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While I could have happily spent six days within the confines of the two stunning lodges we stayed at with , apparently most people come to the jungle to actually look at wildlife rather than just flip through field guides and spot agoutis and wild boars from the comfort of their hammocks. So weird, right?

But it turns out we didn’t have to do much searching. This amazing little area of the world is positively bursting with flora and fauna. I had seen a fair amount of wildlife in the jungles surrounding Iquitos, and I was skeptical when I was told that it would be even more abundant around Puerto Maldonado. But the rumors were true. Simply boating to, from, and between the lodges we spied so many creatures on the riverbanks! My favorite was the guinea-pig-on-steroids , though a mysterious otter-like creature was a close runner-up.

Each day at the lodges we took at least one walk through the long network of trails that tangled through the surrounding jungle. As I mentioned in my last post, the size of the rainforest surround Tambopata Research Center in particular astounded me — I’ve never seen such a tall canopy of trees! As with my first trip to the jungle, I was inspired and energized by the patterns, colors, and textures all around me. What an artist nature is!

Frog in Tambopata Reserve

Jungle Walks with Rainforest Expeditions

Warning: if you suffer from an extreme fear of insects, just close your eyes and scroll past the next five or so photos. Because out in the rainforest, they supersize ’em. I almost fainted when our guide tapped a hole in the ground with a stick and a tarantula the size of my outstretched fingers popped out.

That, I managed to keep it together for. The spiders we saw on the night walk? Not so much. Both Anders and I and the other couple that was a part of our group ran screaming through the jungle back to the lodge, Blair-Witch-Project-Style, after we spotted these.

Jungle Walks with Rainforest Expeditions

Jungle Walks with Rainforest Expeditions

I think I like the jungle better during the day. After all, that’s when the monkeys come out to play! We spotted at least three different varieties — red howlers, capuchins, and spider monkeys. Our guide was a master at identifying which species we were about to be treated to based on details like the sound of the rustling leaves.

 

What Rainforest Expeditions, and Tambopata Research Center in particular, is famous for is macaws. There are natural clay licks in certain spots around the reserve that are excellent for observing all kinds of colorful birds, and researchers come from far and wide to gather at TRC and study these beautiful parrots.

One morning, we were lucky enough to observe the researchers gathering data at a macaw nest. How many people can say they know what a week-old macaw looks like?

Howler Monkeys at Tambopata Reserach Center

Howler Monkeys at Tambopata Reserach Center

While they were cute in an ugly kind of way, grown up macaws beautiful in a regal kind of way. And we got to see so many of them. So many! Heading to the clay lick meant waking up at 4:30am, but wow — was it worth it.

Some of these photos were taken with my , others were taken with my  pointed through the eye of a telescope! Have you ever seen so many beautiful birds?

Macaws in Tambopata Reserve

Macaws in Tambopata Reserve

 

Throughout our time with Rainforest Expeditions, Anders had an ongoing joke with our guide that he didn’t care about anything we saw — unless it was a jaguar. Fifty macaws would take off in flight in front of us, and Anders would sigh and mutter about jaguars. Howler monkeys would scream overhead, and Anders would ask where the jaguar was.

The joke paid off on our very last day, when not one but two jaguars strolled out on the riverbanks ahead of us.

Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I shrieked to the point that the guide had to remind me to be quiet. With shaking hands I managed to capture proof of the ultimate brag-worthy wildlife sighting. Seeing two jaguars together is extremely rare — the two of them looked on bored as we watched them through trained lenses. Eventually we won the staring match and they sauntered into the jungle, leaving us to hug and congratulate ourselves on a jungle trip well done.

The Where-to-Do-a-Jungle-Trip: Iquitos vs. Puerto Maldonado debate is a common one. Having now visited both, I believe that if wildlife viewing is your first priority, you should head to Puerto Maldonado. While I did view animals in Iquitos that I didn’t see in Puerto Maldonado, such as pink dolphins, sloths, and anacondas, the overall sightings in were more abundant and rewarding in Puerto. It seemed the jungle was bursting with life! My favorite thing about Iquitos and the Amazon was observing the many cultures there and seeing the way people live along the world’s mightiest river, but sadly civilization brings with it many ills, including pollution, poaching, and reckless hunting. I’m very grateful I was able to have both experiences, as it would be impossible for me to choose one experience over the other.

What’s been your best wildlife sighting so far?

