Touring the Amazon Jungle
The knock at the door comes early. "¡Buenos días! Good morning!" It's 5 am, and your guide is rousing you for the dawn excursion to the nearby collpa de guacamayos. He doesn't want you to miss the riotous, colorful spectacle of hundreds of parrots and macaws descending to the vertical clay lick to ingest mineral-rich earth. Roll over and go back to sleep? Blasphemy! You're in the Amazon.
A stay at any of the remote Iquitos or Madre de Dios lodges is not for the faint of heart. You'll need to gear up for a different type of vacation experience. Relaxing and luxuriating it will not be, although some facilities are quite comfortable. Your days will be packed with activities: bird- and wildlife-watching, boat trips, rainforest hikes, visits to indigenous communities, kayaking, and so on. You'll be with guides from the minute you're picked up in Iquitos, Puerto Maldonado, or Cusco. Most lodges hire top-notch guides who know their areas well, and you'll be forever amazed at their ability to spot that camouflaged howler monkey from a hundred paces.
The lodge should provide mosquito netting, sheets or blankets, and some type of lantern for your room. (Don't expect electricity.) But check the lodge's website, or with your tour operator, for a list of what to bring and what the lodge provides. Your required inventory will vary proportionally by just how much you have to rough it. Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellent containing DEET, a hat, hiking boots, sandals, light shoes, a waterproof bag, and a flashlight. Also, a light, loose-fitting, long-sleeve shirt and equally loose-fitting long trousers and socks are musts for the evening when the mosquitoes come out. Carry your yellow fever vaccination certificate and prescription for malaria prevention, plus an extra supply of any medicine you might be taking. Bring along antidiarrheal medication, too. You'll need a small day-pack for the numerous guided hikes. Also bring binoculars and a camera, as well as plastic bags to protect your belongings from the rain and humidity. Everything is usually included in the package price, though soft drinks, beer, wine, and cocktails carry a hefty markup.
Few things are more enjoyable at a jungle lodge than dinner at the end of the day. You'll eat family-style around a common table, discussing the day's sightings, comparing notes well into the evening, knowing full well there will be another 5 am knock the next day.
—By Jeffrey Van Fleet