The Amazon, the rainforest, the selva, the jungle, the green hell (el infierno verde): all attempt to name this huge, vibrant swathe of Peru. Whether you explore it up close, from the ground or a boat, or fly over it in a plane, the Peruvian jungle seems endless. Well over half of the country is covered by dense tropical rainforest, and this jungle region, sharing the western edge of the Amazon with Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil, forms part of what is probably the most biodiverse region on Earth.
Jaguars, anteaters and tapirs still roam the forests, huge anacondas lurk in the swamps, toothy caimans sunbathe along riverbanks, and trees rise like giants from the forest floor. Many indigenous tribes still live scattered throughout the Peruvian section of the Amazon, surviving primarily by hunting and fishing.
The jungle of southeastern Peru is plentifully supplied with lodges, guides, boats and flights. Cusco is arguably the best departure point for trips into the southern selva, with air and road access to the frontier town of Puerto Maldonado – a great base for visiting the nearby forests ofMadre de Dios, which boast the Reserva Nacional Tambopata and the Parque Nacional Bahuaja-Sonene, an enormous tract of virgin rainforest close to the Bolivian border. Many naturalists believe that this region is the most biodiverse on Earth, and thus the best place to head for wildlife. Reachable overland from Cusco, the Manu Biosphere Reserve and National Park runs from cloud forest on the slopes of the Andes down to relative lowland forest. For a quicker and cheaper taste of the jungle, you can travel by bus from Cusco via Ollantaytambo to Quillabamba, on the Río Urubamba, which flows north along the foot of the Andes, through the dangerous but unforgettable whitewater rapids of the Pongo de Mainique.
North of here lies Pucallpa, a rapidly growing, industrialized jungle town in the central selva, best reached by scheduled flights or the largely paved road from Lima. Another sector of this stunning central jungle region – Chanchamayo – is only eight to twelve hours by road from Lima, and is blessed with crystalline rivers, numerous protected areas for birdwatching, and good road links. Winding fast but precariously down from the Andean heights of Tarma, the Carretera Central is now paved all the way to Satipo, a jungle frontier town, relatively close to the Río Ene. En route, the road passes through the cloud forest via La Merced, from where there are buses to quasi-European Oxapampa and the fascinating Tyrolean settlement of Pozuzo.
The main access point to the northern selva is the city of Iquitos, at the heart of the largest chunk of lowland jungle with no road connections to the outside world, just riverboat and plane. The northern selva can also be reached from the northern Peruvian coast via an increasingly popular but still adventurous route that takes the Río Huallaga from Yurimaguas, a three- to four-day boat journey that can be broken by a visit to the immense Reserva Nacional Pacaya Samiria at the heart of the upper Amazon, a little-visited wildlife haven. The northern selva is also the most organized and established of the Peruvian Amazon’s tourist destinations, with many reputable companies offering a range of jungle visits, from luxury lodges and cruises to no-frills survival expeditions.