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Many thanks to  for their generous hospitality. I was a guest of the company in order to promote them on this site and through my freelancing outlets. As always, you receive my thorough and honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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58 Comments...
  • Corinne
    January 10 2014

    We just got back from Borneo having our own great time with wildlife sightings…but I’ve yet to do the Amazon and your photos and description make me want to hop right on a plane and head on out!
    Corinne recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 10 2014

      I’m so happy to hear that Corinne! Borneo is on my list too… let’s swap experiences 🙂

  • Ross
    January 10 2014

    Those photos are brilliant. You saw some array of animals and the jaguars are once in a lifetime. I went to the jungle in several places and always found the night walks great. Its amazing how much stuff comes out at night, especially spiders.
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    • Meihoukai
      January 10 2014

      Aaaaand…. that’s why I like to stay in the lodges at night 🙂

  • Steph
    January 10 2014

    What an awesome animal adventure! I’m so jealous that you got to see a jaguar in the wild! The only experience I’ve had that was similar was when we were in Borneo and went on several wildlife river cruises… we saw tons of amazing creatures, including proboscis monkey and even a herd of pygmy elephants (two species only found in Borneo). It’s no jaguar, but it’ll do (for now!).
    Steph recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 10 2014

      Um, herd of pygmy elephants?! I think that is equal to jaguar, no? I feel like we are trading playing cards 🙂

  • Meihoukai
    January 10 2014

    You’re really making me want to go to Peru! Spotting jaguars is incredibly lucky. I love your night photos and was wondering if you might have any tips on how to photograph wildlife at night? We tried with our DSLR in Costa Rica and the photos didn’t turn out very well 🙁

    • Meihoukai
      January 10 2014

      Hey Meihoukai, I don’t feel like I have any excellent tips, I’m afraid! I pretty much just took over 100 photos and deleted 97 of them and got lucky with these three! I did try to have Anders point the flashlight on what I was shooting to give it directional light, but that sometimes resulted in the subject being blown out. I’m having a photographer friend write a post of tips soon… I’ll ask her to include some night photography tips!

  • Meghan
    January 10 2014

    Best wildlife spotting by far was off the coast of Alaska – a seal on a jagged chunk of floating ice that had just given birth. The momma and the pup were so stunning!

    • Meihoukai
      January 11 2014

      Wow, Meghan… that sounds amazing! What is it about baby animals that makes them so squeal-worthy?

  • Emily Roth
    January 10 2014

    To see Macaws in the Wild would be amazing. That’s awesome that Anders was able to see Big Cats like he wanted.

    I know it can be a little disappointing not seeing Wildlife on a Wildlife trip. I went to Yellowstone, Greater Jackson Hole & Idaho area a few months back and was really hoping to see Grizzly Bears & Wolves but all I seen was a Tiny Chipmunk. lol

    • Meihoukai
      January 11 2014

      Haha, yeah whenever I read Tripadvisor reviews for jungle lodges or jungle trips, usually it will be like 99% great reviews. Then you will have that 1% who saw NO wildlife and can’t really see past that disappointment. Puts a lot of pressure on the guides!

  • Kathryn
    January 10 2014

    this is all simply beyond-the-pale amazing. what an amazing life you have created for yourself. bravo!

    • Meihoukai
      January 11 2014

      It was a great experience and I stopped several times this week to let a thought very much like this comment run through my head 🙂

  • Amanda
    January 10 2014

    Amazing!! I would be so excited to see a jaguar! And a capybara… have you seen the Buzzfeed article on one? Haha it made me obsessed with capaybaras for a bit 🙂


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    • Meihoukai
      January 11 2014

      OMG Anders and I just read through it over breakfast. Amazing! I seriously want one now! I can’t wait until I settle down someday so I can be the crazy lady with the dogs, tortoises, and a capybara hanging around…

  • Laura
    January 10 2014

    Oh no way! I can’t believe you say jaguars! And baby macaws, so cute. Seeing them fly over in the Bolivian pampas was amazing enough; I can’t imagine how cool it was to see so many!
    Laura recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 11 2014

      Ah, Bolivia is the place that has been bumped majorly up on my bucket list after this trip…. people won’t stop talking about how amazing it is!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    January 10 2014

    Okay, not to be a jerk, but I totally saw a baby macaw last week. My boss has a huge enclosure on his property here and breeds them. But, like, other than you, me, Anders, and those researchers, probably no one else.

    It’s nice to see the Maldonado side of the jungle – I did the Iquitos one, and I think I would have preferred this (or both!)
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 11 2014

      JEEZ RIKA. Way to rain on my parade! Okay just kidding 🙂 That is so cool! And yeah, I’m really really glad I got to check out both. It would be really hard for me to choose between the two! One benefit to Iquitos is that I think the city itself is really cool while Puerto Maldonado doesn’t seem to have too much going on.

