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Puerto Maldonado

Destination Puerto Maldonado

A remote settlement even for Peru, PUERTO MALDONADO is a frontier colonist town with strong links to the Cusco region and a fervor for bubbly jungle chicha music with an economy based on unsustainable lumber and gold extraction, and highly sustainable brazil-nut gathering from the rivers and forests of Madre de Dios, Puerto Maldonado has grown enormously over the last twenty years from a small, laidback outpost of civilization to a busy market town. Today, swollen by the arrival of business expecting a boom now that the road to Brazil is open, it’s the thriving, safe (and fairly expensive) capital of a region that feels very much on the threshold of major upheavals. Where, only thirty years ago, there were hardly any four-wheeled vehicles and the town´s only TV was set up outside the municipal building for the locals to watch football, these days enormous Brazilian trucks thunder past and satellite TV dishes have sprouted all over town.
While the busy city center combines the usual bars and restaurants with pool halls, hammock shops and offices, there isn't much in the way of specific attractions, and most visitors come here primarily to enter the forest and stay in á lodge.

Choose your Puerto Maldonado Tour

History


While gold mining and logging - both mostly illegal frontier businesses - keep Puerto Maldonado buzzing today, it was rubber that established the town at the beginning of the twentieth century. During the 1920s, game hunters dominated the economy of the region, and after diem, mainly in the 1960s, the exploiters of mahogany and cedar trees arrived - leading to the construction of Boca Manu airstrip, just before the oil companies moved in during the 1970s. Most of the townspeople, riding coolly around on Honda motorbikes, are second-generation colonos, but there´s a constant stream of new and hopeful arrivals, both rich and poor, from all parts of South America. The lure, inevitably, is gold.

Geography


The Amazon rainforest drapes a tropical green blanket over a significant part of South America. It covers the entire eastern part of Peru (about 60 percent of the country’s national territory) and extends into parts of Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela.

Puerto Maldonado Geography

Southern Amazon in Peru

Puerto Maldonado is the capital of the Madre de Dios department in southern Peru. As the largest city in the region, it is a hub for travelers exploring this remote part of the Amazon.

The Madre de Dios River and its tributaries feed the southern jungle of Peru and its thriving ecosystems. One of the most important tributaries, the Tambopata, begins near the city of Puerto Maldonado about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the Peru-Bolivia border and meanders its way south through the Tambopata National Reserve and the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park.

The enormous tracts of protected jungle of southern Peru host of different habits where an unprecedented number of flora and fauna thrive. Old-growth Amazonian trees stretch for miles and miles, bamboo groves flourish along riverbeds, and marshes the form in poorly irrigated parts join savannah, floodplain, and swamp landscapes.

Low-lying jungle dominate the southern Peruvian Amazon. The elevation of Puerto Maldonado is 180 m (600 ft) above sea level.

Seasonal Info


The Amazon has a warm, tropical climate with high humidity. Average temperatures range from 25°C (77° F) to 42°C (107°F).

Dry Season

May through October are usually the driest months in the Amazon. Between June to September there are periodic cold spells called friajes that can drop the temperature to 10°C (50°F) for a couple days at a time. Friajes are cold fronts the blow up from Patagonia and then whip down over the southern jungle from the Andes.

  • Pros: Trails less muddy, higher probability of seeing parrots and macaws at the clay licks
  • Cons: Hotter temperatures, sunny days usually see less bird activity, amphibians harder to spot
Dry Season Puerto Maldonado

Wet Season

The Amazon is a rainforest, so really there’s chance of rain throughout the year. But more constant rains that define the region’s wet season begin in November and continue to April. November and December usually receive the most rainfall.

  • Pros: Temporal wetlands make it easier to see reptiles and amphibians, cooler temperatures
  • Cons: Muddy conditions, less likely to see birds at the claylicks, higher chances of flight delays
Wet Season Puerto Maldonado

Attractions


AROUND PUERTO MALDONADO

Madre de Dios boasts spectacular Virgin lowland rainforest and exceptional wildlife. Brazil-nut tree trails, a range of lodges, some excellent local guides and ecologists, plus indigenous and colonist cultures are all within a few hours of Puerto Maldonado. Serious jungle trips can be made here with relative ease and without too much expense, and this part of the Amazon offers easy and uniquely rewarding access to rainforest that is much less disturbed than that around Iquitos, for example.

