It was a magical moment. Night was fast approaching and dozens of fireflies were silently lighting up the jungle canopy all around. A couple of macaws flew overhead, uttering the odd squawk to remind us we were in fact deep in the Amazon rainforest, and apart from the constant background buzzing of unseen insects, it was silent. And all of this whilst sitting on the loo in a jungle treehouse at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica!
Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica
After spending 3 nights at the remote Amazon Villa with Rainforest Expeditions, we weren’t ready to end our time in Tambopata, so moved back up river to Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica. Just a 45 minute boat ride from Puerto Maldonado, the lodge has less of a wilderness feel, but had two major assets – a canopy walkway and a jungle treehouse that you can actually sleep in!
The lodge has a pretty location, right on the banks of the Madre de Dios river, with several thatched cabañas dotted around lush manicured tropical gardens and linked by a raised pathway made from slices of tree trunk. Very useful during the wet season!
The construction of the main lodge is an architectural marvel. Made from local natural materials, the lofty thatched ceilings and wooden interiors have been inspired by the tropical Amazon location. I loved that the dining tables and chairs in the restaurant were all made from tree trunks and the vast picture windows allowed the outside rainforest to be ever-present.
Large guinea pig type rodents called agoutis roam the grounds during the day. Used to humans they munch away quite happily next to pathways and cabañas, they know this is their home and we’re just visitors.
We opted for a Superior Rio Cabaña (there are 4 room categories – Superior, Superior Rio, Amazonica Suite and Tambopata Suite), and were thrilled with our view of the river. Privately we were pleased we hadn’t gone for a suite, as these were further back from the river bank without the views.
Inside there was a luxurious double bed with the all important mosquito net, chairs, 2 hammocks (a welcome surprise since most places only ever have 1 hammock, which is always really annoying when there are 2 of us!), and an ensuite bathroom.
There wasn’t much privacy since the sides and front of the cabañas are mostly mesh screen, but at least this allows what little breeze there is to penetrate as far as possible. It is rather hot here!
I love the natural Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica branded toilettries (although not convinced that the citronella splash really does anything to deter the bugs), but having stayed in several Inkaterra properties in Peru I was a little disappointed with the bathrooms here. The shower cubicle was looking decidedly tired and in need of a lick of paint, and neither the shower nor toilet cubicle doors would shut properly.
There was a ceiling fan above the bed, but because electricity was restricted to certain hours of the day, it often wasn’t on when we most needed it, like during the afternoon when we weren’t out on activity (it was the hottest part of the day) and at night when we were trying to get to sleep. We understand the power needs a break now and then, but better timings would have been appreciated. The heat in the cabaña really was unbearable without the fan (it was about 36 °C). It seems that Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica does seem to put eco credentials (our stay was apparently carbon neutral!) above guest comfort in some instances. Which is slightly vexing given the price!
I never feel like eating much in the heat, but the food at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica was authentic, tasty, and really quite superb. And I say that having spent 3 weeks eating some of the best cuisine Peru has to offer during our trip this month – I didn’t realise it was such a foodie destination. The Inkaterra menu is inspired by the surroundings, and many of the ingredients are grown nearby on their own farm. A particular favourite of mine was the castaña – brazil nut – which was served as accompaniments to meat, in creamy sauces, as well as sweet tarts. Delicious. And a far cry from the supermarket brazil nuts we used to buy every Christmas for my gran to sit and crack.
The portion size was really good too, and the option to choose from a menu rather than having a fixed meal plan was most welcome. Food is all included in the price, so you can eat as much or as little as you like.
Service was hit and miss. This may be a luxury lodge, but the service certainly wasn’t up to international standards. Some staff were brilliant, attentive, and super friendly. Others weren’t so great. One in particular was surly and quite rude to us, and it was clear that the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica’s policy is to prioritise tour groups over couples and individuals. Several times we had to wait far longer than everyone else to be served, despite being seated long before they even arrived, and one evening we were completely ignored and had to ask someone to take our order. We’ve experienced this all over the world, so it’s nothing new here, but it really pisses us off.
