Nearly 60 percent of Peru is jungle, whether it is the montane cloud forest or the deep, lowland rainforest known simply as selva. Peru’s Amazon basin is quite accessible and is one of the most biodiverse spots on Earth with an ample variety of excellent lodges and activities.
Animals that you are most likely to see on any trip are monkeys, capybaras, turtles, caimans, pirañas, gray and pink river dolphins, hundreds of bird species, and many insects. Large mammals like anteaters, ocelots, and tapirs, can be spotted at least a day’s travel away into more remote areas. The jaguar, king of the Amazon, is stealthy and rarely seen.
Seeing these animals through all the greenness of the rainforest is a serious challenge, but being on a river or lake with good binoculars and an experienced guide greatly increases the odds.
With the new generation of superb ecolodges and deluxe river cruises offer the experience of visiting Peru’s Amazon in quite comfortable conditions. There are dozens of well-run lodges, ranging from stylish, top-end bungalows with electricity, air-conditioning, hot water, and tile floors to simple, more adventuresome wood cabins with cold water (which actually isn’t that cold), hammocks, kerosene lamps, and a mosquito net over the bed.
River cruises, on the other hand, are a comfortable and luxurious way to see the Amazon rainforest, with all imaginable amenities on board, including gourmet cuisine and savvy bilingual guides.
Most of the lodges in the northeastern rainforest are clustered in the area around Iquitos . In the southern patch of the jungle, east of Cusco, lodges are located in the Reserva de Biósfera del Manu  (Manu Biosphere Reserve) or farther south in the Puerto Maldonado area. Lodges arrange transport such as motorboats with canopy shades, four-wheel-drive trucks (in Manu), and small canoes.
Food is included in the package and normally is a nutritious combination of veggies, beans, rice, fish, chicken, and local foods such as yuca frita (manioc root fries), palm heart salad, and cecina (tender smoked pork meat).
Most lodge programs include early-morning bird-watching, a visit to an oxbow lake and/or macaw clay lick, day hikes through the forest, piraña fishing, and evening boat rides to spot caiman and other night creatures. Some lodges also have canopy walks, zip lines, or observation towers. A visit to a shaman for a talk about medicinal plants or a visit to a local farm or village crafts market is also common. A key component of any rainforest experience is a knowledgeable, English-speaking guide, whose job is to spot wildlife and introduce the extraordinary web of connections among plants, trees, animals, and insects.
Peru’s Amazon, though under siege from oil and gas drilling, as well as illegal logging and small-scale gold mining, continues to host the planet’s most concentrated levels of biodiversity. Humans have been part of this web of life for thousands of years, and 56 indigenous nations—of which the largest are the Asháninka, Aguaruna, and Shipibo-Conibo—still populate a considerable area of the rainforest.
Small pockets of indigenous people in isolation, such as the Isconahua, Kugakapori, or Mashco-Piro, roam as nomads in remote areas north of the Manu Biosphere Reserve , the lower Urubamba basin, or the higher Ucayali basin, close to the border with Brazil.
Responsible and sustainable tourism is a much better option for the Amazon than the traditional industries of gold mining, illegal hardwood logging, and drug trafficking. But the integration of Amazonian nations into Peru’s economy has been a long-time struggle due to the immense—and, in some instances, deserved—distrust they have of the Peruvian government.
In June 2009, Peru’s congress revoked two legislative decrees that sparked a violent indigenous uprising. In the melee, 23 policemen, 5 civilians, and 5 natives were killed, and 200 people were injured. The revoked decrees, which were later reinstated Peru’s congress, were a bungled attempt to open vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest to oil and gas developers as part of the free trade agreement with the United States. The problem resulted when legislative action was taken without consulting Indian nations in the area.
Unlike the oil and gas industry, ecotourism has expanded in the Peruvian Amazon with little conflict. Some lodges share profits or have as an aim to transfer ownership to the community after a certain number of years. Others work to provide local employment and fund local schools and clinics.
It is important to cross-check the credentials of the lodge or tour operator you choose. Choose a lodge that is respectful of the environment and works with local communities. By support sustainable lodges, you will be helping preserve the Amazon as well.