Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is the largest reserve in Peru and it was created in 1982 to preserve the area from illegal logging, hunting and damage. The area covers 8,042 square miles of Amazonian forest, that is more than 20,000 km².
Thanks to Kevin, my new friend at the iPeru Tourist Office, I found an expert local guide who was able to take me to this very remote area in the Amazon. Our guide, Elvio, belongs to the Cocama-Cocamilla ethnic group (estimated to have 10,500 people). He was born in a tiny village called San Martin de Tipischa, located in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve; the founders of the village (that currently counts with 500 inhabitants) were his grandparents.
He’s always been a hunter because this is the custom of his people, but years after the Reserve was established, a project to convert its inhabitants to nature conservation and tourism changed his life. Now he mainly works as a tour leader, but it took him about 10 years to get started.
Born in the middle of the Amazon, Elvio didn’t know anything about tourism or bureaucracy. He didn’t speak English and he had never used a computer before. His village had no telephones, no internet access and no direct mail. After many years of hard work, now there are many groups booking their visits from July onwards, when the river’s level has decreased and it’s more likely to see all the wild animals living in the area.
My only chance to visit the Pacaya-Samiria was during the rainy season, so I decided to go anyway, even if it meant that I was going to be all alone with the guides. But at least I got a good deal for the low season. No comparison to the US$ 4,000-a week boat cruises organized for rich Americans! And I am very happy to support Elvio and his community.
Life on the rivers (Photo courtesy of author)
After many explanations, I began to understand the plan: first, we had to go to Nauta and the next day- at 6 am- we took a fast boat lasting about 4 hours. Once we arrived in Santa Rita, someone picked us up and took us to San Martin de Tipischa. The following day we traveled with a little boat to finally get to the second checkpoint of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve (an expected 5 hours or more); a total of three days of traveling. Elvio bought me a special ticket in advance for all the days I expect to stay in the Reserve then we will have to register our entrance and exit from the Reserve at the opposite existing checkpoints in the area.
The journey began in a very adventurous way: after 12 hours of uninterrupted heavy rain, the only road connecting Iquitos to Nauta collapsed in three different parts due to the sandy soil on which the road was built. Some cars even fell into the water, but luckily nobody was injured. The police blocked the road at Km 21, forcing everybody to walk to reach the other end, where the road was quite safe and plenty of taxis were waiting to go to Nauta.
The road washed out due to heavy rains (Photo courtesy of author)
Life certainly goes on, as some enterprising people had already established a business along the road, selling food and cold drinks. The workers started working night and day to reestablish the only connection between Iquitos and Nauta.
On the fast boat to Santa Rita I noticed a man standing in front who appeared to be carrying a big automatic gun. After inquiring, I found out that yes, he is, because months ago several boats were attacked by armed people who robbed all the passengers.
Children canoeing through the rivers (Photo courtesy of author)
The next morning was Easter and I woke up in San Martin de Tipischa. Towards the end of March, this area was completely inundated due to the high river levels. Children would come and go on little canoes or dive directly into the water from the door of their homes.
These days there is a community telephone at the local shop, which I used to call my mother to tell her that for the following five days I would be completely out of reach. In the middle of the reserve there is no signal at all. We were totally isolated.
An Italian woman’s solo journey through the Amazon continues as she takes a 5-day adventure to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve.