A trip into the part of the Amazon that's known as the Biodiversity Capital of Peru is about as magical as you would imagine it to be.
TAMBOPATA NATIONAL RESERVE, Peru – The adventure began in a garden decorated with rare butterflies, a welcome area close to the small airport where we were to await passage down the Amazon.
Butterflies whose wings looked like Art Deco masterpieces fluttered beautifully. Others resting amid the foliage near the narrow boat docked alongside us. We motored silently through gray waters, the green muddy banks hiding crocodiles and panthers. The engine cut, and we drifted for a while.
I looked at the faces of my fellow passengers. A young lawyer tapped on her Blackberry. "I love your gold sneakers," she said. "Perfect jungle gear."
About an hour downstream on the Madre de Dios River, we were greeted by guides in khaki outfits. Hot chocolate was served in a pavilion where we were introduced to the wilderness that surrounded us. Specimens sat lifeless in glass cases. Tarantulas hiding in the trees outside were illuminated by bright torches. We made our way in the dusk, clambering across stepping stones through the grass to the huts dotted along the river bank.
It was the time of day when electricity is shut off for a few hours at Reserva Amazónica, the eco lodge that also serves as a research center for Inkaterra, the pioneering Peruvian eco-tourism company founded by Jose Koechlin, an entrepreneur who claimed this part of the rain forest in the 1970s when there was nothing here. Mr. Koechlin expected to find thousands of hidden tribes. He found nothing but scores of new species which have been uncovered throughout years of research.
Today the accommodation is much more luxurious than it was back then. It was easily the most romantic place I have ever stayed.
I climbed a handful of steps into my home for a few nights, a beautiful hut half protected by wooden walls and half laid bare to nature with netting for cover. A rocking chair beckoned up front. Two small beds were covered in simple white linen and mosquito nets. The shower was surrounded by a natural wooden cubicle. Such a simple and warm interior with sweet touches like bottles of citronella repellent for mosquitoes and tissues tied in natural bundles with a piece of string.
I watched the river with a lamp lighting the interior, then wandered to the main building, a vast wooden pavilion where freshly picked tea was served in a handmade bag that rested in the water by way of a stick the size of a toothpick.
Around a small table eating plantains and other local dishes were relative strangers brought together by adventure. We exchanged long-buried stories about our childhoods in Mexico, England, America, Denmark.
Except for the twitches of nature, the camp was near silent before bedtime. I slept the sleep of the dead and awoke the next morning ready for more.
We walked through the rain forest with guides pointing out medicinal herbs and rare plants, sticking close together in the damp forest, ever watchful. After lunch, we took a tour on a boat and learned about remedies and saw the local birds that are believed to cure certain ailments perched around the lake in the trees.
Walking back to base camp, the guides listened to the sounds of nature filling the skies. They knew which birds were circling up above. A tour by night took us back down the river hunting for wild, white crocodile-like creatures, our faces peering over the side of the boat into the dark water.
We took a boat the next morning to a new camp and were greeted with tales of recent panther sightings. The wilderness for us remained a breathtaking backdrop. We felt like pioneers.
When I think back to the lodge in the jungle, the beautiful hut, the ghostly environment far from the hustle and bustle of the world, it would be hard to think of a more romantic spot. I dream of my return.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
FLY: You'll take three planes to get to Reserva Amazónica, which is located alongside the Tambopata National Reserve. This part of southern Peru is known as the Biodiversity Capital of Peru. You'll fly first to Lima, then to Cusco, the Colonial city that is also the gateway for trips to Machu Picchu, and then to Puerto Maldonado. From there, it's a 45-minute boat ride along the Madre de Dios River to the lodge.
1. Pack wellies and rain gear, insect repellent, and casual clothes that can be easily layered. You can get the chocolate in Peru.
2. They don't have a gym, so bring your own yoga mat if you want to brag to friends back home that you did downward dog on the Amazon.
3. Bag as many citronella oil kits and tissues and toileteries as you can. They are so beautifully done.
4. Do not swim. Do not touch the tarantulas without supervision.
5. Bring the love of your life and hole up in one of the huts for as long as possible, if not forever.