Lago Sandoval

A short way downriver from Puerto Maldonado is Lago Sandoval, a large lake where the Ministry of Agriculture have introduced the large paiche fish. You can walk here from the drop-off point on the Río Madre de Dios. On arrival at the lake, boatmen and canoes can usually be obtained by your guide for a couple of hours, as can food and drink. At its best on weekday mornings (it gets quite crowded at other times), the lake offers decent opportunities for spotting wildlife, in particular birds similar to those at Lago Valencia, such as hoatzins and the occasional toucan. You may even spot a giant otter. Incidentally, if you're travelling to the lake by river, most guides will show you the mined hulk of an old boat lying close to the riverbank. If they claim it had anything to do with Fitzcarrald´s, don't believe them; it may be similar in style to Fitzcartald's, but in fact it's smaller and is a far more recent arrival - it's a hospital boat that was in use until two or three decades ago.

Lago Sandoval

ALONG THE RIVER TO LAGO VALENCIA

Travelling by boat from Puerto Maldonado to the huge lake of Lago Valencia, you can stop off to watch some gold- panners on the Río Madre de Dios and visit a small settlement of Ese Eja; about thirty minutes beyond, you turn off the main river into a narrow channel that connects with the lake.
Easing onto the lake itself, the sounds of the canoe engine are totally silenced by the weight and expanse of water. Towards sunset it's quite common to see caimans basking on the muddy banks, an occasional puma or the largest rodent in the world, a capybara, scuttling away into the forest. Up in the trees around the channel lie hundreds of hoatzin birds, or gallos as they are called locally - large, ungainly creatures with orange and brown plumage, long wings and distinctive spiky crests. The strangest feature of the hoatzin is the claws at the end of their wings, which they use to help them climb up into overhanging branches beside rivers and lakes; they have almost lost the power of flight.

The settlement and around

An easy walk (20min) from the main Río Madre de Dios river bank brings you to the lake's one real settlement, a cluster of thatched huts around a slightly larger schoolhouse. Fewer than seventy people live here - a schoolteacher, a lay priest, the shop owner and a few fishing families. Some tour groups stay in a small camp further down, a seasonal nut-collectors campamento, comprising just one cooking hut with an adjacent sleeping platform, though there is also a lodge and a hospedaje. By day most people go for a walk in the forest - something that's safer and more interesting with a guide, though whichever way you do it you'll immediately sense the energy and abundance of life. Quinine trees tower above all the trails, surpassed only by the Tahuari hardwoods. Around their trunks you'll often see pega-pega, a parasitic, ivy-like plant that the "shamans mix with ayahuasca into an intense aphrodisiac. Perhaps more useful are the liana vines; one thin species dangling above the paths can be used to take away the pain from a shushupe snake bite. Another, the maravilla or palo de agua, issues a cool stream of fresh water if you chop a section, about half a metre long, and put it to your lips. You may come upon another vine, too - the sinister matapalo (or renaco), sucking the sap from up to a square kilometre of jungle.

The settlement and around

Rio Heath

Less than 2hr from Lago Valencia in a motorized lancha.
A good trip deeper into the forest from Lago Valencia is up to the Río Heath, a national rainforest sanctuary, though while the Pampas del Heath are excellent for watching macaws, they don't have the primary forest necessary for a great variety of wildlife. It now lies within the Parque Nacional Bahuaja-Sonene, and special permission is needed from the government protected-area agency SERNANP in Lima.

Rio Heath

Reserva Nacional Tambopata

Containing some of the word´s finest and most biodiverse rainforest, the RESERVA NACIONAL TAMBOPATA, is one of the most casily accessible parts of relatively pristine Amazon rainforest. Described by National Geographk as one of the planet's seven "iconic natural sanctuaries", it is within easy reach of many of the lodges in the Puerto Maldonado region. Transformed into a reserved zone mainly due to the scientific work of the adjacent Explorers Inn lodge, the area covers around 250,000 hectares, and ¡s next to the Parque Nacional Batiuaja-Sonene, itself more than 1.5 million hectares. The expansion of the National Parle is a major success for conservation in Peru, but despite this mere are fears that the government has plans to open up the park in future to gas and oil exploitation. It´s only possible to visit the National Park on a tour with a licensed operator. Tours organized from Cusco or Puerto Maldonado can enter en route to one of the major macaw salt licks (colpas) in the region. The licks are the best places to see wildlife in the jungle, since their sails, minerals and clay are highly nutritious, attracting large numbers of wild birds and animals.

Reserva Nacional Tambopata

Cultural norms


Influenced by both Cusco to the north and Puno to the east, the Colca has historically been inhabited by Quechua and Aymara populations. Its cultural traditions reflect this mixed heritage.