  • Gaelyn
    January 11 2014

    OMG, you saw jaguars! So very cool. Love the baby macaw with it’s fragile and curious look. Yep, this would be the tour for me. And I’d want to stick to day walks. Those bugs were bigger than the frog. Yikes!
    Gaelyn recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 11 2014

      There was also one night outing via boat to spot caimans… that one is more up my alley. Less spiders!

  • Jessie
    January 11 2014

    Ahhh cute little frog! Jaguars are pretty cool.. hahah. Rainbow birds, Macaws are beautiful! Thanks for letting me live vicariously through these photos till I am back exploring jungles myself! 🙂
    Jessie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2014

      Of course I always thought macaws were beautiful, but then seeing them up in their natural surroundings and by the dozens and even hundreds… that was just magical! Very happy to share, thank you for reading!

  • Emily
    January 11 2014

    I think the best wildlife sighting/experience I’ve had to date was when I was at Tikal, Guatemala – lots of monkeys, birds and freaky spiders (though not as terrifying as though you saw! Yikes!).
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2014

      I’ve heard amazing things about Tikal — I can’t wait to get to Guatemala some day!

  • Jade
    January 11 2014

    Wow! These photos are wonderful! I love the little orange monkey hiding in all that green!
    I was never really much of an animal person before I went travelling, but there is something about seeing animals in the wild that makes you all giddy!

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2014

      Okay, I’ve always been an animal person but I still agree — there’s nothing like seeing them in the wild! I’ve been shocked by how wildlife-filled Peru has been for me. It’s not just the jungle either! The Ballestas Islands were teeming with penguins and sealions, The Inca Trail was chock full of llamas, and the beaches have been filled with turtles and pelicans. It’s amazing.

  • Amy
    January 12 2014

    Incredible! You were so lucky getting to see that baby macaw and the jaguars; the birds look so beautiful. I too would have run a mile had I seen those hideous spiders though. I thought our jungle treks and river excursions in Borneo were incredible but this looks even more amazing, definitely something to put on the travel experience wish-list!
    Amy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2014

      Wow Borneo keeps coming up again and again! I think it sounds like a place I need to get to ASAP!

  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    January 12 2014

    very cool that you saw jaguars! I just saw this video of a “lion whisperer” who uses his gopro while he runs up and hugs / plays with them. it’s so cute, you should have been a bad ass like him and ran at them with your arms out! 😉 i’m sure it would have gone swimmingly
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2014

      This is awful but that story makes me think of the documentary Grizzly Man! Oh man, if you haven’t seen it… add it to the bucket list!

  • Breanna
    January 12 2014

    Wow I absolutely love all your pictures and I agree nature is the best artist. It was funny when I was in Brasil I loved capybara’s my friend thought I was crazy.

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2014

      You are most certainly not crazy Breanna…. capybaras are amazing!

  • Dad
    January 12 2014

    The photos are amazing. Congrats on the jaguar stare-down win!! I also like the picture of you an Anders next to the tree. The tree cut Anders down to size a bit.

  • Mike Langford
    January 13 2014

    Fantastic wildlife viewing Meihoukai, do you realise how lucky you were to see 2 jaguars?
    By the way, that otter-like creature is a tayra, a member of the weasel family – they are normally seen in the forest, not on the riverside – another rare encounter.

    • Meihoukai
      January 13 2014

      Thanks for that info! I tried every Google search term I could think of to come up with the name of the tayra, but it just wasn’t happening!

  • Stef
    January 13 2014

    This is simply amazing. I want to hop on a plane to Peru immediately!
    Stef recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 13 2014

      I highly encourage you to do so 🙂 Let me know if you need any advice when you make the trip!

  • becky hutner
    January 13 2014

    !! STOP IT WITH THAT BABY MACAW. So jealous of your creaturefest. After seeing pretty much no wildlife in my 7 weeks in SE Asia (unless you count some yellow monkeys from faraway + very lovely fish on a snorkeling trip), I am making it a priority for my next adventure.

    • Meihoukai
      January 13 2014

      Okay, first of all, I’m adding creaturefest to my vocabulary immediately! Second of all, I feel like I’ve seen a lot of wildlife in Southeast Asia but not quite so wild, for example I saw elephants at a rescue center. I have seen about a billion monkeys but I guess you have to be in the right place.

