Reviews Travel

Peruvian Jungle Escape at Amazon Garden Ecolodge

^ Sounds of the Amazon

A concert of humming, buzzing, chirping and the rustling of palms saturates the surrounding forest. Tucked away in the dense foliage, a small wooden boat navigates down the small Rio Momon, a thin and winding stream that flows into the mighty Amazon. Enclosed below massive trees and lush forest, the boat rides alone down the small waterway until pulling up to the shoreline of an idyllic tropical paradise. Parrots and Toucans fly past, squawking overhead before evading the soothing and beautiful rainstorms each afternoon that help cool down the smothering heat. Fresh fish, fruit and herbs in every direction, offering up countless possibilities for an unforgettable meal. The brilliant sunsets create remarkable displays upon the departing rain clouds, giving off the last hint of light and color before the night symphony of insects takes over. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that staying at Amazon Garden Ecolodge and Boutique wasn’t a dream, but a perfect memory.  

From a pristine pool equipped with two bars, to a designated space for yoga and events, to the beautifully furnished and maintained cabins, The Amazon Garden Ecolodge and Boutique is certainly not lacking when it comes to amenities. Offering everything you could possibly ever want from a 5-star stay in the middle of the Rainforest, this is one of the best Eco Lodges in Peru for discovering the Amazon. For more information on a visit to Amazon Garden Ecolodge, visit their website HERE

While a stay itself is nothing short of ideal, the thing that really makes the experience memorable is getting to know Juan and Ursula, the owners of Amazon Garden.

Juan, Ursula and The Lodge

Leaving the hustle and bustle of the city life behind, Juan and Ursula, a Peruvian-Chilean couple, started the Ecolodge in 2017 near Iquitos with the intention of serving the local community and jungle in a meaningful way. It is easy to see how much they cared about the natural environment and local culture when the first thing that you see when walking into the lodge is a sign that reads “En El Bosque No Hay Wifi”, or “In the forest there is no wifi”.

For them, giving their guests the gift of experiencing local life authentically includes introductions to various local tribes. In total, we were able to meet 3 different tribes that all had their own history, culture, and language. While many hosts and tours allow visitors to meet the Bora tribe, which resides closest to Iquitos, our experiences with the Jibaro tribe and the Alamas tribe were unique, rich, and deeply authentic.

When it comes to the local environment, you don’t have to go far to experience the unbelievably rich diversity of plants and animals. On the grounds of the lodge, the sounds of toucans, parrots, and other exotic birds create an enchanting melody that ebbed and flowed with the rising and setting of the sun. Dexter, a guide and long-time employee of Juan and Ursula, leads many excursions to local nature preservations where guests learn about different animals like monkeys, anacondas, insects and tree frogs, and in many instances, you will interact with them directly.  

Accommodation

Cabins

With 10 cabins in total, there is plenty of space for yourself, family, friends, a group and more. Each cabin can be adapted into doubles, triples, quadruples and quintuples. The full bathroom includes a toilet, sink, soaps/lotions, towels and a cold shower (you’re going to need it in this heat). The beds are extremely comfortable and provide some of the best sleep you’ll ever get with the sounds of the Amazon each night and morning. The cabins have a front porch area with a small table and hammock, a perfect spot to enjoy some morning coffee or an evening glass of wine. Everything is screened in, so don’t worry about insects. The staff cleans the cabin once a day to make sure everything is nice and tidied up for you. These cabins are the treehouse you’ve always dreamed of.

Electricity

Something magical that really makes the experience special is the limited access to electricity. In total, there are only a few hours of access every day. While this lack of power in any other context would make life very difficult, being literally forced to unplug is a welcome change of pace. In other words, if you are looking for a chance to truly and meaningfully connect with the natural world, in the heart of one of the most stunning landscapes known to mankind, there simply isn’t a better stay than the one you will have at the Amazon Garden Ecolodge and Boutique.

Pool

The best place to spend the middle of the day and the early evening is the pool. There is no better way to cool off from the everyday heat than by jumping in the pool and floating around. There really aren’t many better views from a pool. While relaxing and floating around, it isn’t hard to watch dozens of different bird species. The seclusion from the high standing palms only makes it better. Add a drink to the mix for a flawless getaway.

Restaurant

If you’re a foodie and looking for regional and authentic food from the Peruvian Amazon, its going to be extremely difficult to find a better place. Breakfast is served from 7:00-9:00 / Lunch at 1:00 pm / Dinner at 7:00 pm. The restaurant is located right next to the pool, making it easy to cool off with a swim, then right into an Amazonian feast. The staff rings a bell when its time to indulge. The sound becomes one that you will look forward to, drooling throughout the day thinking about it.

