Deep in the Peruvian Amazon is the city of Iquitos, the capital of the huge Loreto district in northeastern Peru. Despite a relatively well developed city center, the remnant of a brief period of expansion during the rubber boom of the late 19th century, Iquitos remains the largest city in the world unreachable by road.
The wildlife living in the surrounding jungle has benefited from this remoteness and the Amazon rainforest has one of the most diverse selection of birds on the planet; with over 800 different species, including recently discovered and endemic breeds. From Iquitos there are several ways to explore this area and the inhabiting avian wildlife.
The city center of Iquitos has plenty to interest birding enthusiasts. The large silhouettes of black vultures often loom overhead, while greater yellow headed vultures and turkey vultures, as well as flocks of colorful parakeets, are also regularly seen in the inner city. Between the months of October and April, from the vantage point of the Iquitos Boulevard, ospreys can be seen plunging into the Itaya River opposite. However, for the best birdwatching spots, it’s necessary to venture into the rainforest itself.
A good jungle lodge is a comfortable location from which to experience the rainforest. Lodges generally come with clean rooms and beds fitted with mosquito nets, as well as providing food and showers, although hot water is usually not available. In general, the more remote a lodge is, the better it is for birdwatching. On a quiet walk around a lodge, you can encounter quite a few interesting birds, like the scarlet macaw, a bird indigenous to the American tropics, as well as caracaras and hummingbirds.
The best way to book is online, where you can check recommended lodges at your leisure. However, when booking in Iquitos, you can find a list of approved lodges at an iPeru office (iPeru is the Peruvian government’s official tourist information service.)
There are two iPeru offices in Iquitos, one in Calle Napo 161, Office 4, close to the main square, and another in the city’s airport, the Coronel FAP Francisco Secada Vignetta International Airport. If you find a lodge you like the sound of, it’s important to contact a company directly in their office, rather through an intermediary on the street, who could be an impostor.
To get to a jungle lodge, you can either arrange to be picked up from the airport, or, if you’re already in Iquitos, or from the riverside, where you’ll be taken along the Amazon to your accommodation.
To take a boat along the river costs around $45 per person, per day, with a driver included in the price. On a general ride up the river you can see a wide variety of river bank dwelling birds, including herons, egrets and the unusual looking horned screamer, whose white, feather horn can be observed at close range, or at a distance with a good pair of binoculars. One of the few ibis in the region, the green ibis, also often frequents the forest wetlands.
A guided birdwatching tour along the Amazon River provides the opportunity to get into the deeper regions of the Peruvian Amazon region and visit one of Loreto’s extraordinary wildlife reserves. Companies offer anything from day trips to week long tours. Again, the iPeru offices have details of the most reputable companies to go with.
The Allpahuayo Mishana Reserve, which covers 142,272 acres, is a 90 minute, 12-and-a-half mile boat ride from Iquitos, and is the only place on earth where the newly discovered Iquitos gnatcatcher is known to inhabit.
Another three and half hours down the river is the flooded forest of Pacaya Samiria, an enormous reserve covering 5,139,680 acres. The reserve is home to and protects many threatened species, including the harpy eagle, the largest eagle in the western hemisphere, as well as the ancient ant wren. Accommodation is available at the reserve.