The huge RESERVA NACIONAL PACAYA-SAMIRIA comprises around two million hectares of virgin rainforest (about 1.5 percent of the total landmass of Peru) leading up to the confluence between the ríos Marañón and the Huallaga, two of the largest Amazon headwaters and possessing between them the largest protected area of seasonally flooded jungle in the Peruvian Amazon.

Most people visit the Pacaya-Samiria for half a day as part of a tour package from Iquitos, but Lagunas is a good place to find a local guide and do a relatively indepenent safari, if you can afford it (expect to pay at least $75 a day without lodge accommodation). If you visit the park independently, allow a week or two for travel, and unavoidable hitches and delays en route. You will still need a local guide and a boat; the best bet to find these is to scout around the ports of Iquitos, Nauta or Lagunas. The reserve office in Iquitos provides maps and information on the region. You should come well prepared with mosquito nets, hammocks, insect repellent, and all the necessary food and medicines.

The reserve is a swampland during the rainy season (Dec–March), when the streams and rivers rise, and the rainforest becomes comparable to the Reserva Nacional Tambopata in southeastern Peru or the Pantanal swamps of southwestern Brazil in its astonishing density of visible wildlife. It is fine to visit in the dry season, but there are more insects, you’ll see less wildlife, and the creeks and lakes are smaller.

This region is home to the Cocoma tribe whose main settlement is Tipishca, where the native community are now directly involved in ecotourism. They can be hired as guides and will provide rustic accommodation, but can only be contacted by asking on arrival. Visitors should be aware that around 100,000 people, mostly indigenous communities, still live in the reserve’s forest; they are the local residents and their territory and customs should be respected. These tribal communities are also a source of detailed information on the sustainable management of river turtles: in recent years some of the communities have been collaborating on conservation projects.

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