Travel Info For The Peruvian Amazon
Visiting, studying or doing research in the Peruvian Amazon is not difficult to arrange! This page is intended to give travelers the information they need for visiting. We welcome your feedback and suggestions! Scroll over the topics below for more information.
Travel Documents and Legal Considerations
Citizens of the Americas (except for Cuba), Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the EU need only a valid passport for entry, and are typically given a 60 or 90 day visa which is stamped in their passport upon entry (no charge). Citizens of other countries should contact the nearest Peruvian embassy/consulate for requirements. If you are staying for more than 90 days, you may need to apply for a longer term visa at a Peruvian Embassy or Consulate before you travel to Peru. An alternative is to leave Peru for a short period every 90 days, and re-enter the country, receiving another 90 day visa in your passport in the process. Visa extensions can be obtained in country, but this process may take several days. Check your passport to ensure that it will be valid for the duration of your desired stay. US citizens can download passport application/renewal forms from the National Passport Information System at http://travel.state.gov
Customs and Import Restrictions
Upon entry into Peru, all visitors must clear customs. Visitors may bring in personal camera and recording gear, a personal laptop, and other "normal" items with no restrictions. Electronic and other items that are going to be left in Peru may be subject to customs duty (about 30% of the value of the item(s)). Firearms, ammunition and explosives may not be imported. Drug offenses are severely punished in Peru and luggage may be searched and sniffed by drug dogs upon arrival and departure. Domestic flights are subject to internal customs controls and drug searches as well.
Peru is a signatory to the CITES treaty, which regulates importation and export of endangered plants and animals, and wildlife trade in general. Peru also has its own laws regulating the sale and transportation of plants and animals, and most flora and fauna in Peru is protected from commercial trade. Purchase and export of wildlife or wildlife products and plants requires permits from INRENA, the Peruvian equivalent of Fish and Wildlife. Attempting to take such products out of Peru or into a third country without the necessary permits may result in confiscation, fines or worse. Help Peru protect its flora and fauna by respecting environmental laws and regulations. Observe, photograph, enjoy and tell your friends - but leave it in Peru!
Currency and Money Exchange
Peruvian currency is the Nuevo Sol. This currency has been very stable (vs. the US $) for several years. Money exchange is easily done in larger cities throughout Peru, and US $$ are also widely accepted in stores and restaurants. There is no black-market, and banks and street changers offer similar rates of conversion. Exchange rates typically drop a point on days when banks are closed. Credit cards are accepted at some stores, restaurants and hotels. Cash machines are readily available in larger cities and dispense both Nuevo Sols and $ US. Cash advances from credit cards are easy to make at some banks. Travelers checks can usually only be cashed at banks and are not widely accepted. US bills should be relatively unworn and free of rips, holes, tears, ink writing and other blemishes, or they may not be accepted.
Telephone, Internet and Other Communications
In large cities you can easily phone or email internationally. Cybercafés have boomed across Peru, and are now open in most cities of any size. Computer time is $1-2 per hour, and connection speeds are tolerable to good. To phone internationally, the easiest and cheapest method is to use a payphone and have your contact call you back. Direct calls from Peru to the US are about $1/minute. Foreign phone cards and calling cards do not always work - Peruvian phone cards can be purchased locally. The Peru country code is '51', the Iquitos area code is '65'. To call Iquitos from the USA, dial 011-(for international dialing)-51-65, then the 6- or 7-digit local phone number. There is limited phone service in rural areas and small towns outside of Iquitos, and no email! Satellite phones function well in the Amazon lowlands, provided the horizon is not obstructed.
Getting to the Peruvian Amazon
Most visitors will arrive by air. Adventure travelers with time on their hands may opt to travel to the Iquitos area by boat (from Brazil, or from ports further up the Amazon). Iquitos is served by several flights daily from Lima, and two flights weekly from Leticia, Colombia. There are no direct flights from Iquitos to North America. Many airlines serve Lima on a daily basis from the Americas and from Europe. Peruvian Airports charge domestic and international departure taxes of US $5 and $28 respectively. This tax is paid after you receive your boarding pass, and is not included in your ticket price. Budget accordingly. Once in Iquitos, there is a wide range of hotels available. The city is located close to the airport, and taxi transportation is cheap.
Traveling to the Amazon is an investment - not only are you purchasing airline tickets, but you probably will bring binoculars, cameras, other gear, etc. Protect yourself, your airline tickets, and your equipment through the purchase of traveler's insurance. In case your Homeowners and Medical policies (in the event of accident or illness) do not cover you abroad, purchase special travel coverage through a company such as Travel/Safe or American Express. Protect yourself, and travel with peace of mind.
Don't waste your money - be protected against financial loss!