Jungle Communities & Puerto Maldonado

The Amazon jungle covers more than 60 percent of Peru, but the sparsely inhabited region is home to only 5 percent of the country’s entire population. Many indigenous communities live throughout the Peruvian Amazon. But the realities of their daily lives vary greatly. Some live nearby main jungle cities, like Iquitos, Pucallpa, and Puerto Maldonado, in homes with electricity and television. Other communities reside in remote Amazon regions only accessible via riverboat.
For tribes living in previously remote jungle regions of Peru, the growth of Puerto Maldonado has not come without challenges and injustice. Mining and logging have destroyed and polluted the environment. Also, the deep-seated culture of political corruption and unregulated businesses have interfered with the fair allocation of monetary aid to benefit local communities and eco-friendly projects.
Fortunately, the Ese’Eja community from the Madre de Dios region is a shining example of an indigenous tribe that is thriving, despite modern influences and past injustice. Since 1996, the Ese’Eja and Rainforest Expeditions, a Peruvian ecotourism company, have been partners in the ongoing operation of the Posada Amazonas jungle lodge. The Ese’Eja own the lodge and it’s managed by Rainforest Expeditions (for a limited time). The ecotourism project has created jobs for many local people and earnings from the lodge are reinvested into community projects job creation and it are just part of. Posada Amazonas also helps keep the Ese’Eja culture alive through sharing their culture and way of life with excursions. Learn more about the award-winning Posada Amazonas lodge.

Cultural norms puerto maldonado

Language

The budding ecotourism sector in Puerto Maldonado is multilingual. Hotel staff and travel guides can usually speak English, sometimes French, German, etc., in addition to Spanish. On a visit to an indigenous community, you’ll hear their native language.

Tipping

Tipping is a great way to show your appreciation to the naturalist guide(s) and lodge staff who made your trip to the jungle a memorable one. It’s customary to tip at the very end of your stay at a jungle lodge. Of course, tip at your own discretion.

Activities


Land Treks

During the low water season, your Amazon tour might include a land trek through the jungle. This is a great opportunity to see hundreds of the species of plants, insects and reptiles that make their home in the vegetation of the jungle floor, under the protection of the thick vegetation above. During the high water season, land treks are uncommon as most areas are inaccessible due to the flooding of the rivers from the heavy rains. It is important to stay close to your guide and remain with your group. Venturing off the beaten path in the Amazon is dangerous and risky.

Land Treks puerto maldonado

Boat Tours

Navigating the rivers of the Amazon by boat is one of the best ways to get a front row seat to the jungle’s wildlife scene. The flowing water of the rivers is the life-sustaining resource of the Amazon Rainforest. This means that a wide variety of animals come to the banks of the rivers to drink, eat, bathe and lounge. It is common to see birds and monkeys perched in the trees, capybaras and otters playing in the shallow water near the shores and possibly even a jaguar taking an afternoon nap in the thicket. Boat tours are available all year round in most parts of the Amazon, but the best time to take a boat tour is during high water season as the rivers and tributaries become wider and more easily accessible.

Boat Tours Puerto Maldonado

Indigenous Communities

The Peruvian jungle is home to some of the 64 registered aboriginal communities in the country. Despite a long history of interaction with Catholic missionaries and other outsiders, many of these native tribes have kept key elements of their culture intact, including language, dance traditions and artistic expression. Many of these people are being trained to attend to all the tourists who visit them. The service and quality of the lodges are outstanding and indigenous communities try to maintain these international standards.

Indigenous Communities puerto maldonado

Canopy Walks

The Peruvian Amazon rainforest is home to some startling diversity of plant and animal life. This diversity varies, not only by geographic location, but also by distance from the rainforest floor. In a competition for sunlight, tall trees mingle their leafy branches with those of their neighbours, creating a green roof known as the canopy. Below, within and above the canopy, life takes different forms. Walks above the canopy (on platforms or bridges) are included in many jungle lodge programs.

Canopy Walks puerto maldonado

Hotels



The following are our top choices for hotels in Puerto Maldonado.

Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica

Address:

The Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica is situated at the heart of an ecological reserve, in the Southern Peruvian rainforest. Set along the Madre de Dios River, this Amazon lodge features thirty-five picturesque thatched-roof cabanas which give guests a rustic perspective but comfortable stay. The roads made of fallen tree trunks connecting the cabins to the magnificent main hall and the dining room, while lounges and balconies are available to appreciate colorful tropical birds, monkeys and other animals in the area.


inkaterra amazonia lodge

Corto Maltes Lodge

Address: Tambopata Reserve, Puerto Maldonado.

