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Peruvian jungle: Tourist information

Jungle permits - arrival - regions and towns in the Peruvian jungle - jungle tours - jungle illnesses, essentials - getting lost and found again - short glossary

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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from: Dilwyn Jenkins: The rough guide to Peru; Rough Guides, New York, London, Delhi; 6th edition September 2006; www.roughguides.com

Jungle permits

The permits from the Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRENA)

To enter certain areas, such as the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, or the Manu and Tambopata-Candamo reserved zones, you'll need to obtain permission first. This is often done for you if you're on an organized tour; otherwise, contact the

Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRENA, National Institute for Natural Resources]), Calle 17, 355 Urb. El Palomar, San Isidro,Lima, T. 01-224-3298, e-mail comunicaciones@inrena.gob.pe, www.inrena.gob.pe,


[Calle] C Ricardo Palma 113, fourth floor, Iquitos, T. 065-232980, e-mail mps-zrg@meganet.com.pe.

It's not usually difficult to get a permit unless there's a good reason, such as for specially restricted areas (e.g.. in Manu Biosphere Reserve) or suspected hostility from indigenous locals (in 1980, for example, a German-led wildlife expedition was attacked by Indians - the first thing they knew about it was a sheet of arrows flying towards their canoe) (p.507).

Getting into the jungle

Flight - bus - jungle lodges - camping - canoing etc.

Given the breadth and quality of options, it's never easy to decide which bit of the jungle to head for. Your three main criteria will probably be budget, ease of access, and the depth and nature of jungle experience you're after.

Flying to any of the main jungle towns is surprisingly cheap [for tourists of the western industrialized and poisoned countries] and can save an arduous few days' journey overland [by bus], and once you've arrived, a number of excursions can be made easily and cheaply, though the best experience comprises a few nights at one of the better jungle lodges. For a more intimate (but often tougher) experience,it's easy enough to arrange a camping expedition and a guide, traveling in canoes or speedboats into the deeper parts of the wilderness.

River cruise with Iquitos operators - individual routes - common and alternative tourism

A costlier option is to take a river cruise on a larger boat, with one a few operators based in Iquitos. This offers two significant advantages: firstly, the boats are comfortable, with good service and food; and secondly, the programs take you to remote areas in style, and can then penetrate the deeper forest (such as the rarely visited Pacaya Samiria National Reserve) in well-equipped speedboats. Unlike lodge-based operations, both canoe expeditions and cruises aren't fixed to specific locations, so they can customize programs and routes.

[When you go by local cruise boat with Peruvian people the standard is not the same on the cruise. You have to bring with your dishes, your spoon, your hammocks, and danger of theft is not low etc.].

Hotels and tours tend to work out cheaper while there is less demand due to the annual cycle of US and European holiday seasons, though growing trends in ecological tourism and, more recently, psychedelic or jungle mystic experiences, are bringing groups throughout the year.

Entering the selva by boat from Yurimaguas or from Pucallpa to Iquitos

Most easily accessed by air from Lima or by boat from Brazil, the northern selva can also be reached from the northern Peruvian coast via an increasingly popular but still very adventurous route that takes the Río Huallaga from Yurimaguas [north from Tarapoto], a four- to five-day boat journey that can be broken by a visit to the immense Pacaya Samiria National Reserve at the heart of the upper Amazon. Capital of the remote and massive frontier (p.503)

region of Loreto, Iquitos is one of Peru's most welcoming cities, despite the presence of oil wells, cocaine traffickers and the US Drug Enforcement Agency. It's also the most organized and established of the Peruvian Amazon's tourist destinations, and has many reputable companies offering a range of jungle visits, from luxury lodges and cruises to rugged survival expeditions. From Iquitos you can catch  a ferry upstream to the growing town of Requena, similar to how Iquitos was around fifty years ago, and even further upriver to Pucallpa, where you'll find the first possible direct road link to Lima.

