Expedition Amazon - September 10, 2019 - 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 trip is best for people who are...

  • Curious about wildlife, biodiversity, and conservation.
  • Ready to walk 5 to 6 miles a day and climb multiple, uneven sets of stairs, whether ascending a rainforest canopy tower or tracking down a tailless whip scorpion during a night hike.
  • Eager to make the most of each day—when you’re taking a sunrise boat ride, visiting a locally run fish farm, and going on an afternoon hike in search of Toppin's titi monkeys, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground.

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 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. 

This trip is limited to a small group of 14 explorers.


  • 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: mammal researchers setting camera traps and aerobotany researchers programming their drones).
  • Night hikes in the jungle: Equipped with 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 guides, 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 Organizer & Guide

Dr. Jason G. Goldman is an award-winning science journalist who covers wildlife biology, conservation, and ecology. He’s collared foxes on California’s Channel Islands, been sneezed on by iguanas in the Galápagos, tracked lions in South Africa, rode a yak across Tajikistan's Pamir Mountains, and searched for rare lizards in the cloud forests of Ecuador. He's written for Scientific American, National Geographic, The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, and elsewhere. He also co-founded SciCommCamp, a science communication retreat and workshop series, and contributes to Scientific American’s “60 Second Science” podcast.

Imogene Cancellare is a conservation biologist conducting research on rare and elusive species. She has studied wildlife from across the world, including clouded leopards, bobcats, bears, prairie dogs, cute salamanders, feisty weasels, and even rattlesnakes, to name a few. Imogene is currently a National Geographic Explorer researching snow leopards in High Asia for her PhD. Imogene engages with the public by sharing cool information on the natural history, ecology, and conservation of wildlife. Whether online, in the classroom, or out on a field adventure, she combines her enthusiasm, knowledge, and sense of humor to bring the wild side of science up close and personal.


Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.

All photos by Steven Acres
Day 1
Lima Arrival & Welcome
  • Arrive in Lima, the capital and largest city in Peru, by 5 p.m.
  • Start getting to know your expedition companions over a group welcome dinner at a restaurant near the hotel.
  • After dinner, our guides will provide a brief orientation and overview of the upcoming week of adventure. Turn in for a good night’s rest before your morning flight into the jungle. Your Lima hotel is included in the price of your trip. Let us know and we’re happy to book you for extra nights before or after the tour.
Day 2
Into the Jungle
  • After quick bite to eat at the hotel, we’ll hop in a van to the airport for a three-hour domestic flight from Lima to Puerto Maldonado with a pit stop in Cuzco. (If you’re still hungry, there should be time to get a full breakfast on your own in the airport.)
  • Landing in Puerto Maldonado, 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. (If there is anything you don’t want to bring into the rainforest, you can leave it at HQ and pick it up on our return.)
  • 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 checking into our rooms at Posada Amazonas and a briefing from the lodge manager, 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 such as toucans and aracaris.
  • Back at the lodge, we’ll get to talk about our days’ worth of 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 shortly after sunrise.
  • We’ll take a quick boat ride and then a short hike to 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. We might also try to catch a few piranhas to take a closer look at their famous teeth.
  • After lunch, another short canoe ride will take us to the Ese-Eja Native Community of Infierno where we’ll spend some time learning about life in the Amazon and how this community sustainably uses the rainforest’s resources.
  • In 2016, the community received funding from Peru’s Ministry of the Environment to create a sustainable fish farm. Aquaculture is not only a source of nutrition, but also of money. Here in Infierno, fish fulfill both of these roles, while also allowing for an additional source of revenue: ecotourism.
  • The largest pool at the fish farm is designed for fishing activities. We’ll learn how the Ese-eja catch fish using a traditional “fish cane” and get to try for ourselves!
  • Next we’ll visit the “Heritage House,” the main meeting place for the community. We’ll look around the museum and watch as our guides demonstrate the use of some ancient and contemporary tools.
  • Returning to the lodge, we’ll have some time to rest up before an afternoon jungle hike. We’ll be keeping our eyes open for the seven types of monkeys that live in this area: red howler monkeys, brown capuchins, Toppin's titi monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, owl monkeys (also called night monkeys), and saddleback tamarins.
  • We’ll enjoy dinner back in the comfort of Posada Amazonas.
Day 4
Back on the River
  • Fueled up from another early breakfast, we’ll transfer around five 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 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 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 spider 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—if we’re lucky—some decoy spiders!
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 birdwatching.
  • 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 lunch and some much-needed rest, we’ll make our way to the palm swamp!
  • Unlike Terra Firme and floodplain forests that we’ve already trekked through, the Palm Swamp is an ecosystem unto itself. Long ago, the area was an Oxbow lake. As the lake dried up, a wetland filled with thousands of palm trees was left behind. This is optimal nesting habitat for blue and gold macaws and critical for mitigating climate change: palm swamps absorb three times more carbon than any other tropical ecosystem.
  • After another delicious dinner, we’ll be treated to a presentation by Jason on what conservation really means in places as special as this. 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
Refugio Amazonas
  • We’re waking up before sunrise again today and taking to the river on a special jaguar expedition! As the sun rises and the sky turns from black to pink, orange, and yellow, the jaguars are just waking up as well. The largest cat in the Americas (and third largest in the world) is increasingly rare, but the population in Tambopata is actually growing.
  • We’ll be honest: we’ll have to be incredibly lucky to spot a jaguar. But the best chance is from a canoe on the river, in the early morning, when a jaguar comes to the banks to drink water and hunt for caiman and capybara.
  • The good news? Even if we don’t spot a cat, we’ll still get to see some amazing wildlife while enjoying a morning on the water.
  • After breakfast back at the lodge, we’ll take the boat approximately 3.5 hours downriver to our last lodge, Refugio Amazonas.
  • Before checking in, we’ll stop at a community farm in the nearby community of Condenado, owned and managed by the charismatic Don Manuel. As your guide translates, you will learn all about a typical farm from the local community and will also have the opportunity to see, smell, touch, and taste Amazonian fruits you’ve likely never heard of such as the Copuazu, ‘Fish-eye’ Chili, and Cocona.
  • We’ll receive a briefing from the lodge manager and settle in before lunch.
  • After lunch, we’ll take a walk to a harpy eagle nest! This is the largest bird of prey in the Americas. One last visit to the canopy tower will offer one last view above the jungle canopy, but this time we’ll accompany the Aerobotany researchers to see how they program 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 7
Rainforest Departure and Farewell
  • After an early breakfast, we’ll retrace our steps: 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. (Pro-tip: keep a set of dry clothes sealed in a ziploc bag the entire week. That will give you a nice, dry, fresh-smelling outfit to wear on the airplane!)
  • Fly back to Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport and connect to your flights home.

