People on boat with a blue sky and water in the Amazon jungle at Madre de Dios, Peru
travel guide

Puerto Maldonado and the Amazon Rainforest

Want to explore the Amazon from Puerto Maldonado? Book this four-day tour to Peru's Tambopata National Reserve.

Visiting the Amazon Rainforest from Puerto Maldonado is a great option to avoid the tourist crowds and experience a real untamed jungle. Float over oxbow lakes filled with piranha, spot spider monkeys swinging through the trees and stumble across beetles the size of your hand in the world's largest tropical rainforest. At over 5 million kilometres square in size, the Amazon basin is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet; it’s home to a tenth of all known species on Earth.

There are plenty of choices when it comes to visiting the Amazon. In Brazil, you can visit the Amazon from Manaus, or in Peru, many choose Iquitos and the tribal villages of the northern Amazon. In fact, the Amazon spans over an impressive nine countries (Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname & French Guiana), so why should you choose Puerto Maldonado in Peru?

Puerto Maldonado is less touristy than places like Baños in Ecuador and Leticia in Colombia, but not as remote as other options like Bolivia’s Madidi National Park or Brazil's Jau National Park. Puerto Maldonado and Tambopata National Reserve are easy to get to from Cusco or Lima and Amazon tours that involve staying in remote eco-lodges are safe and affordable.

A boat on the Sandoval Lake in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Is Puerto Maldonado part of the Amazon?

Puerto Maldonado lies within the Reserva Nacional Tambopata, along the Madre de Dios River in the Amazon Rainforest. It's close to Manu National Park, a 1.5-million-acre park known as one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Puerto Maldonado is one of the few Amazon jungle cities that’s easily accessible by road.

Is Puerto Maldonado worth visiting?

Puerto Maldonado is the capital city of the Madre de Dios region in southeast Peru, it produces Brazil nuts, rubber, rice, sugarcane, cassava, and is also popular for gold washing. But it’s probably best known for tourism as the gateway to the southern Amazon jungle.

Amazon tours from Puerto Maldonado generally spend 3 to 4 days exploring the Tambopata National Reserve. With more than five hundred different species of birds, over a thousand different types of butterflies, and more than 1,200 different plant species, tours to Tambopata never fail to deliver an exciting glimpse into life in the rainforest.

A beautiful toucan sitting on a tropical branch in the jungle in Peru near Puerto Maldonado.

The best time to visit Puerto Maldonado

The temperature for Puerto Maldonado generally stays between 30 to 33°C during the day and between 19 to 22°C at night. Dry season is from around May to October, and wet season is from November to April, but rain is common at any time of year (it is a rainforest after all). From May through to September sporadic cold fronts can bring the daily temperatures down to as low as 5° C, so always pack an extra layer.

Trees fruit during the wet season making it easier to spot wildlife feeding. The clay licks are generally most active between August to December, and least active between April and July, but seasonal irregularities can have an effect. In short, November and December are the best months for seeing wildlife, but whenever you visit there’s plenty to see in the rainforests around Puerto Maldonado.

Cormorants drying themselves on a branch in the river in Manu National Park, Peru.

The best things to do in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Tambopata National Reserve

The Tambopata National Reserve boasts a vast array of wildlife including; 632 types of birds, 1200 varieties of butterflies, 103 types of amphibians, 180 varieties of fish, 169 species of mammals and 103 kinds of reptiles. Top wildlife sightings include spider monkeys, tapir and the elusive jaguar. Tours are usually by canoe, but some excursions offer hiking, fishing and night time safaris.

Lake Sandoval

Lake Sandoval is a mighty oxbow lake east of Puerto Maldonado. It’s well known for its wildlife, including crocodile, monkeys & endangered giant river otters. Just 45 minutes from Puerto Maldonado by boat on the Madre de Dios River, it’s an easy day trip from Puerto Maldonado. Be sure to look out for macaws swirling around overhead. You can also visit Lake Sachavacayoc if heading west from the city, but it’s a little harder to get to.

The Chuncho Macaw Clay Lick

The largest parrot clay lick in the world can be visited in a one day tour from Puerto Maldonado, but is more commonly included in a multi-day tour. Clay licks (or collpas as they are known in the Amazon) are areas along the river bank that are formed of, you guessed it, clay. You will see hundreds of macaws, parakeets and parrots gathered to feed on these huge banks. More than 20 different tropical bird species can be found here, Tambopata has the highest concentration of avian clay licks in the world.

The Amazon Shelter

The Amazon Shelter has been rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing wildlife for over 14 years. You can either visit or volunteer, helping with things like feeding, cleaning, enriching enclosures, or helping with media and photography. You can also choose your own project to help the shelter and wildlife of the Amazon.

A pantanal caiman in Tambopata National Reserve, Peru

Monkey island

Rehabilitated monkeys were released onto Monkey Island after being rescued from the pet trade. They now live a relatively wild life on the secure island, apart from the odd curious tourist who comes to see them. There are three species living on the island including spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and the white-faced capuchin monkeys. Though you may see all on tours of the Amazon from Puerto Maldonado, it’s a good way to guarantee yourself a sighting.

Puente Billinghurst

Understandably it’s the wildlife that’s the main attraction for anyone visiting Puerto Maldonado, the city itself doesn't have much to offer. Billinghurst Bridge is one of the main sights in town, completed in 2011 its 723 metres long and is actually the longest bridge in Peru. Other points of interest are the Miguel Grau Square and the Puerto Maldonado Main Square.

Biodiversity Viewpoint

If you have time to kill in town the 30 metre high viewpoint is a good way to get the lay of the land. Inside is a museum of the region's history and culture, it's sometimes referred to using its former name Obelisco (obelisk). Although certainly not worth missing out on any wildlife for, it’s a fun thing to do in Puerto Maldonado.

The Rainforest port on Sandoval Lake near Puerto Maldonado, Peru

How do you get from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado?

How long is the bus from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado? From Cusco, it’s an 8-10 hour drive to Puerto Maldonado. Several public buses operate this route regularly, making it one of the most accessible Amazon destinations to visit. You can book a bus from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado online or from the main station. Small domestic flights are also available from Cusco and Lima.

Local travel is mainly by river craft, you will be taken by bus from your arrival point or hotel to a boat that will transport you to a jungle lodge (generally only accessible by boat). Once at your jungle lodge you will get around by canoe or by hiking through the jungle, depending on the activity.

View sunset of Madre de Dios River, with trees and a boat in the water, Puerto Maldonado

Where to Stay in Puerto Maldonado

Generally the further down the river (into Tambopata) you travel, the better wildlife spotting opportunities there are. The Tambopata Research Center is the most remote eco-lodge in the Tambopata National Reserve, and staying there supports research and conservation efforts in the area. The lodge has been running since 1989, so every detail has been well thought out, you can explore the surroundings safely from a 300 metre elevated walkway around the lodge. They estimate 40% of their guests will see a jaguar on the way to the accommodation.

For something a little more budget friendly, Sunrise of Tambopata offers peaceful lodges right on the river's edge. It’s still close enough to Puerto Maldonado for home comforts like good WiFi and going on guided tours into the reserve. The rooms are clean and comfortable, while the friendly hosts serve up organic food and give advice on the best places to visit nearby.

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Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 9 August 2023

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