SOUTHERN AMAZONPuerto Maldonado is a small village and capital of Madre De Dios department with around 80,000 inhabitants has road access and flights from Cusco and Lima. Nearby are the Tambopata National Reserve, the Bahuaja Sonene National Park and the Manu National Park both offering virgin jungle. Some of the highlights in Puerto Maldonado are:
- Nearby pristine jungle areas. Puerto Maldonado is ideal for a wildlife focused trip. Primary jungle in around 45 minutes away from the city. In Iquitos is necessary to take a trip more than 2 hours to get virgin jungle. Because the flora and fauna found in its virgin ecosystems, Puerto Maldonado is known as the Peruvian Capital of the Biodiversity.
- Clay licks. These places are a hot spots for wildlife like hundred of birds as macaws, butterflies and mammals as the South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris) that feed on clay.
- Flights and buses. Puerto Maldonado is heavily linked to Lima and Cusco by air and land hence is very easy and affordable to reach this place from the main Peruvian destinations as Machu Picchu.
- Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado are Amazon destinations but offer different experiences. Iquitos is more developed and densely populated city, offering more options as relaxing lodges surrounded by secondary jungle (Amazon landscapes without wildlife), high-end river cruises, and lodges and expeditions within virgin jungle far away from the human impact. The offer is complemented by clubs, bars and nightlife. While Puerto Maldonado is a small village, quieter and with less urban options than Iquitos (credit and debit cards are not widely accepted so bring some Peruvian Soles cash), but focused towards sustainability and wildlife spotting.
- Pristine jungle areas in Iquitos are more than 70 km (43 mi) from the city and 2 hours, mostly within the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Communal Reserve. These protected areas are well-known for river dolphins (pink and grey) and monkeys as the red uakari. Also Iquitos has the real Amazon River, nearby tourist places and some urban sights as historical buildings museums and nightlife.
- Pristine areas in Puerto Maldonado are close (Tambopata) and are renowned for nearby clay licks, giant otters, macaws, the cock of the rock (living in high jungle ecosystems of the Manu National Park), the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) and land mammals.
- Both Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado has a lot of birds, monkeys, sloths, alligators, snakes and spiders within virgin jungle areas.
- The main issue to visit Iquitos and the Amazon river is the lack of flights from the south because most of the main Peruvian destinations including Cusco are in that area. Due the lack of flights linking the south or Cusco with Iquitos, to visit the Amazon River is necessary to go back to Lima (1 hour flight) and flight to Iquitos (1:30 hour flight), hence is cheaper to visit Puerto Maldonado (30 min flight from Cusco) and the Manu.
- If you wish to visit the Amazon River/Jungle and Machu Picchu, two of the New Wonders (both, of the World and of the Nature) located in Peru, you may start your trip in Iquitos, then head to Lima to begin the classical route: Lima-Arequipa-Cusco-Puno. Copa Airlines has flights from Panama to Iquitos, linking it with Panama and via this city with main destinations in the East Coast of the United States.
- In brief, the best destination in the Peruvian Amazon will depend on your budget, your route plan, your time span, your interests, and the type of accommodations and services you would like.