The Tambopata National Reserve or simply Tambopata, is home to some of the wildest and least impacted habitats in the Amazon and the world. It is on the short list of “must-see” natural destinations in Peru and South America. However, planning a tambopata trip can be confusing.
There is a lot of information on the Internet about the destination, the accommodations and the tour operators. There are also many synonyms. Tambopata is a river, a province and a national reserve. It is reached through the city of Puerto Maldonado and is directly adjacent to another great natural destination: the Bahuaja Sonene National Park. And, Tambopata shares visits with two other good destinations in the Peruvian Amazon: Manu and Iquitos.
We will help you understand it all on this page.
Most people know Tambopata for the Tambopata River and the huge Tambopata National Reserve that protects it. Tambopata is also one of the provinces of the Amazonian state of Madre de Dios. However, in this article, we will refer to Tambopata National Reserve when we say "Tambopata".
Tambopata is a Quechua word, Tambo means "structure or building", and pata means "high place". The name comes from the Tambopata River, which rises in the highlands of Puno, near Lake Titicaca, and descends towards this part of the country.
The largest city in Tambopata is Puerto Maldonado, and that is where most travelers fly to start their jungle trek. Best of all, Tambopata is right next to other rainforest reserves, including the Bahuaja Sonene National Park.
The Tambopata National Reserve is one of the true jewels that remain of the Amazon rainforest. It is a mandatory destination for Peru travelers and nature lovers from all over the world. Here, we give you some background on the reserve's history, ecology, and diversity.
The Tambopata National Reserve is 274,690 hectares (1,061 square miles) of preserved land in southeastern Peru. The reserve has many diverse habitats, including lowland Amazon rainforest, riparian forests, and horseshoe lakes. It is crossed by three rivers: the Malinowski, Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers.
Due to the protected status of the Reserve and its isolated location, it is incredibly biodiverse. The reserve is home to 1,200 species of butterflies, 169 species of mammals, around 632 species of birds, and hundreds of species of trees and plants. In fact, this reserve and the surrounding region is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
In the Tambopata National Reserve it has been recorded:
The reserve and the surrounding area also have their own cultural background. Originally home to the Ese Eja Native Community, many indigenous families still make their homes in the buffer zone of the reserve itself. Within the boundaries of the reserve, the only human settlements are a few park ranger stations and our Tambopata Research Center lodge, known as the Tambopata Research Center. The Tambopata Research Center is on the reserve because the lodge was established before the area received National Reserve status in 1996. This truly makes the Tambopata Research Center the most remote lodge in South America!
Tambopata National Reserve
Beginning in 1990, various biologists and conservationists began lobbying to protect the Tambopata area from development. They were passionate about preserving this area, because it was (and is) one of the last remaining and largest areas of pristine jungle. Specifically, Tambopata is one of the few areas that contains lowland and foothill rainforests, but also connects with cloud forests at higher elevations and humid savannahs. Furthermore, very few people lived in the more remote areas of Tambopata. Conservationists realized that the region could act as an important corridor between the Manu National Park and the Bolivian jungles. The area was also home to healthy populations of tapirs, jaguars and other cats, giant otters, harpy eagles, many types of macaws, and other animals that had disappeared from other parts of the Amazon.
At first, the area that includes the current Tambopata National Reserve and the nearby Bahuaja Sonene National Park was known as the “Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone”, as a form of previous protection. While the “reserved zone” status provided some protection to the area, it left the window open for changes in land use, so the area was still at risk. To help give the area a more permanent protected status, conservation organizations conducted further studies, which showed that protecting the region was vitally important for biodiversity and could work with local cultures. Those studies helped build a strong case for changing Tambopata's status from a “reserved zone” to a “national reserve,” a more official and permanent protection. The Tambopata National Reserve was born!
Tambopata National Reserve is huge, protecting 274,690 hectares (1,061 square miles) of pristine wilderness. To give you an idea of how big it is, it is roughly the size of the iconic Yosemite National Park in the United States. It contains a great diversity of habitats, from ancient Amazon rainforest to bamboo forests to floodplains and wetlands to Horseshoe Lake and palm swamps.
Thanks to this variety of well-preserved habitats, Tambopata is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. There are more than 1,000 species of butterflies, 100 species of mammals, 600 species of birds and hundreds of species of trees and plants. During your visit, you are likely to see monkeys, parrots and macaws, caimans, toucans and much more.
