Peru. To the north, miles of sandy beaches, incredible surfing, and remnants of ancient cultures blown raw by the harsh breath of the sandy coastal wind; to the south, the legacy of the powerful Inca in ruins so well preserved you could imagine long-gone people working in the distance; to the east, the unforgiving cold of the mountains and views that make your breath catch in your throat. And further to the east, just a little further, green, sultry, lush jungle, most of which is a no-man's land, as mysterious and inaccessible as the underwater city of Atlantis.
Peru is a country of incredible variety, and Peru's Amazon is so different than the rest of the country, it doesn't even seem related. The massive forest covers 60 percent of Peru and has communities deep inside living in voluntary isolation that have never been in contact with the rest of the world. The Amazon is often called the lungs of the world. Western Amazonia is thought to be the most biologically diverse region on the earth, with thousands of species sharing the leafy world. Things are bigger, brighter, more vivid here.
The giant Amazon water lily is one such bigger, brighter, more vivid thing, with leaves that grow up to seven feet across and huge flowers that bloom at night. Pink river dolphins haunt the waters of the Amazon river, finding their way into flooded parts of forest and even lakes. The three-toed sloth is hard to spot, preferring to relax in the tops of trees. It moves very slowly, climbing leisurely, limb over limb, up and down trunks. The fastest it ever moves is when it falls asleep in the tree, lets go, and plunges to the ground, waking up with an impressive headache!
Red and green macaws shriek in the trees, as eagles and kingfishers swoop across the river in search of prey in an out of the water, giant blue butterflies the size of your face flutter past, and sharp-toothed piranhas swim menacingly back and forth.
But, the stars of the jungle have to be the monkeys. The tiny, kitten-on-a-YouTube-video level of cute squirrel monkeys have closely set round black eyes and a prehensile tail that acts as a fifth limb. They live in large groups, sometimes up to a hundred of them together, and feature a black muzzle and white mask across their faces.
My favorites are the Red Howler Monkeys. These large-ish orange creatures, with leathery muzzles and large round inquisitive eyes peering out of their thick, luscious fur are absolutely beautiful, but the real surprise comes with the noises that come out of that leathery muzzle. A loud, deep, throaty call that seems incongruous on this beast greets the dawn, shouts at a passing airplane or boat, and complains about a rainstorm.
The Amazon is certainly a different, more magical world than the one most of us live in. Luckily for us, it's a lot more accessible to tourists than it once was and tour companies and eco-lodges abound. Typical jumping off points to the Peruvian Amazon are Puerto Maldonado in the south and Iquitos in the north. Go and fall in love with the lungs of the world.
This article was written by Hannah Vickers, who has lived in Lima, Peru, for a year and a half and is the editor of Peru this Week. You can read more of her work on her blog. She wrote this article on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge in thePeruvian Amazon, the perfect place for encountering nature in Peru.