It was also really hot in the dining room. There were only a few fans, and only about half of them were on during breakfast and lunch (no doubt to save electricity). This made the restaurant feel like a greenhouse and we couldn’t wait to get back out into the fresh air. Having a few more fans on would have made such a difference.
So now to what you’re really here for. Exploring the Amazon rainforest! Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica operates an a la carte activity menu, with guests joining their preferred activity group each day. This inevitably means sharing the experience with strangers, which may or may not be your cup of tea. It certainly isn’t ours, but we knew we weren’t paying for a private service, and understand that sometimes meeting other travellers can be a lot of fun.
Alas, this wasn’t the case.
Typically our group consisted of retirees who weren’t perhaps as nimble as the rest of us (the group had to go at their pace), and a loud American woman travelling with her daughter who just would not shut up. She must have scared off all wildlife in a 20 mile radius, and really put a downer on our experience. Still, we told ourselves to suck it up and enjoy what we could. Which as it turns out was quite a lot…
This was reason #1 we decided to come to Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica. Being able to experience the rainforest from up above is such a privilege and gives a whole new perspective on life in the jungle. The walkway was a 20 minute walk from the lodge, and then it was a hot sweaty climb up the tower to reach the bridges. They were quite steep in places and it was difficult to walk across them with much dignity, but it was so much fun, and really, anyone could do it.
Our group crossed each bridge one at a time, pausing on the platforms in between to watch howler monkeys and toucans flitting about the trees. It really was another world up there.
And then the peace was shattered.
Watch out…there’s monkey POOP on the bridge!!!!
The American woman was shrieking hysterically from across the walkway, warning guests behind her of the offending piles on the bridge. Perhaps she’d never come across ‘poop’ before. Trying desperately not to roll my eyes or sigh too pointedly, I mastered a semi-convincing grin and proceeded to make my way across. Funnily enough I managed to avoid stepping in the excrement, although I admit to briefly considering picking up a handful and flinging it, ape-like, towards the excited yells that were becoming louder and more frantic. The woman congratulated me on my safe passage, and asked why I wasn’t calling back to warn Hubbie. I muttered that he’d probably heard already.
We didn’t see a single animal after that.
Wetlands Anaconda Walk
We did the Anaconda Walk on the way back from the canopy trail, and whilst it was interesting learning about the trees (I love the rainforest trees – read about our encounter with walking palm trees here!) and the bugs, there wasn’t much other life to been seen. Certainly no anacondas. Having a raised wooden walkway through the wetlands didn’t feel very wild or remote, although I was certainly appreciative of my dry boots afterwards!
If you’ve done any research into Tambopata, then you’ll have heard of Lake Sandoval. A vast and serene oxbow lake that is famously home to a family of giant river otters, an animal I’ve wanted to see since I was a nipper. Strangely this is best done as an afternoon excursion (normally we’re cowering inside trying to escape the heat at this time of day). Yet it made total sense when our guide Charles explained that after the 15 minute boat ride up the Tambopata River and a 45 minute hike, it would actually be nearing evening by the time we reached the lake itself.
For some reason we managed to have Charles all to ourselves today, whilst the other 8 guests were in a group with another guide. This of course had us grinning from ear to ear like Cheshire cats. We’re still not quite sure why this happened. Perhaps because we’d failed to hide our annoyance at the loud woman. Or maybe because we’d spent the night in the jungle treehouse the night before (more on this later) and our activity schedule could potentially have been out of sink with the others. Whatever the reason, we were thrilled with the arrangement.
The trail to the lake was well trodden and used by locals to reach their villages, so it didn’t feel half as remote as I’d expected. Thankfully it was the dry season and the path was manageable, with only a few large boggy patches that required squeezing between trees and ducking under branches to avoid getting stuck in the mud. In the wet season however walking (or wading) this trail would be my worst nightmare. The whole trail becomes a mud bath, full of hidden obstacles underfoot ready to trip you up. I’ve done that once in Borneo. Never again!
