Peru and The Amazon

Peru: A Natural Destination

Peru has amazing geographical, biological and cultural diversity. The country stretches from the equator to 18o south (twice the length of California), and from the Pacific Ocean to the lowlands of the Amazon basin, totaling some 1.285 million km2 (slightly smaller than Alaska). Peru hosts some of the world's richest and most diverse ecosystems. These include such habitats as:

  • arid deserts inhabited by rare bats and giant hummingbirds
  • coastal islands swarming with seabirds and seals
  • bleak high elevation plains where vicuñas graze on sparse grass and flamingos break through the dawn crust of ice on alkaline lakes
  • dangerously steep and incredibly soggy cloud forests
  • thorny dry tropical forests
  • impenetrable bamboo forests
  • And, of course, Peru is also home to a good chunk of the vast rainforests and rivers of the Amazon, a world hotspot of biodiversity, and one of the true remaining wildernesses on the planet

Although the Amazon is shared with a number of other countries, most notably Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia, the Peruvian portion of the Amazon rates very high on a combined scale of accessibility and degree of intactness.

Amazonian lowlands occupy the eastern half of Peru, with less than 5% of the population living in this region. The Amazonian basin extends far beyond the borders of Peru and into the countries of Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, and the Guianas, forming one of the worldís largest terrestrial ecosystems. The Amazonian basin itself covers about 1.5 million square miles, an area the size of the United States west of the Mississippi, with the Peruvian portion readily accessible from North America.

Cultural Diversity

The Cultural Diversity of Peru adds a fascinating aspect as well. The ruins of the short-lived Inca empire, as well as those of many previous cultures attract visitors to such locations as Cusco, Chan Chan, Machu Picchu, Nazca and Lake Titicaca. The influence of the Spanish conquistadors is evident in cities throughout the country. Cultural diversity did not disappear with the arrival of the Spanish, however, and numerous ethnic groups, each with their own traditions and collective knowledge can be found throughout the Amazonian lowlands of the country. In the mountains and along the Pacific coast, where Spanish influence was stronger, local traditions and practices often survived and flourished, though they were influenced by Spanish culture and religion. Among the 25 million inhabitants, regional differences are visible in dress, diet, speech and architecture, adding human diversity to the rich biological diversity of the country. In the Amazonian portion of Peru, most people speak Spanish, although in very remote areas, indigenous Indian languages may be dominant. In all of the Peruvian Amazon, however, indigenous languages have left their mark in place names, slang expressions, and the proper names of most plants and animals.

City of Iquitos

The city of Iquitos is the point of departure for most destinations on the Peruvian Amazon, including the Project Amazonas field stations. This bustling river-port (population 400,000+) is in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. Iquitos is the largest city in the region by far, and is the capital of the Department of Loreto, with an economy based on government (a center for civilian and military administration), oil exploration, logging, fish (both aquarium and food fish), and tourism.

Iquitos, some 2,300 river miles from the mouth of the Amazon is the worlds' most inland port that is serviced by ocean-going vessels. No roads connect Iquitos to the rest of Peru, and access is only by boat or plane. Several daily flights connect Iquitos to Lima, Peru, where many international connections are available. As a center of government and commerce, Iquitos offers banking, telecommunication, email and transportation services. Many hotels and restaurants of varying cost and quality cater to visitors.

MARKETS: Several marketplaces in Iquitos are venues for the sale of rural products to urban dwellers. The largest and most fascinating market is the Belen Market, located in the Belen district of town. A large portion of Belen is inundated each year during the high water floods, and houses are built on stilts or rafts. The market also follows the vagaries of water levels, rising and falling with the season, as goods and produce are sold out of canoes, and from porch fronts. Much of the market is built on higher ground, however, and is easily accessible at any time of the year. The crowded narrow aisles and low protruding roofs and supports are not for the claustrophobic, perhaps, but a fascinating and colorful array of produce makes for a memorable visit.

SECURITY: Many visitors to the Peruvian Amazon inquire about personal safety and security. Many are surprised to learn that Iquitos, a quite large city, is actually one of the safest large cities in the Americas, with violent crime virtually unknown. As with any large city, some precautions should be taken to avoid tempting pick-pockets and the like, but very rarely does a visitor ever encounter any problems, and it is possible to visit virtually every corner of the city by day or night and feel secure. Political turmoil or other problems in other parts of Peru rarely have much of an impact on Iquitos. The cities isolation and the good-naturedness of its people insulate it from events elsewhere. The people of the region are very welcoming, warm and helpful, and rudeness to foreigners just doesn't occur. The ability to converse even a little in Spanish will greatly enhance the experience of any visitor, however, and will open up many more opportunities to interact with the inhabitants of the region.

Climate In The Peruvian Amazon

The Iquitos area, located just south of the Equator, is characterized by strong tropical sun and warm temperatures. The northern summer (late May-August) corresponds with the dry season ("winter") in the Iquitos region. Temperatures are cooler and humidity lower at this time of year, even though the skies are clearer and sunnier. Expect temperatures to be warm (low to mid 80's) but quite comfortable; once or twice each dry season, a cold front passes through at which time the temperature can drop as low as 60o F. Nights during the "winter"-time can feel quite cool due to radiative cooling (those clear skies coming into play). Bring a sweater or light jacket, especially for traveling on the river in the evening or at night.

During the Amazonian "summer", or rainy season (November through April), temperatures vary from the mid- to high 80's during the day, with night-time temperatures slightly lower. Rain normally occurs during an intense, but short (1/2 hour to 2 hours) downpour during the mid-late afternoon or at night, but it can rain at any time. Humidity is high, and the nights stay warm. Weather conditions at other times of the year are intermediate between "rainy season" and "winter". Check out the temperature in Iquitos - updated hourly!

YEARLY RAINFALL is 3000-3500 mm. River levels are affected both by local rains and by rainfall in the headwaters of the Amazon and Napo rivers. Accessibility to the upper reaches of many smaller rivers varies seasonally, and those interested in accessing more remote areas off of the main rivers should contact Project Amazonas for further information.

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