When I went to the jungle, I felt like I was visiting another planet. Or maybe like I was a guest in someone else’s house. A house where you’d better not touch anything.
In the jungle, all bets are off. Lean against that tree and find yourself covered with biting red ants. Jump into that temptingly cool river and get eaten alive by piranhas, electric eels, and anacondas. Take a swill of Ayahuasca at the wrong time and find yourself on another spiritual plane, permanently.
Of course, there are various tour agencies that offer package trips to experience these wonders in safe, manageable ways. We chose to go with Abundancia Eco-Lodge, mostly because it offered the cheapest rates. It turned out to be exactly what I wanted.
After a flight from Lima, we were met at the airport by Starr Cross, an American hippie from Arizona and the co-owner of Abundancia. She took us to their hostel in the city, Cristal Corozon Bed and Breakfast, where we got fitted for boots and arranged to meet her husband, Miguel, at the docks in the early morning.
We arrived at the docks and then took a river taxi on the Amazon to the Nanay tributary, then took a three-hour journey in a motorboat to the lodge. After about an hour, as we passed a house on the riverbank, Miguel asked us if we wanted to buy beer. It would be our last opportunity to buy supplies before the lodge. We said no and continued on.
After seemingly endless stretches of green trees and murky water, we arrived at the lodge – a series of rectangular wooden structures built on stilts. We docked at the wooden ramp at the base of the structure, unloaded our gear, and were shown to our rooms. Across the river, we could hear a pair of macaws squawking away.
The next days filled with piranha fishing, exploring those little nooks and crannies of the river, feeding the parrots that Miguel had rescued, and hiking through thick jungle, and afternoons laying in the hammock and reading a delicious novel. One evening we saw pink dolphins swimming in front of the lodge. Another time, while walking close to a black pool of water, we heard a sound like a dog jumping in the water. For an instant Miguel was startled, then he said “That was an anaconda,” in a low voice.
Perhaps the best part of the experience was visiting a small village, about an hour away from the lodge by boat. I tend to be a bit wary of those “authentic” village visits, where the people put on a nice little show and everything feels fake and exploitative. Instead, we went to a village and traded for food, while Miguel chatted with his friends and we relaxed on the porch, like polite guests in a home instead of looking to be entertained.
The only activity the lodge offered that I didn’t attempt was Ayahuasca, the mysterious spiritual journey involving various hallucinogens that grow in the jungle. But for me, just the visit alone was trip enough.
*If You Go:*
While I wholeheartedly recommend Abundancia Eco-lodge, other great options for budget travelers include Paseos Amazonicos and San Pedro Lodge. To get to Iquitos, your only choices are to take a flight from Lima on Star Peru, LAN or Peruvian Airlines. You can also take a boat from Yurimaguas, a port on the Ucayli River, about two days’ journey south.
*Sophia Guida has been living in Lima off and on since the beginning of 2012, where she works as a freelance writer/photojournalist and takes every opportunity to explore the areas left out of the guidebooks. You can find her on Twitter Instagram and Tumblr meeting an Anaconda? Seeing pink dolphins? Maybe a trip to Peru’s huge and biodiverse jungle is what you need!