Pucallpa with "industrialization"

Pucallpa is the largest port and a rapidly growing industrialized [and poisoned] jungle town in the Central Selva, best reached by scheduled air flights or the largely paved road from Lima. Nearby is Lago Yarinacocha, a laid-back lake resort with limited amenities that has declined in popularity as a major destination over the past few decades, mainly due to a combination of terrorist infiltration, over-industrialization and the improvement of facilities in other competing (p.504)

jungle regions. However, it remains a good introduction to the rainforest and is reached by a relatively easy overland trip from Lima.

Chanchamayo jungle: Satipo, La Merced, Pozuzo

Another sector of this central jungle region - Chanchamayo - can be reached by road in eight to twelve hours from Lima. Winding fast but precariously down from the Andean heights of Tarma, the Carretera Central [Central main road] is now paved all the way to Satipo, a jungle frontier town, relatively close to the Río Ene, the name given to the Amazon's major headwater after the Río Apurimac merges with a major tributary, the Río Mantaro, as it pours down from the Huancayo area of the sierra. En route to Satipo the road passes through the cloud forest via La Merced, from where there are bus connections to the fascinating and unique Tirolean settlement of Pozuzo.

Peruvian Southern jungle around Cusco and Puerto Maldonado - parks and reserves

The jungles of southeastern Peru are bursting with biodiversity and are now excellently supplied in terms of lodges, guides, boats and flights to enable budget travelers and those with more money and less time to get deep into the jungle for the full experience. Cusco is the best base for trips (p. 505)

into the southern selva, with road access to the frontier town of Puerto Maldonado, itself a good base for budget travelers. The nearby forests of Madre de Dios boast the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone and the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, an enormous tract of virgin rainforest close to the Bolivian border. Many naturalists argue that this region is the most biodiverse on Earth, and thus the best place to head for wildlife (p.506)

An expedition into the Manu Reserved Zone (part of the larger Manu National Biosphere Reserve) will also bring you into one of the more exciting wildlife regions in South America. For a quicker and cheaper taste of the jungle, you can go by bus from Cusco via Ollantaytambo to to Quillabamba, on the Río Urubamba, which flows north along the foot to the Andes, through the dangerous and unforgettable whitewater rapids of the Pongo de Mainique.

Getting around the jungle: Boat classes

The tree most common forms of river transport are canoes (canoas), speed-boats (deslizadoras), and larger riverboats (lanchas). Whichever you choose, it's a good idea to make sure you can get along with the boatman (piloto) or captain and that he really does know the rivers.

Canoes can be anything from a small dugout with a paddle, useful for moving along small creeks and rivers, to a large eighteen-meter canoe with paneled sides and a peque-peque (on-board engine) or a more powerful outboard motor.

Speedboats tend to have light-weight metal hulls and are obviously faster and more manoeuverable, but also more expensive.

Different riverboats - Pucallpa-Iquitos and Tabatinga-Iquitos

Riverboats come in a range of sizes and vary considerably in their river-worthiness, and you should always have a good look at the boat before buying a ticket or embarking on a journey - note that the smaller one - or two-deck riverboats are frequently in worse condition (and noisier) than larger ones. The best are the Iquitos-based tour boats, with cabins for up to thirty passengers, dining rooms, bars, sun lounges and even Jacuzzis on board. Next best are the larger vessels with up to three decks that can carry two hundred passengers, with hammock spaces and a few cabins (for which you pay two to three times as much); if you're over 1,8m tall, it's best to take a hammock as the bunks may be too small. Always try to get a berth as close as possible to the front of the boat, away from the noise of the motor. On the larger riverboats (especially between Pucallpa and Iquitos, or Tabatinga and Iquitos) you can save money on hostels by hanging around in your hammock, as most captains allow passengers to sling one up and sleep on board for a few days before departure. Riverboats traveling upstream tend to stay close to the bank, away from the fast central flow, and while this means longer journeys, they're much more visually interesting than traveling up the middle of the river, particularly on the larger ones where it can be hard to make out even huts on the banks.

[Mosquitos are on the river banks and hardly in the middle of the river].

