Field Sites & Boats
Our Field Sites in the Peruvian Amazon
Project Amazonas field stations in the extremely biodiverse western Amazon are ideal for academic courses of all levels, research activities, training programs, and ecotourism. The Madre Selva Biological Station on the Orosa River is located about 125 km from the city of Iquitos on the south side of the Amazon. The Santa Cruz Forest Reserve is ~20 km as the fruit-crow flies, but ~40 km travel distance from Iquitos, and is north of the Amazon and west of the Napo River. Both sites have rustic but comfortable accommodations, extensive trail networks, and access to varied habitats and local communities.
Two former sites are no longer managed by Project Amazonas. The Sabalillo Forest Reserve (Rio Apayacu) operated from 1999-2009 under a 10-year conservation lease, was incorporated into a much larger regional conservation area by the Peruvian government. The Paucarillo Forest Reserve (Rio Orosa), on land leased from the Yagua Indian community of Santa Ursula in 1994, was returned to the community for management in 2010. Both of these latter sites are not easily accessible at low water (Jul-Nov) but when river levels are higher can still be accessed by researchers pending permission and coordination with the respective communities. Facilities, however, are very limited or non-existent.
Madre Selva Biological Station
The Madre Selva Biological Station is our longest-operating field site with the best developed facilities. Project Amazons (PA) has a title of use for 192 ha (~474 acres) and through agreement with the Yagua Indian community of Comandancia, also utilizes ~500 ha (~1235 acres) of adjacent land. To the north, the site is bordered by the Orosa River, westward are lands of the campesino community of Santo Tomas, to the east is Comandancia, and to the south is unbroken primary forest extending to the Rio Yavari, the border with Brazil.
Access to/from Iquitos takes from 4-16 hours depending on what boat is used and on river levels. Smaller groups generally utilize our speedboats, so travel time is on the low end. Our flagship the M/F Esperanza is considerably slower but can transport large groups and substantial luggage and supplies, so many academic, medical service and ecotour groups use it. As a live-aboard vessel, it is also much more comfortable than the speedboats.
Madre Selva Facilities
The main facilities are located on Tunche Caño (Ghost Creek), a short distance off of the Orosa River. A two-story combination dining hall, kitchen, crew quarters and lounge area were completed in June 2020. Another two-story classroom/lab provides space for research projects, classes and presentations and houses a small library, storage area, and limited research equipment.
A dormitory building can house up to 12 guests in two spacious rooms, and 6 tambos (bungalows) provide housing for an additional 12 persons. PA provides bedding essentials (sheets, towels, pillows, mosquito-nets). Restroom facilities are separate from accommodations and consist of 4 flush-toilets and 4 showers connected to a septic system.
The main buildings (dining hall/kitchen, classroom/lab, restroom facilities) are electrified with power coming from a diesel generator which is operated for several hours daily when station users are present. Future plans include a transition to solar panels and electrification of accommodations.
Madre Selva Trails & Habitats
Trails are regularly maintained with bridges built over creeks, and provide access to terra firme primary forest, varzea (seasonally flooded) forest, secondary forest of varying ages, and swamp forest. Parts of the trail network flood annually (Mar-May), but are often passable for those willing to get a bit wet. Trails can be muddy and rubber boots are best. Extensive swamp forest and restingas (elevated ancient river berms) are accessible to the very adventurous across the river to the north, and several floodplain lakes can be accessed by boat at higher water levels.
Santa Cruz Forest Reserve
Project Amazonas acquired the first parcel of land at the Santa Cruz Forest Reserve in 2008, and has steadily expanded the protected area at the site since that time. As of July 2020, the reserve consists of 232 ha (~573 acres) of tierra firme primary and secondary forest, seasonally flooded varzea forest, and small patches of swamp forest. The site also borders on the forest reserve of the community of Santa Cruz which protects an additional 209 ha (~515 acres) of mostly upland forest. To the north across the Mazan River, is an extensive expanse of varzea and restinga (ancient river bank) forest.
Access to/from Iquitos takes 2-3 hours year-round by speedboat, including a short overland hop from the Amazon to the town on Mazan on the Napo River (see map in slideshow). Access using our M/F Esperanza riverboat requires a long 22-24 hour detour around the isthmus between the Amazon and Napo Rivers.