  • TammyOnTheMove
    January 14 2014

    If I had the choice between mountains, deserts, jungles or oceans my vote would always go for jungles. I just love them. I can’t believe you spotted two jaguars, you lucky thing. What a privilege! I am in the process of sorting my Manu tour out at the moment (for when we come back to stay in Cusco for 2 months in March/ April), I just can’t decide what to do or where to go. Everywhere looks so awesome and I want to do it all! 🙂
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 15 2014

      Ah, I’ve heard Manu is even better than Tambopata for spotting wildlife! I can’t wait to hear about that trip!

      • Mike Langford
        January 15 2014

        Tambopata has the advantage of accessibility all year round with great wildlife viewing – this year was amazing for jaguars for example.

        To get to Manu involves a long road trip on your first day where you go from Cusco down through the cloud forest so you get to see highlands & cloud forest too. Some people don’t like long twisty road trips, others do. The road is terrible from end October to about March, very dangerous & sometime impassable or taken over by suddenly appearing waterfalls.

        The other route to Manu via Puerto Maldonado is not great as it goes via gold mining towns etc. so your first day is rather ”tame” regarding wildlife.

        Manu is about 3 times more expensive than Tambopata due to the logisitics involved. For birders they can see more species due to the changes from highlands to cloud forest to lowland forest..but for general wildlife viewing, accessibility & the fact you get into untouched rainforest very quickly, Tambopata wins hands down.

        I would recommend at least 9 days for Manu if you are into huge tree lowland rainforest. You can see the same type of forest in Tampobata on your first day & 4 or 5 days will get you to where you went Meihoukai. More time = better wildlife sightings as your eyes get to grips with challenges such as low light & extreme camouflage.

        • Meihoukai
          January 17 2014

          Thanks for all that in-depth info, Mike! That will definitely be helpful for those trying to decide where to dive into the jungle in Peru!

          • Mike Langford
            January 17 2014

            My pleasure Meihoukai, always willing to promote the Peruvian Amazon & help travellers make the most of their trips to this amazing region. After trying to recreate the Amazon in aquariums in my bedroom when I was younger, I finally managed to see many of the same species & habitats in the wild on my first visit to Peru (6 months hard graft as a mammal researcher, trail cutter – 35km of those – and mammal research team coordinator) back in 1997…mainly camping. I just cannot stop going back!

  • Rebecca
    February 17 2014

    I can’t believe you saw jaguars!!! That is so amazing.

    Love the pic of the bird peeking his head out of the box.
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    • Meihoukai
      February 17 2014

      We were beyond lucky. I still think back to that moment often and smile. It was amazing!

  • Sydney
    May 23 2015

    Thanks for your posts! I love the hilarious packing posts. Thankfully I found some of those amazing packing cubes for way cheaper at Marshall’s!

    As for the Amazon – I am going to Peru by myself for 3.5 weeks in June and I want to spend at least 7 days in the jungle. I’m going to add a choice to your Iquitos vs Puerto dichotomy – what about Manu?

    • Meihoukai
      May 26 2015

      Hey Sydney! Thank you for the kudos on this post! Nice work on nabbing some packing cubes. Unfortunately I can’t really weigh in on Manu — after getting excited about both Iquitos AND Puerto Maldonado and deciding I had to go to both, I definitely didn’t look into a third! Sorry about that 🙂

  • Sharleen
    October 8 2015

    Were you in Peru in Jan?

    I am wanted to travel in Jan 2016 but want to make sure that the rainy season doesnt ruin the trip.

    • Meihoukai
      October 9 2015

      I was here in November! Sorry I’m not sure what January would be like…

  • Emily
    December 10 2015

    Couldn’t scroll through those spider pics fast enough…AHHH!!! I would not be able to handle that coupled with the fact that yall were sleeping in a room without walls…I need about a million terrified face emojis right now!
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 11 2015

      Haha, believe me, I’m quite the arachnophobe — it’s a miracle I was able to take those pictures at all!

  • Kim
    January 20 2016

    I’m going to Puerto Maldonado in April! Do you have any tips on handling the mosquitoes?

    Thanks!!

    • Meihoukai
      January 20 2016

      Hey Kim, nothing fancy, I just wear bug spray! Sorry I don’t have any special tips or tricks 🙂

  • Emma bayliss
    January 3 2017

    Hi when you say some photos were taken through a telescope did your guide supply the telescope or did you bring one?

    • Meihoukai
      January 11 2017

      Hey Emma! They brought one along and let us all use it 🙂