • After dinner, the center’s resident parrot researchers will tell us about the most important long-term study of wild macaws in the world, which we’ll get to see first-hand the following day.
  • If you’re not too tired, you can join us once again for an optional night hike. We’ll search again for frogs, snakes, insects, and spiders. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled in particular for one of Phil’s discoveries, the decoy spider, found only here.
Day 5
  • At sunrise, we’ll take a short boat ride to the Colorado Claylick to observe macaws. Hundreds of parrots congregate on this riverbank each morning (as long as it isn’t raining) to eat the clay, a raucous and colorful spectacle.
  • Back at the research center, we’ll enjoy a hearty breakfast before setting out for a morning of assisting parrot researchers.
  • We’ll watch as the researchers climb as much as 30 meters above the forest floor to monitor both natural and artificial nests. Back on the ground, we’ll assist as they weigh and measure the chicks to monitor their growth. You’ll be stunned: despite the majestic beauty of adult macaws, the babies are really quite adorably ugly.
  • Lunch back at TRC
  • Ten minutes upriver is a tiny pond with an observation platform in the middle. We’ll look for waterfowl like the Muscovy duck, sunbittern, and hoatzin, along with woodpeckers, oropendolas, flycatchers, and parakeets.
  • After another delicious dinner, we’ll be treated to a presentation by Jason on life as a wildlife reporter and how he manages to stay optimistic despite the immense conservation challenges the world currently faces. For those needing some perspective on life, we can then head to the river to see the Milky Way glowing in the sky.
Day 6
Tambopata Research Center
  • There’s no such thing as too many macaws, so weather permitting, we’ll take another sunrise boat ride to Colorado Claylick before enjoying breakfast at the lodge.
  • After breakfast, we’ll walk along the Terra Firme Trail, which will take us into an entirely new habitat, characterized by smaller, thinner trees. We’ll hope to observe saddleback tamarin monkeys, and we’ll look for rare tapir tracks and possibly some peccaries. We’ll also keep our eyes peeled for another one of Phil’s discoveries: a unique, ant-thieving butterfly.
  • After lunch back at TRC, our afternoon hike to the Palm Swamp will take us to the remains of an oxbow lake. This unique habitat provides arboreal and terrestrial mammals like tapirs with fruit all year long, and is the natural breeding habitat for the blue and yellow macaw. Because the soil is so productive, especially for cultivating rice, palm swamps are also one of the region’s most threatened habitat types and therefore a target for conservation work.
  • We’ll enjoy another tasty dinner, and then another optional chance to look for the jungle’s nocturnal critters before heading to bed.
Day 7
Refugio Amazonas
  • Following breakfast, we’ll transfer approximately three and a half hours by river to our last lodge, Refugio Amazonas.
  • After checking into our rooms, we’ll head five minutes downriver to a community farm in the nearby community of Condenado. You will learn all about a typical farm from the local community and will also have the opportunity to see, smell, touch, and taste fruits you’ve never heard of such as the Copuazu, ‘Fish-eye’ Chili, and Cocona.
  • After lunch back at the lodge, we’ll walk around 20 minutes to a mammal claylick and work with researchers who are building a “Big Grid to Answer Big Questions.” We’ll help them collect data from camera traps and install some new ones.
  • Afterwards, we’ll take a walk to a harpy eagle nest! This is the largest bird of prey in the Americas. We’ll also visit the canopy tower to enjoy one last view above the jungle canopy, and observe the Aerobotany researchers programming their drones as they work to understand the incredible diversity of Amazonian plant life from the air.
  • Back at the lodge, we’ll enjoy our last dinner together as a group.
  • Following a briefing from a group of resident entomologists, we’ll walk to a light-based insect trap. We’ll help the researchers collect specimens, and if we’re lucky, we might even find a new species! Before heading back to the lodge, we’ll look for the recently discovered predatory glow-worms and other unique creatures of the night.
  • For those who still have energy, perhaps we’ll all enjoy one last drink together at the bar and reflect on our week of wildlife adventures before turning in for the night. If you haven’t yet tried a Cusqueña beer or a Pisco Sour, now is the time!
Day 8
Rainforest Departure and Farewell
  • After an early breakfast, we’ll transfer by river back to Puerto Maldonado and then by van to Rainforest Expeditions HQ where we can change and re-pack before returning to the airport.
  • Depending on timing, we’ll get a feel for what life is like in an Amazonian mining town on a short tour of Puerto Maldonado. Take a spin around the market and taste a palm beetle grub if you’re feeling adventurous (or just hungry).
  • Fly back to Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport and connect to your flights home. (Lunch on your own in the airport.)

