An immense green blanket covers over 60% of Peru’s surface. Beneath it, dozens of ecosystems expand across the land brimming with life and properties that are still being discovered.
While being one of the most amazing regions in the world, the Amazon continues to be one of the least exploited and most fragile, due to increasing pollution and deforestation.
When thinking about the Amazon, one must look beyond Peru and Brazil – recognized for housing the largest Amazon territories (11.27% and 59.17% respectively) – and consider the six other countries that share this magical region: Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guyana, Surinam, and Ecuador, as well as the overseas department of French Guyana. Thus, it can very well be considered the heart of South America.
The Amazon is so vast that when we refer to it, we must speak in millions.
For example, 34 million people live within the Amazon, surrounded by 6.7 million square kilometres of forests, and 2.1 million kilometres of protected areas. To that, one must add the million square-kilometres of fresh-water ecosystems, and consider that 20% of the world’s water supply is found here.
THE RIVER OF RIVERS
The spinal column of the Amazon is the Amazon River. Father to all rivers, the Amazon is both the largest river by discharge volume of water and the longest river in the world, extending for 7,062 kilometres across almost all of South America.
Identifying the end-point of the Amazon River is easy; just follow the river to the north of Brazil where it comes together with the Atlantic Ocean. Identifying its exact place of origin, however, was not as easy. In 1996, a research expedition set off to search for the place where the Amazon River is born, a mission that took the group all the way to the Lari province in Arequipa where the Chila Mountain Range is found.
At about 5,170 metres above sea level, amongst mountain peaks and below-freezing temperatures – radically different than the humid heat of the jungle – the first drops of the world’s longest river were born from the mountains, millions of years ago. But what happens before the Ucayali and Marañon Rivers unite, giving way to the infamous Amazon? The River actually begins as a small stream high in the Peruvian Andes, eventually turning into the Lloqueta River. As it continues to flow north, it undergoes a series of name changes, including: Apurimac, Ene, Tambo, and Ucayali, before becoming the Amazon.
The Amazon River does not only govern the natural scenery of the Peruvian Amazon, it also marks the seasons. Beyond just relying on temperature cues, local residents divide their year into two phases depending on the river level: the wet, or rainy, season and the dry season.
During the wet season (from March to May), the rains cause the river to rise up to 10 meters higher, which is why houses built on the riverbanks are always elevated. Many parts of the forest are prone to flooding during these months and become lagoons, forcing animals to adapt to their new, temporary surroundings. When the dry season arrives (from August to October), the river lowers back down leaving white sand beaches in its wake and changing the panorama yet again.
A small number of established companies have recently launched cruise ships that take passengers through the Amazon River and its effluents, providing an innovative and comfortable platform from which to explore the incredible area. These ships navigate from Iquitos to Pacaya Samiria, one of the most important and biodiverse national reserves in the country.
Cruise ships like the Delfin I, II, and III, the Aria, the Amazon Star, the Zafiro, the Perla, and the Amatista take visitors into the heart of the Peruvian Amazon in search of some of the thousands of flora and fauna species housed within it. In addition, they offer high-quality installations and services, akin to those found in any of the best hotels, as well as specialized excursions, and a number of other adventure activities that immerse guests into the surrounding nature.
Beyond promoting tourism in the Amazon, these cruises provide developmental alternatives and economic growth opportunities for local people.
For example, locals are recruited and trained to become part of the onboard staff relationships are forged with native indigenous communities that host tourists, and a wide variety of required supplies – from regional food products to petroleum – are sourced and purchased locally.
One of the most important aspects of these types of excursions, however, is the increased awareness of the need for the conservation and protection of these ecosystems. The unique connection with nature that these journeys offer, inspire visitors to truly appreciate the importance of the Amazon as a global temperature regulator, a provider of natural medicine, an air purifier, a source of countless products used both locally and globally, and a home to millions of plants and creatures of all kinds.
PACAYA SAMIRIA, A NATURAL PARADISE
The Amazon River is the gateway into Pacaya Samiria, the largest national reserve in Peru. With 2,080,000 hectares framed by the Marañon and Ucayali Rivers, the reserve aims to conserve the
plant and animal resources of the tropical forest.
Its two main rivers, the Pacaya and the Samiria, are known for their dark waters, a reaction caused by tannins released when the plants decompose. This natural phenomenon makes for particularly clear reflections of the surrounding trees and sky on the water’s surface, and has earned the reserve the nickname: ‘jungle of mirrors.’ Delve into the area and discover the amazing biodiversity, which includes over 440 bird species, 97 mammal species, 55 amphibian species, 259 fish species, and thousands of different kinds of trees and plants. Pacaya Samiria is also home to some endangered species, like: the manatee, the pink dolphin, and the paiche.
Visiting Pacaya Samiria goes beyond just enjoying the gorgeous scenery and spotting fascinating creatures. It is also an opportunity to interact and learn from some of the 25 thousand local people who hail from different indigenous groups. They are living examples of how to coexist with nature and respectfully take advantage of what is available.