With hundreds of species going extinct every day in the world’s tropical rainforests, eco-travelers need to see Peru’s cradle of the world’s biodiversity while there are still intact tracts. Posada Amazonas, an eco-lodge along the Tambopata River deep in Peru’s Amazon basin, provides the ultimate jumping-off point to learn about the region’s wildlife and ecology, while also helping the local indigenous community make a sustainable living.
Seven years ago, Peruvian eco-tour operator Rainforest Expeditions joined forces with the native Esé-eja community of Infierno to create an eco-lodge that furthered their joint goals. Rainforest Expeditions was looking to offer visitors from the United States, Europe and Asia a unique opportunity to learn about the tropical rainforest and the threats to it. Infierno’s 400 Esé-eja natives were seeking sustainable ways to generate income for their community along the Tambopata River without destroying the biodiversity of the surrounding rainforest, which is central to their cultural identity and subsistence-based lifestyle.
The result, Posada Amazonas, is truly greater than the sum of its parts, offering visitors a fun, exciting and exotic way to learn about rainforest ecology directly from English-speaking Esa”eja staff, who in turn are earning a living via preserving their natural surroundings and sharing their bioregional expertise.
And what a bioregion it is! On a typical stay at Posada Amazonas, visitors can expect to encounter several dozen species of majestic birds, including gloriously colored macaws flying to their nests high in the rainforest canopy. Alligator-like caimans doze while capybaras, the world’s largest rodent species, munch on grasses along the riverbank. Red howler monkeys hoot and holler ominously to mark their territories. Meanwhile, a small family of endangered giant river otters lolls gracefully in a protected area of an oxbow lake nearby. And a seemingly never-ending procession of leafcutter ants tack diagonally across the next spot in the trail on a pheromone-driven mission to and from their monolithic anthills.
Posada Amazonas not only provides an up-close view onto this riot of biodiversity, but also helps preserve it. By replacing the temptation to clear their land for cattle grazing and other destructive economic practices, the lodge provides a sustainable incentive for the local people to preserve the natural bounty of their environment.
“Ecotourism has thrived here because the Esé-eja drove the process and wanted to find forms of income that would strengthen their ties to the rainforest,” says Trevor Stevenson, Posada Amazonas’ manager. “We have looked at them all, and I can safely say that we offer the best community-based eco-tourism project in the Amazon basin.”
Indeed, visitors to Posada Amazonas get a thorough education in tropical ecology, wildlife behavior, and native culture while participating in hiking and canoeing excursions through the surrounding primary rainforest. The lodge offers action-packed itineraries ranging from three to seven days, while visitors entranced by the place can stay on as volunteers for several months. Posada Amazonas’ guest list includes some of the world’s preeminent biologists and wildlife photographers.
With its buildings constructed from local materials and inspired by native architectural designs, the lodge looks as authentic as it feels. Each bedroom opens out onto the jungle directly, without any glass or screen windows to mediate. Visitors sleep comfortably under mosquito netting, and can cool off from the omnipresent heat and humidity in private showers. The central dining area also serves as a lounge during happy hour and a meeting place for Esé-eja presentations on local wildlife and native culture. With no electricity on site besides an emergency generator, lighting is provided by candles and kerosene lamps, lending a romantic atmosphere.
The sustainable development of eco-lodges like Posada Amazonas are not a cure-all that can stop the destruction of the rainforest and stave off the extinction of native human cultures. Stevenson points out that 90 percent of eco-tourism projects in the Amazon basin fail due to a mix of poor planning, bad luck and inconsistent leadership from governments. Meanwhile, other massive environmental threats like rainforest desertification and global warming loom large on the horizon.
But for now, those giant river otters—not to mention hundreds of thousands of other threatened rainforest species—are hanging on for dear life, so catch sight of them while you can at a place like Posada Amazonas.