Activities

Amazon Garden offers multiple activities and packages. Their programs range from full day tours to 4 night stays. Programs include boat rides down The Amazon Rivers, visits to wildlife refuges, introductions to indigenous communities, recreational fish, jungle walks and meals. For more information on different packages, visit https://amazongardenecolodge.com/wp/index.php/en/programs/

Tribes

Each activity is incredible and one of a kind, but meeting different native tribes and learning about their culture and lifestyle is hands down one of the most unique things you could ever experience. Depending on how long you stay at Amazon Garden, you will have the opportunity to meet four separate tribes; Bora, Alamas, Yaguas and Jibaros. Unfortunately, we did not meet the Yaguas, but spent a good amount of time with the others. Although they all speak in their own native language, we were able to learn a little bit from them thanks to the translations from the Amazon Garden staff and our guide, Dexter.

Bora Tribe

The Boras are the closest to Iquitos, therefore they typically receive more visitors and know how to put on a show. Members from the tribe gather together and dance for visitors. The men stand in a line, pounding the ground with large batons as the women dance in a formation. While dancing, all members sing in unison. Towards the end of the show, they will bring you right into the middle of it and pull you along into the dancing line. This little show for visitors is of course more of a glimpse into their culture while they engage in much longer performances during traditional ceremonies away from outsiders.

The traditional and handmade clothing of the Boras is made from the natural fiber from the bark of a palm tree. They then use natural dyes from different plants and fruits from the jungle to paint designs on the cloth. As for presentation and style, they wear head dresses made with the feathers of different birds such as Macaws and use shells as jewelry for necklaces and bracelets.

What stood out to me the most about the Boras Tribe was their charming personality. Every member of the tribe is very welcoming and open to visitors. The chief of the tribe commanded the scene and demanded respect immediately when entering the village. While we couldn’t converse through language, we were able to have communicate by showing one another different things, shaking hands and exchanging smiles.

Alamas Tribe

During a meeting with the Alamas, you should not expect to meet any men as the women run the tribe here. The tribe is a matriarchy as there are few men, most of them children. Delicia is the leader and she stood proud and confident. She introduced us to their culture through examples like giving us an opportunity to try out the blowgun and painting our faces. Just like the Boras, the Alamas belted out a traditional song.

The women of the Alamas tribe are known for their hunting skills and accuracy with a blowgun. They typically hunt for monkeys, birds, fish, capybara, snakes and if they’re lucky enough, a jaguar. Hunting with a blowgun is no easy task as its hard enough to even aim it at a wooden board, imagine a moving target.

While their hunting skills are superb, the Alamas are probably most well known for Cannibalism. In recent years, the tribe is no longer known to indulge in some human flesh from time to time, but they are still famed for it. Just like other tribes, the Alamas most likely practiced cannibalism only for ritual purposes. Don’t worry, they’re not going to be eating you anytime soon, most of us wouldn’t taste that great anyway.

Jibaro Tribe

My personal favorite experience was with the Jibaros for a couple of different reasons. The first was the people. The constant smiling of the chief and the rest of the tribe was extremely welcoming. They were visibly excited to have us there and show us a bit of their culture. The children were very interested in my cameras and couldn’t stop “posing” for photos.

The first thing they showed off was something I had been looking forward to for a long time, a shrunken head. They are commonly known worldwide as “reducidores de cabeza’’, or head reducers. During the time period when they fought against the Spanish Conquistadors, Jibaros utilized decapitation to scare off the enemy. To make a shrunken head, they would remove the skin and boil it; hot stones and sand were then put inside the skin to shrink it further.

They became strong warriors to fight off the early days of expansion from the Inca Empire and were fully prepared when the Conquistadors came through. Rumor has it they killed nearly 50,000 Spaniards by the end of the 16th century. They did most of their killings the same way as the Alamas, through the use of a blowgun. They would poison the darts and knock out their enemies one by one. 

It was not only the Spanish and the Incas that got in the Jibaros way, but other tribes such as the Alamas. The tribes were known to have multiple wars in the past. Imagine a battle between head shrinkers and cannibals… Not one you want to mess around with!!! In recent years, the two tribes have developed a peaceful relationship.