We anticipate landing in Lima around 4:30pm; please keep this in mind when booking your flights back home. Departing at 6:30pm or later is recommended.

The Fine Print

Travelers are responsible for

  • Transportation and flights to and from Lima.
  • Payment for transportation from the Lima airport to the hotel (your guides will organize shuttle services).
  • Individual travel insurance.
  • Baggage charges.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.


Please keep in mind that we are venturing deep into the Amazon jungle to facilities only accessible by boat. If you have any medications, don’t forget to bring enough with you, sealed in plastic Ziploc bags. Be prepared to walk 1-3 miles per day through thick, muddy jungle terrain.

The rooms at all three lodges are open to the rainforest on one side so you can fall asleep watching the fireflies and wake up to the throaty calls of howler monkeys. The beds all come equipped with heavy mosquito nets. Don’t forget to put the nets down before you head to dinner each night.

In terms of disease risk, malaria is incredibly rare, but it is present; travelers should consult their own doctors about potential preventative measures. Leishmaniasis is present (and is treatable), and this is why DEET and long sleeves are required, especially at night. Zika has not yet been found in this part of the rainforest, but of course remains a potential risk, which is likewise mitigated by DEET and long sleeves. Finally, a yellow fever vaccine is not required, but travelers may wish to consult their own doctors. Other CDC recommendations for travel in Peru may be found by clicking here.


You will be charged a non-refundable $250 deposit to hold your space. The final payment of $4,000 will be due on March 8, 2017. All reservations will be final after this date, and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions. Please email us at journeys@atlasobscura.com with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.


This trip is expensive, why?
The cost for this trip includes ground and river transportation, domestic air travel to and from Puerto Maldonado, food, lodging, park entrance fees, local guides, and all activities. We chose the accommodations based upon several factors including sustainability; sustainable and fair ecotourism providers can cost a bit more. By traveling with us, you will also get the rare chance to learn from and nerd out with Phil Torres and Jason G. Goldman, both of whom are wildlife biologists, skilled photographers, and seasoned science journalists who have traveled the globe in search of gripping stories about the natural world.

How tough is this trip?
While Rainforest Expeditions excels at catering to tourists, and the lodges are quite nice and the food is delicious, please keep in mind we are venturing deep into the Amazon jungle to facilities only accessible by boat. We’ll be walking up to several miles per day through warm and humid jungle habitats on trails that in some places are covered in ankle-deep mud. Visiting this part of the world requires some physical effort, but the reward when you see your first wild macaws or catch a glimpse of an elusive tapir are well worth it. That being said, we’ve been alongside people of all ages in this rainforest. Our days should not feel dangerous or exhausting; you’ll be hiking just hard enough to get a very good night’s sleep every night.

Do we need vaccinations?
Peru does not require any immunizations for entry, although it recommends vaccination against Yellow Fever. Travelers may wish to consult their own doctors. Other CDC recommendations for travel in Peru may be found by clicking here.

Will I be sharing a room?
Space at these remote lodges is limited, which means you will be sharing a room with one or two fellow travelers. For this trip, we cannot offer a single accommodation option.

Do I need a travel visa?
All you need to enter and depart Peru is a valid passport with evidence of return or onward travel. With a U.S. passport, you will automatically receive a free 90-day tourist visa. For more information, see the State Department’s Peru travel page.

What is ecotourism?
The International Ecotourism Society has formally defined ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” In other words, it is an effort to combine sustainable travel with ecosystem-level conservation and the explicit recognition of and respect for the rights of indigenous people. That’s why ecotourism is more than just “nature tourism”; it has the explicit goal of benefiting local communities both environmentally and economically. By providing financial incentives through tourism, these communities can become empowered to fight against poverty, and in achieving a more sustainable sort of economic development, can better resist other more exploitative industries like mining, agriculture, ranching, or logging. Ecotourism has also motivated the traditional tourism industry in general to move towards more “green” or sustainable practices.

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