At the end of the trail we hopped into a large wooden canoe and Charles proceeded to paddle us expertly up a creek through the mangroves towards the lake. At 800 years old, and lined with palms growing out of the water, Lake Sandoval is simply stunning. We floated around the shoreline in search of wildlife, and came across squirrel and capuchin monkeys, black caiman, turtles, butterflies, hoatzins, herons, macaws and…giant river otters! Whoop. Mission accomplished.
It wasn’t until dusk that we spotted them. The parents were trying to teach their offspring the art of fishing, but the youngsters were more intent on cavorting about the submerged palms than lessons.
The walk back to the river was mostly in the dark, aided by torch light and hindered, slightly, by the prevalence of chicken tarantulas along the path. I wasn’t sure which was more alarming. Unseen giant spiders, or having to negotiate those muddy patches in the pitch black. We also saw one of those cool spiders that throw webs over their prey, as well as toads and fireflies.
Towards the end of the trail we heard a heavy panting coming from the bushes. You know, the sort of sound a big cat might make after a particularly satisfying meal. Charles bravely went to investigate, telling us to stay firmly on the path. We weren’t about to disobey. The identity of the panting animal remains a mystery to this day, but we couldn’t help but keep looking behind as we scurried back to the boat.
And so to the jungle treehouse. Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica’s pièce de résistance, and the main reason we were here. Because who doesn’t want to spent the night in a treehouse high up in the canopy of the Amazon Rainforest.
It did cost extra, over and above the room that we were already paying for (and not using that night!) which made us a bit grumpy, but it’s the same with treehouses at hotels all over the world. Yes I have my eye on them too!
The intended Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica itinerary for the jungle treehouse was to arrive at dusk for dinner up on the canopy tower, and then bed. We wanted to spend more time up there in the daylight so persuaded Charles to take us up earlier at 4.30pm. This time we travelled down the river by boat, and then had just a short walk along a crushed brazil nut husk trail to the canopy walkway. We climbed up the tower and were greeted by our very own canopy butler (dressed in smart starched whites), and a table laden with pre-dinner drinks and nibbles. All a bit surreal considering we were up a tree in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
Then it was time to explore the jungle treehouse, which was one rope bridge away from the canopy tower.
I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around having beds, and a TOILET, up a tree! Bonkers. The treehouse was surprisingly sturdy and spacious, with 2 single beds with mossie nets either side of the tree trunk, a jungle cane spout with fresh flowing water for washing, citronella splash for the bugs, and of course the portable loo, complete with privacy curtain for those all important moments of contemplation.
Dinner arrived by boat, and was then carried up the tower by our poor butler before being professionally plated up and served by candlelight. Impossibly romantic. Yet also impossibly hot. Even after a week in the rainforest we still hadn’t got used to the humidity. It was some consolation to see that Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica staff were often sweating just as much (ok, maybe not quite!) as we were, but it was nevertheless quite odd to be sitting down to a gourmet 3 course dinner in the trees whilst looking and feeling like we’d just run a marathon. Thankfully there was a mosquito net frame over the top of the tower so we weren’t bothered by too many bugs and could still watch the sunset through the tree branches.
Full of trout, quinoa and mango mousse we indulged in a bit of star gazing with Charles (who had kindly disappeared to give us some privacy over dinner), and spotted both Jupiter and Saturn from our lofty jungle perch. Then it was time for bed, and a wobbly bridge walk back to the jungle treehouse in the dark. We actually slept far better than we expected, and the temperature even dropped enough in the night for us to need our sheets.
We awoke early to the sounds of the forest, the dawn light just beginning to penetrate the canopy. After a final perch on our jungle throne we made our way back to the tower for breakfast, tucking into an impressive spread whilst watching toucans darting amongst the trees. Then it was back to the lodge along the canopy walkway, so pleasant to be there just the 3 of us, without other noisy guests to disturb the peace.
What we loved
The jungle treehouse was everything we’d hoped for, and more. We loved the privacy, the quirkiness and the closeness to nature, as well as the fact it was pretty luxurious considering we were up a tree. These sort of experiences are why we travel, but now we’re well into our 30’s we don’t like to leave comfort behind. And we didn’t have to here. Sleeping in a treehouse in the Amazon rainforest was probably our favourite experience on our entire Peru trip, and is something that will stand out amongst all our travelling adventures. If you’re heading to Tambopata then you have to do this, you won’t regret it.