Next, it was time to try out some of their cuisine. The first treat they offered was Masato de Yuca, or “Jungle Milk”. This sacred and nutritional drink has been prepared for hundreds of years throughout the jungle. It is made by boiling yuca, a very prevalent and delicious, starchy root from the Amazon. After mashing the boiled yuca, the brewers then pick it up in clumps and chew on it for about 30 minutes. They then spit a mouthful back into a bucket and start to work on more. By chewing the yuca, the enzymes in saliva break down all of the starch and turn it into sugar, thus helping the fermentation process. It then sits in the bucket for 5-10 days depending on how much they want to ferment it. When it’s ready, it’s simply mixed with water and then strained. It smells and tastes a little sour, but refreshing. I would compare it to leaving some milk from Cinnamon Toast Crunch out for too long. A very different drink, but extremely high in nutritional value.

The second treat they offered was undeniably delicious. Guaba, a type of fruit resembling a massive green bean, is a very common treat in the jungle. The black seeds on the inside are covered with a foamy, white cotton like pulp. To eat them, you simply pull off a section, plop it into your mouth, bite off the white pulp, spit out the seed and enjoy. The sweet, vanilla flavor helps to give this interesting and mineral rich fruit its nickname, “The Ice Cream bean”.

Lastly, I had one personal experience that I will never forget. Upon arriving to the Amazon, I had a patch of dry skin on both of my knees for about two years. I went to the dermatologist and was given a prescription, having been told it was only eczema. I tried everything, but nothing worked. I kind of gave up on fully curing it, rather keeping it moisturized everyday. When we were sitting with the Jibaros, one of the men pointed to my knee and asked my guide, Dexter about it. I told him it was only eczema, but he immediately shook his head and told me that I had a bacterial infection. He then proceeded to tell the guide the exact tree that could heal it for good, and kill the fungus. The next morning, Dexter led me to the tree that he had sliced a little bark off of after speaking with the tribe member. We put the bright, red-orange sap onto my knee and a few days later, it was gone. I had an entirely new patch of skin in an area that was essentially dead. It was incredible to experience both the powerful, medicinal benefits of the Amazon as well as the knowledge of the natural surroundings by the locals. 

The Jibaros tribe impacted me in many ways through their stories, smiles, gastronomy, knowledge and help. Amazon Garden does the best job of anyone around when it comes to introducing their groups to these indigenous communities. Not only are they exposing their guests to these incredible cultures, but giving back at the same time. Juan and Ursula spend holidays like Christmas with the different tribes, as well as volunteer for USAID to help stop illegal trafficking and poaching in the area. 

Nature Walks

There are multiple trails around the Eco Lodge that take you right into the thick of it, literally. The jungle is extremely dense and with one wrong step, you could easily be lost for days. Luckily, the tour guides know their way around and are extremely knowledgeable about the area, flora, fauna and animals that call the jungle home. Along with learning about jungle, nature walks give guests the opportunity to get up close and personal to one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

Local Farming Communities

Along the nature walks, guests will also have the opportunity to meet local farming communities. It’s a lot of fun to see the different farmers from around the area riding their boats up and down the rivers with different fruits from the Amazon. Seeing their way of life is very interesting and they are very warm and welcoming.

Wildlife

The Amazon Jungle is one of the most remote and natural places on the planet. In just a few hours, you will see dozens of different species of animals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects. If you don’t have the opportunity to see them, you will for sure hear them. The jungle sounds of the Amazon are enchanting and magical. From the Eco Lodge itself, you will have many opportunities to watch different birds such as parrots, toucans and hummingbirds.

On different excursions, you will come face to face with monkeys, anacondas, tree frogs, tarantulas, walking sticks and if you’re lucky, pink dolphins. Part of Amazon Garden’s program includes visits to two different wildlife refuges. One is more mammal based while the other focuses more on insects and amphibians. Above all else, holding a sloth will be one the happiest moments of your life.

Fishing

If fishing is your thing, get ready for an adventure. The fish from the Amazon are excellent to eat, especially the piranha. Different guides and staff get very excited for early morning fishing adventures as they know the best places along the Mormon River to snag a few of the infamous, spiky teethed beasts. If you think they’re fun to catch, wait until you eat one.

Happy Hour at the Pool

I already mentioned how magical the pool was, now imagine it with a drink (or many) in hand. Happy hour is one of the best times of the day and usually comes somewhere around lunch time after the morning activities. Is there any better way to cool down…? Pisco, Peru and Chile’s most famous liquor, is on full display here. Juan makes his own Pisco infusions with different fruits, roots and herbs right out of the jungle. It’s fun to try each of them and discover which one you like the most for a Pisco Sour or Chilcano.

