Tambopata es un río, una reserva nacional y una provincia en el estado de Madre de Dios, en el sureste de Perú. Alberga algunos de los bosques más ricos en biodiversidad del país (y posiblemente toda la cuenca del Tambopata), enormes áreas protegidas, y alberga a varios miles de personas. Salvaje, pero aún de fácil acceso, esta combinación contrastante lo ha ayudado a convertirse en uno de los puntos calientes globales para el ecoturismo.

Al final de un vuelo rápido a Tambopata desde Lima o Cuzco, una extensa alfombra de verde jade entra en la vista y se extiende hasta el horizonte. Hay algunas fincas, un par de caminos, y la ciudad de Puerto Maldonado, pero éstas todavía están empequeñecidas por el mar de la selva amazónica que avanza en la distancia. Los ríos serpenteantes, color café, tejen su camino a través del verde. Ceibas y otros gigantes de la selva emergen de un pabellón de 90 pies de altura. Oculto bajo los árboles hay tropas de monos, tucanes, guacamayos de colores brillantes e incluso jaguares. Nunca se sabe lo que se va a encontrar en las selvas tropicales de Tambopata, pero que la vista desde el avión promete aventura y una experiencia única en la vida.

A Brief History of Tambopata

“Tambopata” is derived from two Quechua words that mean “inn” or “place of accommodation” (tambo) and “high point” (pata). The reason why the rather flat, lowland rainforests  received this name is not forthcoming but may reflect Andean foothill areas of Tambopata that were visited by Incan peoples. Despite its Quechua name, the region wasn’t really used by the Incans for much of their history.  was first settled thousands of years ago by indigenous, Amazonian ethnies such as the Ese’Eja. Living in small villages, they cultivated yuca and hunted in the surrounding forests. The plants of the rainforests also provided them with building materials and a wide variety of medicine.

During the Spanish colonial period, access to the Tambopata region was so difficult that it was largely ignored and left to its own devices. This changed at the beginning of the twentieth century during the Peruvian rubber boom. As people from outside the region searched Tambopata and many other areas in southeastern Peru for rubber trees, they frequently came into conflict with indigenous groups. Many locals were enslaved and perished from diseases brought by the new colonists. Although the rubber boom didn’t last that long, it made a big impact on indigenous groups of the Tambopata region and their populations declined as a result.

Tambopata, Peru in modern times

Decades later, colonists to Tambopata began to arrive from the highlands in search of a better life and gold that had been found in the rivers. Shortly thereafter, the first eco-lodge was built in the area and tourists slowly began to make their way to Tambopata. As word spread about the amazing diversity of the Tambopata region, it grew in popularity as a destination and became one of the most popular sites to visit in Peru after the year 2000.

Tambopata continues to be a destination of choice for thousands of people experiencing Peru. Increasing numbers of colonists and pressure on the rainforests from mining and a new road linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have been challenges to conservation, but large protected areas and the importance of ecotourism help to buffer these threats.

The Tambopata National Reserve

The first protected area in Tambopata was the Tambopata Reserved Zone. Established in 1977, it encompassed over 5,000 hectares of lowland rainforest and palm swamps near Explorer’s Inn. In 1990, this protected zone was expanded to include the watersheds of the Tambopata and Candamo Rivers and thus grew in size to a massive 271,000 hectares. Shortly thereafter, the name of this protected area was also changed to the Tambopata National Reserve. Combined with the adjacent Bahuaja Sonene National Park and the Madidi National Park in Bolivia, these sister reserves protect a scarcely inhabited tropical rain forest the size of Belgium (over 3,000,000 hectares or 30,000 square kilometers)

Tambopata rainforests = biodiversity hotspot

Situated on the southern side of the Tambopata River, this huge area of beautiful lowland rainforests harbors an equally impressive array of biodiversity. The numbers of species that make their homes in these rainforests demonstrates why the  region is often referred to as the most biodiverse place on Earth. It harbors:

More than 10,000 species of plants.

Over 600 species of birds.

200 species of mammals.

More than 1,000 butterfly species!

Literally thousands of species of insects.

Well over 100 species of amphibians and reptiles.

Guests of the Rainforest Expeditions lodges get the chance to experience this biodiversity because lodges such as Refugio Amazonas and Posada Amazonas are located adjacent to the National Reserve. The wild nature of the  National Reserve is further protected by the presence of the one million hectare Bahuaja Sonene National Park that abuts the reserve to the south. This is also where the Research Center is located.

Wildlife in the  National Reserve

The combination of these huge protected areas makes it possible for Rainforest Expeditions guests to encounter fantastic wildlife,  such as:

  • Macaws: 6 species of these large, colorful parrots make their home in Tambopata. Many are common and easy to see as they visit clay licks and fly over the rainforest.
  • Parrots: 20 species of parrots and parakeets screech from the canopy of the forest and are a common feature of every  adventure.
  • Toucans: 8 species of exotic-looking toucans inhabit the rainforests of Tambopata and are often sighted from canopy towers and on excursions to oxbow lakes.
  • White-lipped Peccaries: Difficult to see in other areas of the Amazon that have been impacted by people, herds of this large rainforest pig species are regularly encountered in the  National Reserve.
  • Caimans: Both Black and Spectacled Caimans are frequently seen along the river and at oxbow lakes.
  • Giant Otters: Giant Otters: This large, interesting, aquatic mammal is often seen on visits to oxbow lakes in Tambopata. An endangered species, it has disappeared from many other parts of its range.
  • Monkeys: 8 species of monkeys reside in the jungles of Tambopata. The gentle Dusky Titi Monkey, the bizarre Night Monkey, Red Howler Monkeys, Saddleback Tamarins, and large troops of Brown Capuchins and Squirrel Monkeys are regularly sighted on rainforest hikes.
  • Jaguars: Seen by a rather small percentage of guests, this big, shy cat is nonetheless still sighted more often by people visiting the Tambopata Research Center than in many other parts of its range.