Jaguar in Tambopata
Guacamayo in Tambopata National Reserve
Monkey in Tambopata National Reserve
Tambopata is home to the Ese Eja Native Community, an indigenous nation that has lived in the rainforest region for many years. “Ese Eja” literally means people. There are three native communities of Ese Eja around the Tambopata National Reserve: Infierno (about 200 families), Palma Real (about 50 families), and Sonene (about 20 families). Rainforest Expeditions has collaborated with the Ese Eja community in Infierno for more than two decades, working together on nature and heritage preservation projects, and jointly running the Posada Amazonas lodge.
Traditionally, the Ese Eja are hunters, fishermen and farmers, although many families now also have business or tourist connections. Today, tourism and Brazil nut harvesting (a type of sustainable food production) are the two main economic activities within the Tambopata National Reserve. In the areas surrounding the reserve, the cultivation of tropical foods such as papaya, pineapple and cocoa is more common. While tourism has grown in Tambopata in recent years, the region and reserve are so large that they are never crowded, providing an intimate, deeply wild experience.
Tambopata is now one of the main tourist destinations in Peru. If you like or love nature then Tambopata is for you.
To get to the Tambopata National Reserve you must first go to Puerto Maldonado. Puerto Maldonado is the entrance to the reserve and the capital of Madre de Dios. There are daily flights to Puerto Maldonado. These flights arrive from Lima or Cuzco, at least three times a day.
Flights from Lima depart from the domestic flight terminal at Jorge Chávez airport. The trip lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes. Flights from Cusco depart from the domestic terminal at Velasco Astete airport. The trip lasts between 3.5 hours and 4.5 hours as they make a stopover in Lima before continuing to Puerto Maldonado.
*From June 1st, 2022, LATAM has 3 frequencies a week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado with a duration of 45 minutes. Take note that this varies according to the airline.*
**We do not recommend arriving or leaving Puerto Maldonado by bus, as the road is not safe**.
In Puerto Maldonado, Rainforest Expeditions and most tour companies will be waiting for you at the airport arrivals terminal. From there, hop on the bus for a quick stop at the Main Office before continuing on to the river ports. Once in the port, we will embark on boats to continue towards the lodges. The accommodations are located at a distance of 1 to 4 hours by boat from the port. Please note: the longer you go, the greater your chance of spotting wildlife.
Boat departure times are designed to accommodate incoming and outgoing flights, but you shouldn't arrive later than 3pm because then you may have to travel down the river in the dark. Boat rides are great. You will probably see capybara or alligators in the Tambopata River and with a lot of luck, a jaguar!
Tambopata is slightly seasonal. Although it can rain at any time of the year, it is driest from April to November, when the rains stop and start, respectively. The wettest months are January and February, but even then it rarely rains.
The advantages of visiting in the dry season are that there is very little chance of your activities being affected by rain.
The advantages of visiting in the rainy season is that the macaws are more active in the clay beds and are nesting. If you like macaws, come between December and February, when nesting season is in full flight.
How do you know if your accommodation is good? Is it clean? The food is good? Are the buses and boats on time? Is the staff friendly? Let visitors who have been there help you with their voice. For any questions focused on the royal service, Trip Advisor is your best option.
You probably already know this, but Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) is the world's largest travel review site. Find the destination you want to go to and take a look at the best ranked hotels. Before you begin, you should know a few things about Trip Advisor destinations and hotel ratings.
Destinations on Trip Advisor are defined by users, not by an expert. So a destination can have two different names for it. For example, refuges can be found around the Tambopata National Reserve in the destination of Puerto Maldonado and in the Tambopata section. In addition, the profiles are classified into (1) Hotels, (2) Beds and breakfasts (3) Special accommodations. Again, profiles land in one of the three categories often because a user has classified it as such. Tambopata Lodges have been classified in all three categories. Trip Advisor ratings are easy. What makes a No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 property in a destination part of the Trip Advisors secret sauce is therefore unknown to all, but clearly has to do with the number of stars in the classification. It will probably also include the number of ratings (100 ratings are stronger than 1 rating) and the timeliness of ratings (3 bad ratings in the last month could beat the 10 good ratings from last year). Who knows what else it includes? On the other hand, the ratings are straightforward: people give a hosting operator from one to five stars.
Now that you are more familiar with the Tambopata National Reserve, perhaps you would like to know how to get there from your country or how to visit during a longer trip to Peru. Learn how to get to Tambopata here, and see maps of Peru and the area here!
Tambopata is a fascinating region with its own history, culture, and ecology. Read all about Tambopata here!
Tambopata is seasonal, and has a wide variety of lodges and tours. Find our travel tips on when to go and what to see here!
Finally, Tambopata has become a main tourist destination due to its natural beauty and the incredible biodiversity of the rainforest. Discover here the fauna of Tambopata!