At the “Corto Maltes” Amazonia, you can get the best services, which some guest do not hesitate to assert that their stay at the Lodge “Corto Maltes” Amazonia was memorable for its facilities, the kind treatment and above all by its international cuisine, something that should not surprise you because the Peruvian cuisine is of great prestige. Its dishes offered are prepared with the best and freshest local ingredients taken from the area, with subtle aromas and flavors as well as French, Mexican or Iranian cuisine.


corto maltes lodge

Eco Amazonia Lodge

Address: Tambopata Reserve, Puerto Maldonado

The Eco Amazonia Lodge located two hours from Puerto Maldonado navigating on the Madre de Dios River, an ecological reserve within the rainforest in the heart of Amazon paradise in Tambopata, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Eco Amazonia Lodge features 50 bungalows designed and built from local materials following standards of environmental and social responsibility.
Few places in the world display such exuberant nature as the Tambopata Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon basin. The gateway to enter into this pristine paradise is from Puerto Maldonado city, and the main artery of this nature marvel is Madre de Dios River.


eco amazonia lodge

Eating


You should have no problem finding something delicious to eat in Puerto Maldonado. Manioc and fish are staple foods in the town´s restaurants. A variety of river fish is always available, even in ceviche form, though there is some concern in the region about river pollution from the unofficial gold mining. Verison (try estofado de venado) and wild boar fresh from the forest are often on the menu toe. Along León de Velarde are a number of cafés and bars, one or two of which have walls covered in typical selvatico-styk paintings, developed to represent and romanticize the dreamlike features of the jungle - looming jaguars, brightly plumed macaws in the treetops and deer drinking water from a still lake.

Eating Maldonado

Travel Tips


Getting to the Rainforest

Puerto Maldonado, a small city nestled in the country’s southeastern region, is one of the principal gateways to the Peruvian Amazon. It is connected to the outside world by air, river and road. If you, like most travellers to Peru, have limited vacation time and you’re looking for the most efficient way to get to your destination, air travel is definitely the fastest way to get to Puerto Maldonado. Flights depart daily from Lima and Cusco. Puerto Maldonado is often used as a place of transit. Most of the jungle lodges are located down the river and away from the city, requiring a second leg of travel by boat. If you’ve made advance arrangement for an Amazon tour, lodge staff will meet you at the Puerto Maldonado’s airport (or bus station) and escort your group to your final destination. Motorised canoes carry passengers along the river and make for a unique jungle experience! Travel time usually takes between one and six hours, depending on the location of the lodge and weather conditions.

Getting There and Away

  • By Air: Many airlines offer services to Puerto Maldonado. A direct flight from Cusco takes 55min and a nonstop service from Lima takes about 1h40min.
  • By Boat: Boat services to Puerto Maldonado are less common, but all the principal lodges have specially adapted boats for tourists.
  • By Road: Traveling to Puerto Maldonado by road is a convenient option, but it wasn’t always so. Completed in 2011, the Transoceanic Highway cuts a path through the jungle and connects Peru and Brazil. This road also links Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. What was once a grueling 15 hour drive has been shaved down to approximately 10 hours on a mostly comfortable, paved road.

The Best Time to Go

The Peruvian Amazon is a year round destination. The “best time” to visit will depend on the individual traveller’s interests. The high water season (December through May) affords greater opportunity to find and see wildlife and the jungle hiking trails disappear due to flooding. Temperatures will be cooler in high water season, but the mosquitos will be out in greater numbers. The low water season brings warmer temperatures, but there are more opportunities to explore the region on foot in order to see the thousands of varieties of flora and fauna inhabiting the lush jungle floor. Keep in mind that some months are better to see wildlife due to mating seasons. For example, many of the parrot species feed more on the clay licks of the Tambopata National Reserve during their breeding season in order to provide nutrients for their young. Therefore, the best time to see this spectacle is between the months of November and March. In short, when you should visit the jungle is a matter of personal preference. No matter when you go, the Peruvian Amazon is guaranteed to be an experience of a lifetime.

How to pack for the Rainforest

Here is a packing list that we recommend for your Amazon jungle vacation:

  • Long sleeved, tight-weaved, light coloured cotton shirts
  • Tight-weaved, light coloured, long pants
  • Broad brimmed hat
  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Ankle-high hiking boots
  • Sun block
  • Sunglasses
  • Mosquito repellent

Tipping Etiquette

First of all, we would like to mention that it is not customary to tip in Peru as it is in many other countries. As a consequence, most Peruvians do not show their appreciation for good service by leaving a tip. That doesn't mean you shouldn't tip in Peru. When you are happy with a service, we recommend that you use your judgment to adjust the amount according to the situation.

Trip Extensions

The Transoceanic Highway cuts a path through the jungle to connect Peru and Brazil. From Puerto Maldonado you can take a bus to the Brazilian or Bolivian borders (around 3 hours).