Our guide Charles was a real pleasure to be with and learn from. You spend a lot of time with your guide, so it’s important that you get on. It was a bit difficult on the first day when we were all together in a group and he was understandably spread a little thinly, but after that when we had him to ourselves we got to know him better and really enjoyed his company. He had a great sense of humour and knows a lot too. It never ceases to amaze us that guides like Charles always remain genuinely excited by the daily rainforest encounters, despite having seen them thousands of times before.
What wasn’t so great
Whilst we did enjoy our time at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, there were a few frustrations that cast a bit of shadow over our experience. Most of this was down to poor communication on the part of the staff. We were informed by the reservations staff, and the Inkaterra website, that we could only take a small bag with us to the lodge and that all larger luggage needed to be stored at the main office in Puerto Maldonado. A reasonable enough request given the location of the lodge, and the boat transfer. Yet when we arrived at the dock we realised ALL the other guests were taking ALL of their big heavy luggage with them, and there was in fact plenty of room in the boats so we could easily have taken ours too. So whilst we struggled for 3 days with the same hot sweaty clothes, everyone else had the luxury of having all their belongings with them. We weren’t impressed. Also, on arrival no-one had told our guide we were staying in the treehouse for one night. It’s basic stuff, and frankly surprising that a company like Inkaterra could get this so wrong.
The itinerary timings on the last day were a bit of a shambles. Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica didn’t really leave enough time to get to the airport. We should have been there 2 hours prior to departure according to the airline, but after a compulsory visit to the rather disappointing Inkaterra butterfly house enroute to the airport, we eventually arrived a mere hour before our flight. We still had to join the long queue, repack our luggage which we’d just been reunited with (whilst standing in the queue), as well as check in, so were getting pretty stressed. It turned out that Inkaterra had already checked us in. I just wish they’d told us so we hadn’t spent the whole morning worrying. Not a great way to end the trip.
Finally, Inkaterra is deeply committed to environmental preservation and in fact a stay at Reserva Amazonica is apparently carbon neutral. All very impressive. Yet they do seem to prioritise their eco-credentials over guest comfort at times, such as turning off the fans during the hottest parts of the day when guests need it most.
Overall we had a great time at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica. Although there were several niggles that could easily have been avoided, and some members of the excursion groups really ruined parts of the the experiences for us, we reminded ourselves we’d gone there for the jungle treehouse, and that alone surpassed our expectations.
Inkaterra does cater more to tour groups of middle aged or recently retired Americans than younger independent travellers, and a stay at the lodge is definitely a soft adventure rather than intrepid expedition sort of experience. Having stayed with Rainforest Expeditions during the previous few days, the Inkaterra lodge didn’t feel remote as it’s much closer to Puerto Maldonado. It’s a great place if it’s your first jungle trip, but if you’re after a bit more adrenaline, we suggest heading deeper into Tambopata.
Given the location, Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica is certainly luxurious, but it’s more of a ‘rustic’ luxury, and if you understand that, your expectations won’t get in the way of a good time.
Tips for visiting Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica
- It’s really easy to get to…you need to fly from Lima or Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, and then it’s a 45 minute boat journey (included) to reach the lodge
- Most people just fly in and go straight to the lodge the same afternoon, but we recommend 1 night in Puerto Maldonado (try the Wasai Eco Lodge where you have the chance to see wild sloths in the gardens like we did!). There’s not much to do in town, but it reduces the risk of missing your first day at Inkaterra if your flight is delayed or cancelled.
- The Eco Centre is stocked with wellies for the rainy season so you don’t need to bring your own
- Take a water bottle with you. Although complimentary ones are available, they’re only half size and far too small for the quantity of water you need to be drinking in this heat
- Many of the guests here are retired couples, or part of larger tour groups. Just something to bear in mind if you’re hoping for full on adventure.
- Book well ahead as it is popular and room availability is often quite limited
- Take your own bug spray. We’re not convinced their citronella splash repellent really does much.