Health Requirements and Precautions
No vaccinations or preventative treatments are required of travelers to Peru. We do, however, strongly recommend physical and dental check-ups prior to travel. Project Amazonas has basic safety and emergency equipment at our field stations, and we are equipped to provide emergency first-aid in case of illness and injury. Specialized medical attention is not available in many remote areas, however. Up-to-date tetanus and hepatitis A and B shots are strongly recommended, and all travelers should consult with their physician regarding malaria prophylaxis. Malaria is common in many parts of the Peruvian Amazon. Yellow fever is much rarer, and unlikely to be encountered, but Dengue occurrence is increasing. Bring sufficient quantities of prescription medications, as well as a basic first-aid kit (anti-histamine [for insect bites or allergies], antacid, anti-diarrheals, antibiotic topical cream, anti-nausea/motion sickness, etc.). Your doctor may also prescribe a strong systemic antibiotic for use in the event of serious intestinal upset. Many medications are available at very reasonable cost at pharmacies in Iquitos and other large cities. If you purchase trip insurance, check to see if it covers expenses for emergency medical care, evacuation or hospitalization.
The tropical sun is very intense and it is very easy to burn or become dehydrated. Appropriate clothing and headwear and high SPF sun block are a necessity. You should also take a water bottle with you at all times (and drink from it!). If you are hypersensitive to insect stings, have allergies to particular medications or foods, or other medical conditions that could pose a potential problem, be certain to inform those who may need to know these things (field station staff, fellow travelers or researchers, etc.).
Good travel health sites include the Travel Health Information Service (http://www.travelhealth.com), the CDC site (http://www.cdc.gov/travel/) and the Medical College of Wisconsin International Travelers Clinic (http://www.intmed.mcw.edu/travel.html). Happy surfing!
Peru has some great cuisine, and trying new foods should be part of your experience. Common sense precautions will serve you well when it comes to food, however. Don't purchase food from street vendors. Avoid ice in drinks, and select restaurants that are clean and neat. Wash fruits and raw vegetables before eating them. Don't drink the tap water. Remember that a change in diet can result in intestinal upset, and doesn't mean that you've come down with dysentery! Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, or similar products can help counteract mild intestinal disorder due to change of diet. Most Peruvians are mystified by the concept of a vegetarian (or worse, a vegan or lacto-ovo-vegetarian) diet. People in the Amazon region eat fish on a daily basis, and regularly eat meat and poultry products. It is difficult, but not impossible, to find a good selection of purely vegetarian dishes, but don't expect to have the range of choices you may have at home. Be prepared to be a little bit flexible when it comes to diet, and be willing to try some new things. It (probably) won't kill you!
Peru is a big country, and like all big countries, there are parts and places that are safe, and others that are less so. Travelers to Iquitos and the Amazon region will find that the people are welcoming, helpful, and polite. Rudeness anywhere in Peru is very rare. For a large city, Iquitos (pop: 400,000+) is remarkably safe. Violent crime is virtually unknown, and visitors can walk virtually anywhere in the city and feel safe. As in any city, however, there are pickpockets and petty thieves. Personal items should not be left unattended, and due care should be taken with money and valuables in accommodations and on your person. Avoid ostentation, dress modestly, don't flaunt your money or possessions, and you should have no problems.
Outside of Iquitos, people
in towns, villages and rural areas are among the nicest people in the world. There is a limited amount of very low-key drug transport on the rivers, and no drug-wars, due to a strong Peruvian Navy and Coast Guard presence on rivers. Drug use by Peruvians themselves in the Amazon area is very limited, and you will not be approached and offered drugs for sale unless you work hard to seek them out. Remember, though, drug possession penalties in Peru are quite severe!
Dangers from natural sources are limited, and can be largely avoided with a little common sense. If you don't know how to swim, don't go in the river or on a boat without a life-vest handy, for instance. Use a flashlight at night to avoid stepping on snakes if you are in a rural area. Watch where you put your hands and feet while hiking in the forest. Shake out boots and clothing in the morning to dislodge any spiders or scorpions that might have found refuge in them. Piranhas are not considered to be a hazard by people in the area, and we regularly swim in sites known to contain piranhas. Poisonous snakes are rarely encountered, and are not aggressive unless they feel threatened. Biting insects and thorns are the main source of discomfort for most people - appropriate dress and footwear and use of insect repellent is the key to avoiding problems.
What to Bring: A Generalized Packing List
- Personal toiletry articles, soap, shampoo, disposable razors, personal hygiene items, etc. (all readily available in Peru)
- Prescription medicines - sufficient for your trip plus a few days.
- Malaria prophylaxis - to be fully effective, you will need to begin treatment prior to your trip, and continue for a short period after - consult your physician.
