No trip to South America is complete without a stay in the Amazon to spot wildlife, and we chose to do ours in Peru, a few hours away from Iquitos, in Libertad Lodge.
The lodge, and our driver Rolando
Across the river from the more populated Nauta, our lodge was in a tiny village called Libertad. The lodge is special in that the people of the village are all partners, and all money raised in the lodge is dispensed to the local community. Unlike other fancy lodges in the area that are run by rich Westerners, this is a business that gives back, rather than takes away, from the people in its vicinity.
I’d love to say that’s the primary reason why we searched this place out, but it was actually because they’re number 2 on Trip Advisor, and boy did they deliver on that status! We had our own guide and boat driver throughout our stay, and we saw everything we wanted to see and more. Lorghio, our guide, had impeccable English and we learnt so much about all the species we encountered, and he (and the driver) were relentless in making sure we succeeded in our search for the (sometimes shy) Amazon wildlife. We drove the canoe through thick vegetation, deep into the rainforest, as well as traversing the river itself.
Our guide Lorghio navigating some thick vegetation!
As we were at the tail-end of the rainy season, the village was still totally flooded and the lodge itself had been flooded over its water line (despite being on stilts, as all the buildings on the Amazon are) – but luckily it had just gone back to normal by the time we arrived. We had our own private hut with double bed, moscito net and private bathroom. Rustic but pretty, the lodge was homely and had hammocks on the top floor for chilling out, and a family-style dining room where we met awesome travellers from Wales, the US, Canada and Belgium over the course of meal times. The food was SO GOOD, with fresh salads and fruit accompanying all meals, lots of fresh meat, fish and rice, with the odd jungle fruit or piranha thrown in to keep us on our toes. We also got pancakes with dulce de leche for breakfast for one day, which was dreamy.
Our little private hut at the lodge
Lunch with plenty of veggies
Our days were spent doing a few excursions each day on our canoe with Lorghio and Rolando (our sweet boat driver) or walking in the jungle itself with wellies on (it was really wet and muddy!). Days were broken up with meal times, and it was so nice having structure and being looked after with meals cooked and our room cleaned. It felt like temporary luxury!
A surprise plate of jungle fruit scavenged from the trees
Another day in paradise…
From the first day spotting dolphins, I was pretty hooked on finding the animals, and I’m not really a nature-type-person. The sheer variety, beauty and grandeur of the animals you see in the jungle has you ooh-ing and aah-ing all day long!
Little dolphin head!
Squirrel monkey giving us the thumbs up
A family of nocturnal owl monkeys
From the boat, we saw plenty of wildlife including grey/pink dolphins, monksak monkeys, sloths (one of which our boat driver encouraged down the tree, so Sam actually held him!), a family of nocturnal monkeys living in a tree, tons of squirrel monkeys crossing branches in a tree, a huge red/green lizard, an Amazonian frog and a swamp snake, not to mention some impressive giant lillipads and countless birds including hawks and vultures, and a ‘pre-historic’ bird that looked like a dinosaur!
Cute Amazon frog!
Then there were the night boat trips, which were pretty scary! Travelling through reeds in the pitch black with only torches to see where we were, the jungle was alive with noises and on the night we were looking for caimen, we could see their little eyes reflecting back to us in red dots. On another night trip, Sam went searching for tarantula (successfully!) and I’d decided to sit it out, from fear… then they came back with a huge anaconda they’d found, which was even more terrifying! Sam asked me to take a photo of the snake and on the way out of our hut I was confronted with a ton night bats whizzing round me! The terror just did not let up.
Baby caimen! Surprisingly cute…
Then there were the activities – we went piranha fishing a couple of times, only managing to catch a few babies (and some freshwater sardines), but that was enough for me! To be honest, the thought of catching a big piranha with sharp human-eating teeth was pretty terrifying!
We also did a jungle walk, in which we found a giant beetle (GROSS), millipedes, tons of leafcutter ants, ‘fire ants’ and a deadly snake. Apparently the 2nd most deadly snake in South America, our guide casually pointed him out in a tree, saying ‘look! He’s looking at you! He looks angry, he’s jumping out!’ Obviously we were in safe hands, and he managed to keep it in its tree nook, but he did consider killing it as it’s so dangerous. Casual!
Giant beetle… so GROSS!
Spot the deadly snake!
On the last day, we also went canoeing in a TINY canoe that belonged to our driver Rolando’s young daughter! We also swam in the Amazon, which I was a bit wary about but it was actually really lovely and quite warm… far away from the piranhas obviously! We actually saw the closest dolphins whilst swimming, about 4 metres away, which was awesome. You could just see their little heads and flippers come out the water as they rolled over, and even the grey ones had pink bellies!
Even when not on excursions there was plenty of wildlife, with a giant tortoise turning up at the lodge one day, a massive toad, and a resident giant-rat-thing (not its actual name) called Cosmo that was pretty cute.
We also spent a bit of time visiting the two nearest villages, learning about life there – from flooded and closed schools, to playing football for money bets, and makeshift ‘bars’ in the village – life here is very different and our guide said only a couple of people from each village will ever get the chance at higher education (the majority going into farming). It made me realise how fortunate we are in the UK, and that I could NEVER survive in a village that small!
Even just driving around on the boat was fun – listening to the buzzing life in the trees, watching birds soar majestically over the trees, getting caught in Amazonian downpours, and hearing about all the mad superstitions of the jungle. My favourite being about a goblin-type man/creature called the ‘Chucha chaki’ who lives in the rainforest and shapeshifts, so he could take on the form of your friend, and lead you to get lost in the forest all by yourself then disappear. Also hilarious is that many people think that dolphins are evil spirits of reincarnated people and must be respected / kept at a distance, which is why they’re one of the few animals that aren’t hunted for meat! They also believe that different-looking people (like me and Sam) could also be the reincarnated form of an evil dolphin, that could come into a village and corrupt or kidnap the locals! LOLS huh?
All in all, an amazing stay, and although a splurge, it didn’t break the bank too much at £50 pp/per day (a bargain compared to other lodges) and an unforgettable experience!