Yoga and Retreats

The Ecolodge offers services such as yoga retreats and massages. Doing yoga each morning to the sounds of the jungle just feels right. If you’re looking for zen, the Amazon Garden offers it and much more. Ayahuasca Ceremonies can also be carried out here if that’s an experience you are looking for. A psychoactive brew used in religious or spiritual ceremonies, indigenous communities in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil have been using Ayahuasca for hundreds of years as a healing medicine to treat physical and mental problems. When choosing a Shaman, be sure you put yourself in a safe place with qualified professionals, like those Juan and Ursula partner with. All of these services are meant to bring you closer to nature and to yourself. You can trust the resources Juan and Ursula provide. 

Food

Are you a foodie…? Then you’ve come to the right place! One of the biggest highlights of the Ecolodge is the amazing menu crafted by Chef Teddy. Each morning, afternoon and evening, traditional and regional cuisine is served buffet style, using fresh and local ingredients. Get ready to spend your days drooling over the thought of eating again until bedtime, when images of Amazonian food fill your dreams. The sound of that bell ringing in the distance when it’s time to eat is pure bliss.

The use of regional ingredients right from the backyard of the jungle is what makes everything so deliciously memorable. There is so much to eat each day, but a few of the plates really stand out.

Piranha steamed in Palm leaves and Ensalada de Chonta

The unlimited sides served with each meal including rice, beans, yuca, plantains and fresh Amazonian fruits like mango and pineapple never get old. Ensalada de Chonta will always be available for dinner and lunch time. Also known as palm heart salad, this incredible dish is served with thinly sliced palms instead of lettuce and accompanied with avocado and tomatoes. Handcrafted sauces made with different peppers, citruses and Amazonian herbs are perfect for dipping your Yuca into, drenching your Ensalada de Chonta or covering a plate of fresh fish.

Piranha steamed in Palm leaves

Speaking of fish, good luck finding something more fresh-caught, buttery and as delicious as from the Amazon region. Mean and nasty in the water, but delectable on a plate, Piranha makes for an excellent dish. Steamed in palm leaves with some fresh herbs, this infamous fish melts like butter on your palate. Eating fish straight from the source of the Amazon is quite a treat.

Juane steamed in Bijao leaves

Probably the most famous dish from the Amazon Juane, a bean and rice dish, will blow your mind. This traditional meal originating from the Peruvian jungles, consists of chicken, olives, hard-boiled eggs, rice and beans seasoned with spices like turmeric, oregano, and cumin. The rice and beans are mashed together into a ball, stuffed with the rest of the ingredients, then steamed in waxy bijao leaves (similar to banana leaves). The final result makes for one of the best dishes in all of Peru. The Amazon Garden Ecolodge kitchen never fails to impress.

How to Get There

Getting to the Lodge is a process, but an easy one. The first step is getting to the town of Iquitos. There are only two ways you can get to Iquitos, by plane or boat. Iquitos is the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road. If you want to make the process long, take a boat for a full adventure. You can start in Brazil and cruise up the Amazon towards Iquitos. 

For those that want the quick, easy and cheaper option, a flight from Lima will do. There are multiple flights daily from the capital of Lima, another must visit destination on its own. Flights can vary anywhere from $40 to $100 on Latam and are about 2 hours in duration. Once you have your flights booked, you can communicate with Juan and Ursula to set up a time to meet at the port to take their boat to the lodge. 

A view from Iquitos of the Amazon

You can decide if you want to fly out of Lima early the morning of your visit and head directly to the port via mototaxi or spend a day or two exploring Iquitos. The city itself is a very interesting and unique Amazonian town. 

Prepare for a wild ride on one of the mototaxis! Being a city that isn’t accessible via road and often hit with some extreme weather, mototaxis and motorcycles are a lot more common than cars. If you want a fully immersive Amazon adventure, Iquitos and Amazon Garden have your name written all over it!

Overall, a stay with Juan and Ursula is both unforgettable and practically indescribable. There are not many other places in the world like the Amazon where you can truly connect with nature authentically. From the euphoria of enjoying a healthy, fresh regional meal to experiencing genuine indigenous culture, I lie awake each night, reminiscing on the jungle orchestra of insects, birds and wavering palms, waiting for the day it will once again soothe me to sleep.

For more information on how to book a trip of a lifetime at Amazon Garden Ecolodge with Juan, Ursula and their incredible staff, visit the link below!!!

https://amazongardenecolodge.com/wp/index.php/en/principal2/

To see more photos of The Peruvian Amazon and other destinations in Peru, visit my full gallery @ https://ryantinglephotography.pixieset.com/peru/

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