Travel Guide to Puerto Maldonado in Southern Peru

Sometimes, a city associated with the word port brings up the image of a place characterized by the coast and sea. This is not the case in Puerto Maldonado. This city is influenced and delimited by Amazonian rivers: Madre de Dios and Tambopata. Read along for your complete Travel Guide to Puerto Maldonado.

Puerto Maldonado really is a hub. You probably won’t spend much time in the city itself, before heading to different locations in Tambopata, which is the province of Puerto Maldonado. You have the possibility of making your way to the north (Bello Horizonte), south (Tambopata tourist corridor and National Reserve), and east (another section of the reserve, and other places of interest). Considering the western part, this is the access point to get in and out of the jungle, where the road connects with Cusco. If you really want to get into it, you can also read our blog on Tambopata Lodges & Attractions

In Puerto Maldonado, the hot and humid climate gives place to a lush, verdant jungle surrounding the city. Except in places where it has already been disturbed by illegal mining and logging. Copious rainfall feeds the rivers and makes them periodically overflow depending on the season.

Puerto and it characteristics

Puerto (which is what Puerto Maldonado is commonly called) is full of motorcycles because they are fast and cool ways of transportation in this hot environment. While the private personal ones are linear motorbikes, the ones destined for public transportation are roofed tricycles allowing for more passengers and making it easier to advance during rainfall. Refreshments are being offered on every corner, so try as many as you can to get to know the variety of flavors of the rainforest in southern Peru. A favorite of the local people, for example, is Aguaje ice cream. 

Once you leave the city itself and enter the jungle, you will experience nature at its best and conservation efforts of all kinds and sizes. Also, you will experience adventure and relaxation, mosquitos and storks, geckos and caimans, ants and tapirs, fungi and gigantic trees. This is Puerto Maldonado, Tambopata, Madre de Dios (“mother of God”!).

What we recommend for you when traveling to Puerto Maldonado

This is easy! The first thing to do is head to the K’erenda Homet Nature Reserve in the tourist corridor. This is a family-owned private conservation area of relatively small size, but it’s big in terms of dedication. Here, our friend and conservation leader Víctor Zambrano fought many battles to defend his land. In between, he was able to plant as many trees as you can imagine. His aim is to reforest the bare land that had been transformed into a cattle ranch (as many areas here). Nowadays, K’erenda, Víctor’s daughter, is taking the relay. Thanks to her the reserve should be safe for at least one more generation. It is a real story of struggle and success. A story about nature interpretation, about agroforestry and ornament plantations and about the future of the region.

Amazon Shelter, Peru

In the same area, the Amazon Shelter is the next logical place to go. Magaly, a retired flight attendant, creates miracles on a daily basis. She literally dedicates her life to saving the lives of others. Monkeys primarily, but you will also see parrots and macaws, sloths, peccaries, deers and tapirs. Basically any animal with the bad luck of having been in the hands of traffickers, or held as domestic pets. Magaly goes through a daily struggle to get funds to sustain the place. She also trains volunteers, transport animals for their release and monitor them, and keep away the thieves always surrounding her property. She deserves an award for a life dedicated to wildlife rescue.

Three-toed sloth being fed with a Cecropia leaf by Magaly

National Reserve – Travel Guide to Puerto Maldonado

So, with these previous experiences, you should be ready to go even further south, to the National Reserve. Here you can visit any (or all three) of the marvelous lodges that lead deeper and deeper into the jungle.

First, there is the community-managed Posada Amazonas Lodge. Here, you can not only observe wildlife but also, and primarily, get a unique insight into the ancient indigenous culture of the Ese Eja people of the Infierno community. These people have one very special capacity that most of us have already unlearned. They know how to make use of the forest sustainably and to live with nature in harmony. Paying a visit is certainly eye-opening in all possible ways. 

Then comes Refugio Amazonas, a luxurious oasis in the wilderness. With its wide variety of à la carte activities, the lodge is ideal for nature lovers. If you want to get even further into the jungle, you should head to the Tambopata Research Center. This one is the only lodge that actually lies within the Tambopata National Reserve, making it one of the most remote lodges in South America! The lodge’s pristine location means that it’s surrounded by the best wildlife the Amazon jungle has to offer.

What characterizes both Refugio Amazonas and the Tambopata Research Center, are the citizen science programs they offer. Here, you can take part in monitoring and even discover new species with the help of scientists. If you want to understand the real meaning and importance of doing research in the Amazon, these places are for you! 

Other jungle lodges – Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Close to the Refugio Amazonas, lies another favorite lodge. This one is less exclusive but therefore also less pricey. Nevertheless, it is also situated deep in the jungle and allows for great wildlife observation. Seeing agoutis running around at the lodge is almost a daily experience. 

OK, up until this point we covered the section down the Tambopata River. Now we turn north, to Estancia Bello Horizonte. A socially and environmentally driven initiative that we love (the reality is that we love all the places we mention in this guide).

Bello Horizonte is a lodge that dedicates all of its profits to supporting the foster house Hogar Principito, as well as safeguarding one of the biggest aguaje palm forests in the vicinities of Puerto Maldonado. Most, if not all, of its staff are people coming from the Hogar Principito and the place is isolated and located in a beautiful area. You will never miss any sunrises and sunsets in this part of the jungle. The view is something not to miss, not in vain the place is literally called: beautiful horizon.

Aguaje palms, showing off their white trunks

Cocha Sandoval

Now, all that is left for us to explore is the east, and this is where the most renowned cocha of the region lies. Cochas are oxbow lakes (former parts of the Amazon River that have split off to become a separated entity) that offer amazing opportunities for calm contemplations of nature while navigating its still waters. The experience that Cocha Sandoval offers is accessible for wheelchairs (unique in its kind) and we appreciate this form of inclusive tourism a lot. The Sandoval Lake can be visited with the following tours on our platform: Easy Expedition to the Tambopata Jungle, Quick and easy Expedition to the Tambopata JungleTambopata’s Landmarks Expedition and Navigate the Tambopata National Reserve Rivers.

The Sandoval (oxbow) lake cruise is captivating thanks to the close contact it provides to the Aguaje palm trees and the wildlife

How Puerto Maldonado connects to other destinations

An important section in our Travel Guide to Puerto Maldonado. Puerto Maldonado is normally included in our itineraries right after or before getting to Cusco. It is connected by air with Lima, and by road with Cusco, so strategically well placed.

Puerto Maldonado’s airport is a postcard of the tropics

To summarize, the longest flight (from Lima) will take a couple of hours, while a night bus from Cusco (the most responsible and affordable way of transportation), will take about nine hours, so perfect for sleeping and saving one night of accommodation. The bus agencies we trust in for this route are Civa and Cruz del Sur. Don’t you worry, the buses in Peru are VERY comfy!


Consider the easy way

If you prefer real experts to plan your itinerary for you, consider taking a look at our Custom Itineraries Section. We have more than a decade of experience in tailor-making unique travel experiences throughout our beautiful country. We’ll take all the work from you so that all you have to do is look forward to your dream trip. 

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