- Other medications such as Tylenol/Aspirin or similar, antihistamine lotion (for insect bites), antiseptic ointment (Neosporin or similar), Pepto-Bismol or other similar medication for upset stomach and diarrhea, antibiotics, etc.
- High SPF sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher is essential!).
- Insect repellent with high DEET content. Citronella and other "natural" insect repellents are largely ineffective. Sulfur powder is effective against chiggers.
- Flashlight (waterproof is best) with extra batteries and bulbs. Good batteries are expensive in Peru, and some sizes may not be locally available.
- Tennis shoes or other canvas-topped shoes which dry quickly, with rubber soles. These should be broken in already, you don't want to get blisters on your Amazon trip! These are for wearing in town, on board boats, or on the plane home. An old pair that you don't plan on taking home can be useful for wading in water (for fishermen), or for slogging through mud on forest trails.
- Hiking boots, jungle boots, or gum-rubber boots. Again, be sure these are well broken in! Be aware that if you are hiking on jungle trails, visiting villages, and having a real Amazon experience, your footwear will get wet and muddy. Gum-rubber boots (farmer boots, wellies, etc.), are popular with experienced jungle travelers, they are cheap, easy to put on and take off (no muddy laces), dry quickly, easy to clean, and provide excellent protection against snakes, insects and thorns, to say nothing of mud. They also have excellent tread for walking on slippery trails. Whatever you select, be sure that your footwear is comfortable and broken in. If you have relatively small feet, gum-rubber boots can be readily purchased in Peru. If you have large feet (size 10 and above), get your boots before you come!
- Binoculars. Bring a good pair of lightweight binoculars that are water-resistant or water-proof (better). Nitrogen-filled lenses also prevent any fogging problems. Your experience will be enhanced if you have the ability to examine birds, treetop flowers, dolphins, monkeys, and miscellaneous happenings along the route up close!
- Photographic equipment and film, etc. Don't stiff yourself. You will kick yourself if you don't have a good quality camera (that you know how to use). Don't forget extra batteries.
- Hat with wide brim or bill (essential for the tropical sun, useful also for rain).
- Fannypack or small backpack, weather proof.
- Light poncho or rain jacket (essential for trips in small boats). This can be supplemented with a collapsible umbrella in town.
- Lightweight shorts and pants (avoid jeans and other items of clothing which are heavy and take a long time to dry).
- Lightweight shirts, both long/short sleeves.
- Underwear (loose is better) and socks - cotton are best for keeping you dry and comfortable. Wool socks are great for padding your feet if you bring gum-rubber boots.
- Lightweight jacket or windbreaker - in the dry season (northern summer), it can feel quite cool while traveling by boat at night. If you are going to be visiting other parts of Peru as well as the Amazon, you will need to add extra items of clothing - the highlands of Peru can be very cold!
- Polarized sunglasses - great for river travel, the glare off the surface of the water can be intense.
- Trade items: popular items in the past have included D-cell batteries (in their original packaging - proves that they are 'fresh'), flashlights, T-shirts, children's and women's clothing, sheets, towels, candy, ceramic busts of Elvis (OK, just a joke, but you never know!), knives, scissors, toys, fish hooks and fishing line, bottles of aspirin, baseball caps, etc. If you bring clothing, remember that most Peruvians are smaller than the average North American - small sizes are better!
- Books in Spanish and various school supplies make a great donation to the schools of some of the remote villages that we visit.
Camera and Photography Equipment
The Amazon is a photographers paradise. We recommend a variety of film speeds for the jungle environment. Lighting conditions within the forest itself (where 400 speed film is best, unless you are using a tripod and/or flash) are very different from those on the open rivers (where 64 or 100 speed film is fine). Video and digital cameras can get excellent footage even in low light situations, and batteries can be recharged in many locations (bring a 110/220 V adapter for this purpose). You should carry resealable plastic bags with you while on excursions to protect your camera equipment from rain and moisture. Packs of silica gel are good for drying damp camera gear (be sure to have an airtight container in which to put camera equipment and silica gel). Nighttime is one of the best times for photography in the Amazon, particularly if you are interested in insects and other invertebrates, frogs, reptiles, and the like. Many animals are most active and can be most easily approached at night. Of course, a flash is essential for night photography! Remember to bring sufficient batteries for your flash.
Bring plenty of good quality film - it is expensive in Iquitos, and unavailable elsewhere, and this is the last place you should skimp on film! When traveling by air, put all film in your hand luggage and ask for hand inspection - the more powerful X-rays now used for baggage screening may damage even regular speed film!
A tripod is recommended for those who are interested in natural light photos of plants, insects, other animals (that sit still), and scenery (particularly within the forest itself). Serious nature photographers will want to bring a variety of lenses (macro, telephoto, etc.). You know who you are - do your research ahead of time, or else!