Santa Cruz - Inland
The main SCFR facilities are located on an artificial lake 1.7 km (~1 mile) south of the port facilities on the Mazan River. A broad and well-maintained trail connects the inland facilities with the port area facilities. A one-story combination dining hall, classroom and lab is the main building, with a semi-detached kitchen and caretaker quarters. Research equipment and library materials are very limited but are gradually being expanded.
Accommodations are provided by six one or two-person tambos (bungalows) surrounding a grassy activity field, and by six newer and more spacious tambos overlooking the artificial lake. Up to 24 guests can be accommodated at the inland site. PA provides bedding essentials (sheets, towels, pillows, mosquito-nets). Adjacent to the main building are two restrooms each with two showers and two flush toilets connected to a septic system.
The main building and restrooms are electrified by solar panels with a small back-up generator. Additional solar panels and electrification of tambos is in the works.
Santa Cruz - Riverside
Adjacent to the port facilities on the Mazan River, a new caretaker and researcher/volunteer “river house” was completed in 2019. This two-story structure has 3 large rooms on the upper floor capable of housing 4-6 persons in each room. On the first level are caretaker accommodations, storeroom, restrooms and a full kitchen. The building is electrified throughout with solar panels, and rainwater is collected from the roof surfaces for use. A 300-meter (~1000’) bridge starting at the “river house”, crosses a low-lying area that extends well inland, and which is flooded for extensive periods of time each year. This bridge now provides reliable access between the higher land on each side of the SCFR, including direct access to the tree nursery and arboretum at the site.
Santa Cruz Trails & Habitats
The trail network is regularly maintained with bridges built over creeks and provides access to terra firme primary forest, varzea (seasonally flooded) forest, secondary forest of varying ages, and swamp forest. A few bridges do flood for a short period of time after heavy rains, but as bridges need to be replaced, they are also being elevated. Trails can be muddy and slippery, and rubber boots are the recommended footwear. Extensive swamp forest and restingas (elevated ancient river berms) are accessible across the Mazan River to the north.
Our Fleet - M/F Esperanza
Over the years we have purchased, built, modified, and operated a series of boats. Having our own boats ensures reliable transportation, as we do our own boat and motor maintenance and know exactly what the status of each boat is. Chartering other boats can be a risky proposition since boats used for public transportation have regular motor breakdowns, and every few years, one sinks.
Our flagship boat is the M/F Esperanza, a 23 meter (75’) two deck boat with live-aboard capacity for 18 passengers plus crew. When we purchased the original boat (then called the Nenita) in 2009, it was a wooden cargo hauler. We rebuilt the interior in 2009/2010, and since then have completely rebuilt the vessel into a steel hull and deck vessel. With a flat hull and a draft of only 1 meter (3’) when fully loaded, the Esperanza can access smaller rivers that are inaccessible by most boats of its size. A rooftop observation / hammock deck is where most passengers choose to be when the boat is underway. Cabins are small but comfortable, and rooftop solar panels power 12-volt lights, 12-volt fans and USB outlets in each cabin. An on-board generator complements the solar system.
The Esperanza is registered with and inspected annually by the Capitanía (Peruvian Naval Authorities). When not in use for medical service, academic, or research expeditions, it is available for charter. An auxiliary boat always accompanies the Esperanza on any trip. Contact us for date availability and rates.
Our Fleet - Other Boats
Smaller boats are also part of our fleet. The Mai-Kai (named for the Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant and Review in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, which raised the funds for it) is a covered speedboat capable of transporting 18 passengers (without luggage) or 10-12 passengers (with luggage). Two open aluminum skiffs, the Margarita and the Shiripira, are used for local exploration and activities, and are ideal for birdwatching, fishing, and travel through narrow channels with low clearance.
Additional wooden boats, the Huarmitero, Antojero and the Yucundero are slower but more fuel efficient, and are used for transporting gear, supplies and construction materials. The Huarmitero and Antojero can also be used as a live-aboard vessel for small groups.
Our Evolution over the Years
Our field sites and boats have all evolved considerably over the years since 1994, when we began with a shoe-string budget. You may enjoy seeing some of the historic photos of our field stations and boats. If you have pictures from the early years of Project Amazonas, we’d love to add them to the slide show!