River tours - fuel stations - fuel canisters - rapids and the danger to get lost in the jungle

Anyone who intends hitching along the river system should remember that the further you are away from a town, the harder it is to lay your hands on fuel (p. 507)

(even if you should come across a multinational company drilling in the middle of the forest). You'll always be expected to contribute financially, but however much you offer, no one will take you upriver if they are short on fuel - and most people are usually. Taking your own supply (a 55-gallon container, for example) is a little difficult but isn't a bad idea if you're going somewhere remote.

As a last resort it's possible to get hold of a balsa raft and paddle (downstream) from village to village, but this has obvious dangers and is certainly not an option if there are any rapids [chutes, riffles] to negotiate ie, mortal danger awaits anyone who would be foolish enough to attempt to go through the Pongo de Mainque on the Río Urubamba by raft. [There are death victims every year there].

In addition to the obvious dangers of rapids, traveling alone by river places you in severe risk of getting lost, or simply stuck on an unpopulated riverbank for the night (or even a week or more in many remote areas) before finding a passing boat or local settlement. It certainly isn't advisable to travel these rivers without the help of reliable local expertise; this inevitably means a good tour company with professional guides, or reliable local Indian guides.

Find and hire a native guide - and assimilation to the nature - and no machos - exchange products

A basic rule of thumb is to always try to be with a reliable local guide. They don't need to have official status but they should be experienced in the region and willing to help out (remember that natives are often the best guides). There are several ways of enlisting this kind of help:

-- by paying significant sums for a commercially operated jungle tour

-- by going to the port of a jungle town and hiring someone and his boat

-- or by hopping along the rivers from one village to the next with someone who is going that way anyway and who will be able to introduce you to the villagers at the next stage.

This last and most adventurous option will normally involve long waits in remote settlements, but the jungle is an essentially laid-back place, and if there's one thing certain to get a selvatico (jungle dweller) mad, it's a gringo [white man, allegedly from the expression of the "Americans" in green uniforms: green go] with a loud voice and pushy manner [macho habit].

If you choose to travel this way, remember that you are imposing yourself on the hospitality of the locals and that you are dependent on them: be sensitive to their needs, their privacy and their possessions and take goods and cash to offer them in return for any help. Fishing hooks, nylon fishing line, tins of fish, trade cloth, clothes, fresh batteries and even shotgun cartridges are usually appreciated (p. 508); petrol for boats, useful for bargaining for rides (p.506).

Jungle hazards: Risks you have to know about

Snakes, jaguars and mosquitoes

Going even a little off the beaten track in the jungle involves arduous traveling, through an intense mesh of plant, insect and animal life. It's an environment that's not to be taken lightly: apart from the real chance of getting lost, the popular image of poisonous snakes, jaguars and mosquitoes is based on fact, though these dangers don't actually come hunting for you. Always consult your doctor on how to prevent diseases before departing for Peru if you are planning to spend any time in the rainforest regions.

Dengue fever by mosquitoes

There is no inoculation [vaccination] against dengue fever, a mosquito-transmitted viral infection that occurs mainly in urban Amazonia. The best prevention is by avoiding bites (see "Malaria" below, though note that the dengue mosquito is primarily  diurnal). Symptoms include high fevers, headache, severe pains in muscles and joints, vomiting and a red skin rash after the first few days. The illness usually lasts around ten days and can be treated with paracetamol. If hemorrhaging [bleeding] occurs (in this, as well as in any other case, of course), see a doctor immediately. Recovery is usually complete within a few weeks.

Jiggers (beach fleas) causing itching

Small insects that live in cut grass, jiggers [fleas] can also be a very irritating problem; they stick to and bury their heads in your ankles before slowly making their way up your legs to the groin [hips], causing you to itch furiously. You can either pick them out one by one as the natives do, or apply sulfur cream (ask for the best ointment [unguent] from a farmacia [pharmacy] in any jungle town).

