We first thought about visiting the Amazon when we were in Bolivia. Trips to the Amazon or selva (jungle) as called by locals are offered in Bolivia (however officially not yet the Amazon as the river starts in Peru), Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and of course Brazil. Our initial research showed lodges with package prices for a full all inclusive experience ranging from several hundreds of dollars to a couple of thousands. Not exactly what we hoped to see as this will take a huge chunk of our budget and we wondered if it would be worth the price?
After a lot of research, stories and pictures from our friend Seppe who has lived in Peru for many years we decided on Peru and on the jungle around Iquitos. Iquitos itself being an intriguing city would add to our experience in the Amazon and is a good place to shop around for a low key and thus less expensive jungle lodge.
Once in Iquitos we started to visit jungle trip tour companies and tried to get a feel of the company, owner and guide. As everyone with a shop, desk and jungle poster can call themselves a tour company, there were loads of companies and at first we weren’t sure where to start. Tripadvisor and our hostel were very helpful for gathering information. We wanted to do a 4 days/3 night trip and with our list of questions we visited 6 companies before deciding on Chullachaqui Lodge. Every company has a per day price which includes transport to the lodge, accommodation, 3 meals per day, water, tea and coffee, various excursions and a guide. You mostly get what you pay for so the level of food and especially accommodation varies according to the price. We drooled at a lodge that was double our budget and had giggles with seeing presentations from cheaper companies showing us lodges with the benefit of jumping into the river for a full jungle experience – their way of describing that there were no bathrooms.
Another factor to consider was where the lodge is situated. Everything downriver is geared toward day trips with rescue centers, big restaurants, flashy lodges, staged tribe dances and a not so authentic experience. Up river is better for multiple day trips as the jungle is more pristine the further away from Iquitos you go with better chances of spotting wildlife and having a more authentic experience. The lodges are located on the various tributaries that branches of the main Amazon river. One of the favorites selling point of tour companies is their proximity to the Pacaya Samiria national reserve. There are few companies that are actually in the national reserve and we decided not to stay in the reserve as there is a high entrance fee to enter.
One other factor that influences the price is how you get there – the transfer to the lodge. For a lower price, some companies go the first part by minibus to the town of Nauta, and use a speedboat for the last part. However, we chose to go by speedboat all the way, as travelling on the Amazon for us adds to the whole experience. Our choice was located approximately 100 km away from Iquitos and it took about 2 hours to get there by boat.
The price, reviews and the answers the owner gave us made us feel safe to give Chullachaqui Lodge a go. For 175 nuevo soles (€ 48.60) per person per day we had a great Amazon trip without breaking our budget.
Chullachaqui Lodge, our home in the jungle.
We were picked up at 9.30 by motokar to go to the port where our boat would take us to the Chullachaqui Lodge. The people in your group are very important and we were happy with our tour mates, Simon, an English guy teaching in Colombia who will also stay 4 days, Orla, an Irish girl staying 3 days and Yung, a Korean girl who was staying only 2 days as she was scared of all the mosquitoes. Food and fresh water from Iquitos were loaded into the boat to go with us.
At the lodge, we met Raul, our guide for the coming days. He, his wife (our cook) and his daughter live at the lodge. His family home used to be where the lodge is now and he is a member of the tribe where the lodge is located. Every tribe owns an area and the members may choose to build their home where they wish as long as it is within the tribe’s dedicated area. Having lived there all his life, he was extremely knowledgeable as we soon found out. The lodge is basic, but nice and airy and we had a private room with an attached bathroom. Showering with river water was alright, with the warm and humid weather, just being able to shower was great.
We heard stories of the crazy amounts of mosquitoes and people certainly have not been lying. As it had started raining right before we arrived, the mosquitoes had come out to play. We were swarmed by them and the netting that has been put up has seen better days so we all got out our repellent and covered ourselves up in deet. In the main building, there was the dining room (mainly a large room with a long table) and our favorite, the hammock room. Luckily after lunch, the rain soon stopped and we were off for our first walk, on medicinal plants which started right behind the lodge. Raul got us kitted out with rain boots and we were told to put on long sleeved tops and bottoms and as much mosquito repellent as possible. Jungle plus rain is the perfect combination for mosquitoes and before long we were covered in them. Never saw so many in my life. They even bite you all over your face and did not seem very impressed with our repellent.
The hammock room with a view.
A lot of pharmaceutical medicines have their origins in natural plants and herbs of which many from the Amazon. It was so interesting to learn how the natives cure all sorts of ailments using plants and trees found in the jungle. Raul with his machete chopped his way deep into the jungle, explaining which plants had medicinal purposes and how to prepare the plant to cure the ailment. We were thankful for our rubber boots as without it, you would not survive in the jungle. Especially after the rain, the water has risen and we would sometimes be wading through calve high water. This was even more apparent after Raul started chasing snakes so that they would come towards us so we could have a good look.
You can see that Raul loves what he is doing as all you need to do is point at something and he would be running towards it to explain what the plant, tree or animal is. But his eyes lit up even more when he found the giant snails. They taste wonderful he says as he grabbed the giant snails which are now easy to find due to the rain. Dinner is set for him. For me the best was the tree that had enzymes which he compares to jodium, it even has the same color. Raul chopped off some and started to rub it against my huge mosquitoes bites for which this tree also soothes.
Giant trees and giant snails.