We anticipate landing in Lima around 4:30 p.m.; please keep this in mind when booking your flights back home. Departing at 7:30 p.m. or later is recommended.

The Fine Print

 Your Expedition Amazon Trip includes

  • All meals and accommodation during your stay, not including alcoholic beverages, beginning with dinner the first night and ending with breakfast the final day. A limited single supplement for the duration of the trip is available for an additional $420.
  • Internal flights between Lima and Puerto Maldonado, your Tambopata River point of embarkation.
  • An expert guide in the field of biology, conservation, and science journalism as well as local guides on each of your rainforest excursions.
  • Admission to all proposed activities and events, including the Tambopata Reserve and guest lectures.
  • Tips for the local Amazon guides.
  • A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
  • A curious group of fellow Atlas Obscura explorers, excited to discover all that the Amazon has to offer!

Travelers are responsible for

  • Transportation and flights to and from Lima.
  • Transportation from the Lima airport to the group hotel.
  • Individual travel insurance (recommended).
  • Baggage charges.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.


We recommend you have a medium fitness level to fully participate in this trip. Be prepared to walk up to five miles per day through thick, muddy jungle terrain. Keep in mind this will be much more taxing than five miles of flat pavement. Throughout our time on the river, explorers will be getting in and out of our boat and climbing multiple sets of uneven stairs to reach the forest floor from the river, in addition to the opportunity to ascend several canopy towers, which involve several flights of stairs. 


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. 

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 and zika are incredibly rare, but they are present; travelers should consult their own doctors about potential preventative measures. Leishmaniasis is present as well (and is treatable). All of this is why DEET and long sleeves are required, especially at night.  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 $500 deposit to hold your space. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The final payment of $3,490 will be due by June 12, 2019. All reservations will be final after this date, and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the trip’s Terms & Conditions. For those wishing to have a single room and/or extra nights at the Lima hotel, optional supplements will be included with the final payment. 

Feedback from Past Travelers

  • "It’s like visiting another planet, full of creatures you never dreamed possible, with habits and lifecycles that blow your mind. There are more leaves of more varied shapes than you can imagine, in infinite shades of green. Creatures great and small everywhere, filling every ecological niche: over your head, in the air, in the trees, in the river, on the riverbanks, by the lodges, underfoot, and right next to your hand - watch where you put it! The symphony starts at dawn with the howler monkeys, the macaws and toucans take over during the day, the insects crescendo at night. Be prepared for hot, hot, wet, wet inside your clothes. You'll come to love your gumboots the way a soldier in combat comes to love his rifle."
  • "Amazing opportunity to experience the rainforest with people who are knowledgeable and who get truly excited by plants, animals, birds, insects and spiders. They care deeply about conserving the environment and fragile ecosystems and want to support sustainable practices around ecotourism."


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 for a tight-knit group of 14 explorers. 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 travelers, 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 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 moderate physical effort, but the reward when you see your first wild macaws or catch a glimpse of an elusive tapir is well worth it. That being said, our days should not feel 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 most likely be sharing a room with one or two fellow travelers, though we do offer a very limited number of single rooms available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

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.


Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.

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