Leishmaniasis by sandfly bites - deformed faces

Endemic to certain zones, leishmaniasis (known in Pru as uta) is transmitted by sandfly bites and is rarely contracted by short-term visitors to the jungle. Symptoms start with skin sores that begin to ulcerate, followed by fever and swelling of the spleen. There is no prophylactic and if untreated it can lead to severe degeneration of the skin and facial tissue [nose, lips, ears], usually around the upper lip and lower nose areas. there is treatment available, but many untreated cases among relatively malnourished Peruvian peasants and Indians have resulted in permanent and quite horrific disfigurement.

Malaria by mosquitoes - and the repellents

The most significant disease in the Amazon, malaria has two common forms in South America:

Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum.

The letter is the most common, but both are found in the Peruvian Amazon and thought to be fast adapting to modern medicines. Of the prophylactics, many have side-effects (some psychological, others physiological), so do some independent research as well as consulting your doctor. Mosquitoes are mainly, but not exclusively nocturnal coming out at dusk and disappearing at sunrise; the best protection is to use roll-on (p.504)

DEET (diethyltoluamide) repellents, to wear clothing that's treated with diluted DEET repellent and covers exposed skin, and to sleep under mosquito nets [and the best is when also the mosquito nets have repellent]. Note that DEET harms plastics, Even with the best effort possible, you can't be sure of avoiding bites, especially when camping in the rainforest or on night walks, so always take what your GP [general practitioner, family doctor] prescribes.

Malaria starts three or four weeks after contact, usually with a combination of severe nausea, high fevers, delirium and chills; get medical help as soon as possible if you have these symptoms - it's easier to treat in the early stages.

Parasites by water or by mud

Parasites are quite common, so it's best to boil drinking water and use sterilizing tablets or crystals. Around human settlements, including the muddier parts of larger towns, you can pick up parasites through the soles of your feet; the best precaution is to wear shoes rather than flip-flops [beach sandals] or sandals. Also, get a medical check-up at a center that specializes in tropical diseases when you return home.

River sickness without hat

The most likely hazard you'll encounter is river sickness, a general term for the effect of the sun's strong rays reflected off the water. After several hours on the river, particularly at midday and without a hat, you may get the first symptom - the runs [diarrhea] - sometimes followed by nausea [sick feeling] or shaking fever; in extreme cases these can last for a day or two. Anti-diarrhea medicine should help (Lomotil, Imodium, or something similar); otherwise drink plenty of fluids and take rehydration salts dissolved in water.

Snakes in the vegetation

It's unlikely that you will encounter any snakes. If you do, nearly all of them will disappear as quickly as they can - only the poisonous shushupe (a bushmaster) is fearless. The fer-de-lance, or jergon, is also quite common; it's smaller and packs less venom than the bushmaster, but can still be deadly. Most bites occur by stepping on a sleeping snake or picking it up with a handful of vegetation; be constantly aware of this possibility. If anyone does get bitten, the first thing to remember is to keep calm - most deaths result from shock, not venom. Try to kill the snake for identification, but, more importantly, apply a temporary tourniquet above the bite and find medical help immediately. Some natives have remedies even for a potentially deadly shushupe bite.

Yellow fever

Yellow fever is simple to prevent by a shot [injection] that covers you for ten years. Consult your doctor to find the nearest inoculation [vaccination] center, and remember to obtain a certificate of inoculation, which you are sometimes required to show on entry into many of Peru's jungle regions. If you can't, you run the risk of being subject to on-the-spot inoculation, wherever you may be (p.505).

Jungle essentials

For all visits

-- certificate of inoculation [vaccination] against yellow fever (check with your embassy for prevailing health requirements)

-- malaria pills (start course in advance as directed by prescribing doctor)

-- roll-on insect repellent containing DEET [against malaria and dengue fever mosquitoes]

-- suitable clothing (wear socks, trousers and long sleeves in the evenings)

-- toilet paper

-- waterproof poncho [pullover], cagoule (hooded nylon pack-away raincoat) or overclothes

[natives never have raincoat] (p.506).

3-5 days at a lodge or basic facility

Above plus...

