(September 26) – I just got back from a few days in Puerto Maldonado (after a year and a half away) in Peru’s southern Amazon region and will be adding new things in the next few days.
I love this city! I have many friends there and was going at least once a month before the pandemic. My return found some things changed, but most was exactly the same as I’d left it many months ago.
The heat and humidity will be fierce, but that’s impossible to avoid in the Amazon Rainforest. (A good hotel room with air conditioner to return to each night certainly makes it much more bearable.)
Things to Do
Lago Sandoval – Day trips to Lago Sandoval are easily the highlight of any visit to Puerto Maldonado. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited the Lake inside the Tambopata Reserve a dozen times in the past three years and, even when the weather was bad or the animals failed to cooperate (!), I’ve never been disappointed.
You will see animals. That is a certainty, though which ones and the quantity is always at the mercy of the rainforest. I’ve seen giant otters on every trip but one. Some kind of monkeys won’t fail to make an appearance. Whether howler monkeys, Capuchins, or spider monkeys, there will always be some who will make at least a brief appearance.
If you want to see animals, nothing — and I mean NOTHING — is more important than walking slowly, quietly, and listening. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned many, many years ago in the jungle is that you rarely see monkeys first. You hear them. Other animals including birds will usually hear you long before you get close, but if you’re quiet and slow there’s a good chance you will come up upon something interesting.
I’ve chanced upon some very rare animals while walking alone and stopping frequently to listen including a kinkajou and a jagurundi along with many shy birds and other mammals quietly foraging on the jungle floor.
It’s for this reason, that I usually go ahead of the group when I’m at Lago Sandoval because of my ability to find animals. (Official guides are obligatory so it’s impossible to go on your own, but the guides now let me lead.)
Expect to pay about 120 soles to visit Lago Sandoval. Some places offer tours which leave early in the morning allowing you to get there at sunrise to increase the chances of seeing wildlife. Normal day tours leave around 9:00-9:30 am and return around 5:30 pm.
Most of the tour agencies share guides and mix their customers. (This works well as the guides are all excellent.) On my most recent trip I stopped by Tambopata Rainforest Tours run by a young man named Jony who I met while we were both hiking below Machu Picchu back in June, 2021. The last time I had a guide named Boris from the area who was fantastic and highly recommended. Every tour provides lunch consisting of a “jaune” — a traditional jungle meal consisting of a lot of rice with a piece of meat included that is surprisingly filling. There are opportunities to purchase drinks and snacks at other places along the way.
The tour consists a 30-40 minute boat ride to the Reserve control on the Madre de Dios river. After checking in, you will walk 3 km down a boardwalk through the pristine rainforest to the spot where you board a canoe to make your way down a short channel to reach Lago Sandoval.
Enjoy the boardwalk as two years ago you had to hike two hours through the jungle wearing rubber boots that often didn’t come up as high as the water itself! Now it’s a very easy hike that anyone can handle with lots to see along the way.
On the lake itself, there’s a good chance of seeing the family of giant river otters who live there along with a multitude of birds, monkeys scurrying in the trees along the shore, bats sleeping in lines on trees, and a lot more.
If you go to Puerto Maldonado, you must go to Lago Sandoval. It is by far the best place to see real jungle wildlife in a rainforest preserve with minimal effort. It’s no wildlife park so what you see is dependent on real animals who can wander far and wide, but the chances of seeing many is a certainty.
Take a camera with a good telephoto lens. Your chances of getting really close to animals is almost non-existent. I just bought a 100-400 lens for my Canon 90D and hope to get back there in the next few weeks to shoot again. Last week I used the Canon 18-135 lens which is an amazing lens, but really doesn’t have the reach needed to photograph animals.
Also, rain gear is a must have necessity. While it may not rain, when it des it is like the sky opening up and dumping water on top of you. Tip: check the weather forecasts, but always have a poncho and rain covers for any electronics (i.e., camera). (he video below is from February, 2020.
Where to Stay
Hotel Copasu (Av. Ernesto Rivero 540)
Though I’d walked past the place many times in the past, September, ’21, was my first time to stay at Hotel Copasu. The price (even through Booking.com) was quite inexpensive — especially for such a nice place.
From the first time I walked in the door when the staff were so warm and friendly until I walked out to catch a rude to the airport where the young receptionist followed me out to make sure everything was fine, it was a first class experience. After check-in, I was even escorted up to my room in the elevator — many places don’t have them — to make sure it was fine!
Everything was immaculately clean. I really didn’t need the balcony and the queen bed and probably won’t get it next time, but it’s a nice place to sit and drink coffee in the morning and the room was a little larger than the usual single with a twin bed. (My room was in the front where the street noise might be too much for some, but I’m used to it and the excellent air conditioner helps difuse the noise.
The bathroom was spotlessly clean and the shower was phenomenal. At first I was a little disappointed as it took about 10 minutes to get really hot water the first time, but it was worth the wait. The water pressure was powerful and it was very hot making for a fantastic place to relax after a long day exploring in the steamy jungle.
The breakfast buffet began a little later than some places (7 am), but was worth the wait. The two wonderful ladies who took care of everything were so very friendly and the selection was much better than most. A variety of jungle foods, juices, and great coffee were available plus eggs made to order. I usually don’t worry about the “free breakfast” in most places, but I couldn’t wait to get upstairs for this one each day. The expansive views across the city made it an even nicer place to relax in the morning.
I’d definitely recommend staying here. It is located 6 blocks from the Plaza de Armas in the center of town. The city’s central market is a block away and there is even an attached restaurant, though I didn’t try it out.
It’s about a 15-20 minute ride from the airport which is located on the western outskirts of town. (Don’t pay more than 15 soles for a ride in either direction.)
Where to Eat
Will’s Burgers (Plaza de Armas) – My favorite place to eat because they have great cheeseburgers and the best french fries in Puerto Maldonado. I’ve tried the lomo saltado there before, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the hamburgers which is my go-to meal in PM now. The beer is cold, but I like to get a pitcher (called a “jarra”) of maracuya juice which tastes amazing after being outside all day. (Maracuya is a jungle citrus fruit that tastes amazing!)
Sadly, some of my favorite people there have moved including Jose who returned to his home in Venezuela at the start of the pandemic a year and a half ago. They weren’t quite as friendly, but it helped before that I had become friends with the staff during many visits.
Chifa Chen (Jr. Loreto 238 half a block from the Plaza de Armas) – I love the Asian/Peruvian fusion restaurants known as “chifas” thta are all over Peru and offer huge portions of delicious food. I’d never even seen one in Puerto Maldonado, but stumbled across this one half a block from the Plaza de Armas down one of the streets that doesn’t really lead anyone so it goes unnoticed.
I ordered my usual “arroz chaufa con pollo” (sometimes called arroz “chaufa de pollo”) which is a a mix of large amounts of rice, chicken pieces, a little egg, and some other ingredients like soy sauce to give it a unique flavor. Often it’s dry or lacking in chicken, but Chifa Chen had the right amount of everything. It doesn’t happen often, but the portion was so large that I couldn’t eat it all.
The waitress wasn’t the friendliest person in the world and she looked a little bored as there was no evening crowd yet. The owner/chef, however, was extremely friendly and seemed very excited that I enjoyed my dinner.