How we spent our time in Puerto Maldonado before heading into the Amazon!
We took the most amazing trip to Peru in April 2023, starting in Puerto Maldonado! We visited the Peruvian Amazon, Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lima, ate incredible food, relaxed, went on so many adventures, and fell in love with Peruvian culture. My hope is that this Peru Travel Diary might inspire you to go on your own adventure
Setting Off to Peru
Our first leg of the trip took us from Denver to Atlanta. We were eating lunch when we got the notification: Flight Delayed! We knew we only had an hour and 45 minutes to make our connecting flight to Lima, so, trying not to panic, we opened the app to see what was up. Seeing that our departure time was the same, we figured it was just a glitch in the app and went back to eating lunch and trying our best to cram a few Spanish words into our brains.
When we got to the gate, we figured out what was really going on. Yes, our flight was departing at the same time…but they had added almost two hours onto our flight time! It turns out, there were huge storms over Texas, so they changed our flight path for safety.
We nervously boarded the plane for our 2-hour flight turned 4 hours, refreshing the Flight Aware tracker every 5 minutes (Thanks for the free wifi, Delta!)
We landed in Atlanta, de-planed as quickly as is possible, and sprinted our way to the next gate, hoping to make it before the doors closed…only to find that our flight wasn’t even boarding yet and ended up being delayed an hour. All that running for nothing, but our next flight was incredibly uneventful and we made it to Lima safe, sound, and only 20 minutes late!
Stalling in LIM
We landed in Lima around 6am and made it through customs in just a few minutes, leaving us about 5 hours before our flight to Puerto Maldonado! Luckily, we had lounge access with (if you haven't considered the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card before...just do it!) so we snacked, napped, and drank as much coffee and fresh juice as we could handle!
Domestic travel in Peru was so simple! You’re automatically checked in to your flight and texted/ emailed a boarding pass, so we didn’t have to mess with setting alarms to check-in like we do in the US! It was a quick flight to Puerto Maldonado, and we stepped off the plane and into the hot, muggy air of the Amazon!
Puerto Maldonado is a small port town in the Amazon that is about 34 miles from Bolivia and is the entry point for most people heading to the Tambopata Reserve. This part of the Peruvian Amazon is one of the least visited portions, leaving the rainforest in pristine condition!
We arrived in Puerto Maldonado in the early afternoon, bargained with a Tuk Tuk driver, and headed to our hotel in town. We stayed the night at the Wasai Puerto Maldonado Hostel, which, despite being called a hostel, had plenty of private rooms! I never even saw where the hostel rooms might be hiding. Our room had a gorgeous view of the river, and the hotel staff was so helpful in contacting our ecolodge to coordinate a pickup time for us the next day!
After dropping our bags, we headed out to explore the city…and got absolutely lost! It’s been a bit since we traveled, so neither of us even thought to pull up Google Maps before we left.
Side note: Did you know that you can open Google Maps while you have wifi and enter your destination, and it will provide you with walking directions, even after you’ve left wifi?
We wandered around looking for somewhere to eat near the market that we hoped we’d find, passing hole-in-the-wall shops, kids running home from school, and SO. MANY. DOGS. We were in heaven, and I lost track of how many times we had to remind ourselves not to pet stray dogs!
We finally stumbled upon the restaurant we were looking for, Cevichería El Tigre, and quickly found that our Spanish was nowhere near strong enough to order! We mimed our way through the menu, pointing, shrugging, and pretty much just allowing them to bring us whatever they felt like, and ended up with the most delicious ceviche we have EVER eaten. While Peru as a whole is definitely known for their ceviche, it’s next level in the Amazon since the fish is caught fresh in the river and there are plenty of jungle fruits, vegetables, and herbs to go along with it! This plate was more than enough for the two of us, even though we were starving when we got there!
We ate our hearts out and then realized that we were just a block away from the market we were looking for. I love nothing more than a good open-air market, so my heart soared as we walked through the stalls selling fruits we’d never seen (and tons of bananas!), knock-off name-brand shoes, and so much more. The markets seem to close pretty early in Peru, so as people started packing up their stalls, we headed back toward our hotel.
We were exhausted, but happily stopped at an ice cream shop serving jungle fruit ice cream! We’d been told we had to try this, so we picked the one scoop of something that we’d never heard of, and one scoop of Passion Fruit. We sat on the sidewalk eating our ice cream and watching the constant parade of motorcycles and tuk tuks drive by, in absolute heaven.
As it was about sunset, we headed out through the main square and to the bridge that crossed the river and was said to be a beautiful sight for sunset. While the sides of the bridge were a bit high for me to see too much, it was beautiful and so surreal to watch the sun sink over the Amazon rainforest! We talked about how lucky we were to be there and how we’d dreamed of this moment for so long but never knew if it would be a reality. Travel is just magical, isn’t it?
After sunset, we headed back to town for dinner, and then back for some pisco sours in the hotel pool before bed. Though we’d only slept a few hours or so on the plane and in the lounge, we were proud of ourselves for making it all the way to 9:00, and crashed hard despite the muggy air that would usually keep us awake!
In the morning we woke to this view:
And got ready for the day. This day began my “braids only” motto, which continued through the next few days in the Amazon. There’s just no messing with that humidity!
It turns out, completely without planning, the day we were heading to the Amazon was Earth Day! As we wandered through town to find a place for breakfast, we found the police department putting together a float in honor of the day. We weren’t sure if there was a parade later, or if they were just driving it through town, but it was fun to look at!
We ended up finding a sandwich shop on the edge of a cliff with a gorgeous view of the forest and the most delicious coffee we had on our trip! I wish I had found the name, but just know it was a block or so to the left of the square (with the river behind you) and just wonderful.
After heading back to the Wasai Puerto Maldonado Hostel, we packed our bags and headed up to the lobby, where we waited to be picked up for our journey deeper into the jungle!
Puerto Maldonado Q&A
Was an afternoon and a morning enough time?
Absolutely! There’s a few zoo-type activities in the city that we never got to, but we didn’t feel like we missed out. Other than that, most of the things to do involve leaving the town for the day! You could make Puerto Maldonado your home base for time in the Amazon, but if you’re staying for more than a night, we absolutely would recommend going to stay at an ecolodge instead of staying in the city!
Was it safe?
Yes! We never once felt unsafe, even walking around at night. Just be careful crossing the streets!
Did people speak English?
The hotel staff did. Other than that, we didn’t come across anyone who knew more than a few words, if that.
Did you need cash?
We pulled out some cash at the Lima airport using an ATM, and ended up using cash about half the time in Puerto Maldonado. Most of the more established restaurants used Visa, but not all.
Did you feel safe eating the street food/food from hole-in-the-wall places and ice cream?
We always check around a stall first to see if it feels safe to eat! (It's usually pretty obvious if it's not!) We try to stay away from fruits and veggies that have to be washed, like lettuce, since the water isn't safe to drink in Peru. Other than that, we pop a Travelan before we eat and had no problems at all! We learned about these from a friend who travels a ton, and man are they are a lifesaver! Just take one tablet with each meal that you're nervous about. We didn't get sick from any food our entire trip!
Would you recommend visiting?
If you’re planning on heading out to the Amazon, I would definitely recommend spending a bit of time in the city first! Most the ecolodges will pick you up from the airport, but we loved getting a bit of time to explore an authentic town on our own first. Plus, it maximized our first day in the jungle as we were able to be picked up for transfer at 9:00 am the next day instead of around 2:00 pm after our flight had landed.
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