-- anti-diarrhea medicine (e.g.. Lomotil or Imodium)

-- blanket or thick cotton sheet for sleeping

-- mosquito net for sleeping under [the best is when the mosquito net is also with insecticide]

-- multipurpose knife (with can and bottle opener)

-- plastic bags for packing and lining your bags (a watertight box is best for camera equipment and other delicate valuables). Note that cardboard [paper] boxes dissolve on contact with the Rio Amazonas or rain shower

-- sun-hat (especially for river travel)

-- torch and spare batteries

-- water proof matches and a back-up gas lighter (p.506).

5 days or more away from facilities

Above plus...

-- candles

-- compass and a whistle (in case you get lost)

-- cooking pots, stove (or the ability to cook over a fire and a supply of dry wood) and eating utensils

-- filled water container (allow for a gallon a day)

first-aid box or medical kit (including tweezers, needles, scissors, plasters, bandages, adhesive tape, sterile dressings, antiseptic cream, antibiotics and painkillers)

-- fishing line and hooks (unsalted meat makes good bait)

-- food supplies (mainly rice, beans, cans of fish, crackers, noodles and fruit; chocolate is impractical, as it melts)

gifts for people you might encounter (batteries, knives, fish-hooks and line, camera film, and so on)

-- a hammock or mat, plus a couple of blankets

-- insect-bite ointment (antihistamines, tiger balm, or mentol china; toothpaste as a last resort)

-- a good knife and machete

-- quick-dry clothing

-- petrol for boats, useful for bargaining for rides

-- rope

-- running shoes, sandals (ideally plastic or rubber) [natives never have shoes, their feet have incredible horny skin]; rubber boots or strong walking boots if you're going hiking

-- water sterilizers (good tablets, crystals or a decent filter) (p.506).

Getting lost and found again

No way - similar trails - whistle, shouting, banging at the buttress-root trees - following the brooks to the river

Getting lost is a real danger, even for local people, and it's no fun. By straying less than a hundred meters from camp, the river or your guide, you can find yourself completely surrounded by a seemingly impenetrable canopy [roof] of plant life. It's almost impossible to walk in a straight line through the undergrowth, and one trail looks very much like the next to the unaccustomed eye. Your best bet, apart from using a whistle (always advisable to carry one with you in the forest) and shouting as loud as you can or banging the base of big buttress-root trees as Indians do when they get lost on hunting forages [searches], is to find moving water and follow it downstream to the main river, where someone will eventually find you waiting on the bank.

If you get caught out overnight, the best places to sleep are:

-- besides a fire on the river bank

-- in a nest you could make yourself in between the buttress roots of a large tree

-- higher up in a tree that isn't crawling with biting ants

-- or in a hammock (p.508).

A brief jungle glossary

While you're here it might be useful to know a few local jungle words, some Spanish and others from local Indian languages:

Jungle glossary
aguajina [aguaxína]
a refreshing palm-fruit drink
a curve in the river
inchicapi [intLautschrift schikapi] appetizing local soup made from chicken, peanuts, manioc (yuca) and fresh coriander herb
manioc beer
el monte
the forest
paiche [paitLautschrift sche] the world's largest freshwater fish, often found on jungle menus
pakucho [pakutLautschrift scho] the local form of "gringo" [white man, allegedly from: "Green (uniforms) go"]
the onomatopoeic word used for small boat motor engines (usually a 4 or 9 horsepower with the propeller on a long shaft which helps to steer the canoe and can be lifted easily out of the water in shallows)
pongo [ponxo]
whitewater rapids [chutes, riffles]
an area of forest that lies above the river flood level on a permanent basis
shushupero [Lautschrift schuLautschrift schupero] a "drunk" or inebriated individual, from the deadly shushupe snake
siete raices [siete raises]
a strong medicinal drink, mixed from seven jungle plants and aguardiente [alcohol]
tipishca [tipiLautschrift schka] an oxbow lake [old river arm from when the river was flowing in another direction]
forest which does get regularly flooded


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