The nature is so impressive and we were awed by the huge trees with its large roots snaking all around it. Raul started telling us about Chullachaqui, the jungle spirit which the lodge is named after but also his nickname as he was conceived and born in the jungle. Raul’s tribe believes that babies conceived in the jungle are strong, not like babies conceived indoors which will be born weak. Women here are also still pretty active far into their pregnancy which was also the case with his mom who actually gave birth to him in the jungle as she was walking in the jungle when her water broke and was not able to make it home.
In the jungle, not only the trees were big, as we soon saw the largest ants I have ever seen. These giant ants were used in the jungle to hold together wounds whilst the jungle doctors stitch up the wounds. I got one on my finger top and understood how this would work seeing how strong their jaws held onto my skin. Plants that cured kidney stones, diabetes, wounds, cuts, inflammations and even cancer. We were in awe of what nature produces and how people use them. In this area, people still prefer natural remedies over pharmaceutical medicine.
Back in our lodge, dinner was with kerosene lamps as there is no electricity here. After dinner, in our boat, we set off to search for night animals. We did not see any caimans, but lots of fireflies and owls. We now found out why Raul keeps calling our boat Titanic, with a plastic cup he would shovel out the water, but hey it would take hours to actually sink the boat so no worries here. Raul did have to peddle back as we lost our propeller skidding over river plants.
As it was raining in the morning, Raul did not wake us up for the 5 am bird watch, so we got a sleep in till 8 am. And then off to search for sloths! Sunshine broke through and that was the last rain we saw for the remaining trip. At first the sloths were difficult to find as they blend in so well with the trees. Sloths are extremely chilled as most of the day is spent sleeping. Raul knew what their favorite types of trees were so we focused our search on them. Our first sloth was high up in the trees but with the second one, Raul climbed up another tree and before we knew it, he had a sloth in his arms. Can someone catch him? he asked. We weren’t sure what he meant but sure enough, he wanted one of us to catch the sloth as he could not climb down with the sloth in his arms. A moment later, the sloth was amongst us and even though a sloth is not dangerous he has extremely long sharp claws which we tried not to get in the way of. It turned out to be a female and we spent some time with her. When we put her back on a tree trunk she slowly made her way back to her favorite spot high up in the tree to continue her nap. It total we saw 4 sloths before heading back to the lodge for some lunch and hammock time.
Me and the sloth, both feeling a bit uneasy.
Both looking much more comfortable.
Heading back up to continue her nap.
At 15.30 Raul took out the boat to the main Amazon to spot pink and grey dolphins and have a swim. Before jumping in, visions of piranhas and caimans flashed by but Raul assured us that they are in the tributaries and not in the main river. We hoped he knew what he was talking about and jumped in. Back in the boat, drifting along the river, with groups of dolphins jumping around, birds flying past and a beautiful sunset made this my favorite moment of our Amazon trip.
A dip in the Amazon river.
An Amazonian sunset.
After dinner which mostly consists of fish, fried plantains, beans and some salad and fruit, we left at 19.00 for an hour night walk, with lots of spiders, especially tarantulas and what seemed like millions of insects. Fascinating how they all came out at night and how Raul can spot them from afar. From sloths to dolphins to tarantulas, what more can you wish for in a day in the jungle.
At night they come out to play.
It was a dry morning so Raul woke us up at a quarter to 5! Birds are most active in the morning and we were up to see the sunrise on the Amazon. We were all happy to take a nap in the hammocks before breakfast as piranha fishing was next.
Fishing can be done with the most basic of equipment as we soon learned. Our rods were branches with a fish line. Lennart was the most successful and caught 3 piranhas and 1 catfish. These catfishes were not only easy to catch but also easy to get in our boat. Every time we were in our boat, at least one catfish would jump in. Raul was very clear about not touching them as they have vicious sharp fins which easily puncture your skin. Piranhas turned out not to be as scary as Hollywood made them to be. They were quite small but we admitted that their teeth were pretty sharp. However, if you are not bleeding, they would probably leave you alone if you got into the water. Raul mentioned he loves to eat piranha and unfortunately he was serious about that as we did not see those caught piranhas again.
Len and his catch of the day.
After lunch Raul maneuvered our boat through the smallest of side tributaries and squeezed ourselves through water plants and reeds till we arrived at the swamp area. We were here to spot the largest Amazon birds which, when in flight had wing spans of over 2 meters. Anacondas and caimans we did not see, but the late afternoon hour and swamp brought with them a huge amount of mosquitoes. A marvel to behold was the wasp nest. Layers after layers can be peeled away showing passages and even a type of staircase within the nest.
Raul and the wasp nest.
After our usual fish and plantain dinner we took the boat deep into one of the tributaries which had what Raul called killer trees taking over. Trees that grew from one side of the river to the other with vines growing across the water. It looked like a Disney movie interpretation of an eerie fairy tale forest even spookier from our little boat and shone on by our flashlights.
Our last day in the jungle was on a Sunday, the day when villages visit other villages to play volleyball and football. It’s their way to meet other villages, connect and for the younger generations to flirt and have fun. Raul is taking us to his village, with the name Central Americo. It was clear that the tournaments are not at his village as it was practically empty except for a couple of kids playing and grannies tending their gardens. We were shown the school and had a little intro from the so-called chief of the village. We were amazed at their solution for the lack of electricity. A cooperation was set up that distributes solar panels and a switchboard that hooks up 3 light fixtures in each house for 8 soles (€ 2.30) per month. Raul brought us to his parent’s home and we had a great insight on how the locals live.
Back at the lodge we had our last fish lunch and packed up for Iquitos, filled with admiration for the jungle and ready for a real shower and something to eat that was not fish.
In our boat along the Amazonian tributary, one of our favorite pastime.