Outside the few main towns of the Peruvian jungle, there are few sizeable settlements, and the population remains dominated by about fifty indigenous tribes. For most, the jungle offers a semi-nomadic existence, and in terms of material possessions, they have, need and want very little. Communities are scattered, with groups of between ten and two hundred people, and their sites shift every few years. For subsistence they depend on small, cultivated plots, fish from the rivers and game from the forest, including wild pigs, deer, monkeys and a great range of edible birds. The main species of edible jungle fish are sabalo or doncella (oversized catfish), carachama (an armoured walking catfish), the feisty piranha (generally not quite as dangerous as Hollywood depicts) and the giant zungaro and paiche – the latter, at up to 200kg, being the world’s largest freshwater fish. In fact, food is so abundant that jungle-dwellers generally spend no more than three to four days a week engaged in subsistence activities, which, as some anthropologists like to point out, makes them “relatively affluent”.

After centuries of external influence (missionaries, gold-seekers, rubber barons, cash-crop colonists, cocaine smugglers, soldiers, oil companies, illegal loggers, documentary makers, anthropologists and now tourists), many jungle Indians speak Spanish and live fairly conventional, westernized lives, preferring shorts, football shirts and fizzy drinks to their more traditional clothing and manioc beer. While many are being sucked into the money-based labour market, however, others, increasingly under threat, have struggled for cultural integrity and territorial rights; some – voluntarily isolated or uncontacted – have retreated as far as they are able beyond the world’s enclosing frontier. Today they are struggling as their traditional and last remaining hunting grounds are infiltrated by oil companies and loggers.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Peru features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
20 pictures of Peru that will put the country on your bucket list

20 pictures of Peru that will put the country on your bucket list

Peru is has long been a favourite destination on the South America backpacker trail, but there's more to tempt you here than the oft-photographed llamas and …

05 Aug 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

South America has become a favoured destination for the intrepid backpacker, and while it’s impressive in the astounding diversity of its nations, there are a…

02 Mar 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month