Amazon Basin, Peru
The Amazon Basin tops all world records when it comes to flora and fauna. A visit to Peru is not complete without at least one venture into the world's largest rainforest. The easiest way to explore this ocean of green is by taking a trip to Puerto Maldonado, which can be visited directly from Cusco. Another option for exploring the Amazon is Iquitos, Peru's most famous Amazon getaway.
The Peruvian Amazon Basin is part of the largest jungle in the world. The jungle spreads over some 1.7 billion acres (688 million ha) and runs through Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. The source of the Amazon River is in Peru.
All this water must come from somewhere. The real source of the Amazon River is the Mantaro River in southwestern Peru. It also rains four days out of the week on average in the Amazon, but fortunately the rain often descends in sporadic showers. This weather keeps the Amazon Basin moist and fertile, supporting the plants and wildlife that visitors come to experience.
Under the canopy, in a dense tangle of vines, ferns, shrubs, and low trees, the air here is hot and humid, with a huge variety of bats, owls, tree frogs and insects. The forest floor and rivers are home to wild animals like the cougar, jaguar, cayman and anaconda. Their habitat is protected and after decades of conserving the Amazon Basin deforestation rates are finally going down, giving these animals a new opportunity to survive.
The uppermost part of the forest is called the emergent layer. On a flyover, this layer looks like a few broccoli stalks sticking up over other trees. Many trees have trunks that are 16 feet (5 m) across and grow 200 feet (60 m) tall. These trees endure the strongest winds and highest temperatures of the forest and are home to butterflies, bats, eagles, and even some species of monkeys.
Below the emergent layer is the canopy, a dense covering of foliage some 60 to 150 feet (18 to 45 m) above the ground. Here the branches and leaves of trees spread out to form a roof that absorbs 90 percent of the incoming sunlight. Three-toed sloths, monkeys, macaws, frogs, lizards, birds, snakes, and insects live here, giving the canopy the greatest biodiversity of the forest.
Besides animals there are many indigenous tribes living in this secluded part of the world. They are separated into dozens of groups speaking distinct languages. At the time of the Spanish invasion, the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin were mostly semi-nomadic tribes who spent their days hunting, fishing, gathering. These days, they still build their own homes from wood, carve canoes, and hunt using blowpipes and poison-tipped darts.
For centuries, people native to the Amazon have been using the plants for the medicinal qualities. More recently, scientists have discovered that rainforest plants are sources of medicines that can be used to treat diseases like cancer, diabetes, arthritis, AIDS, and Alzheimer's.
Whether it's a week at a lodge in the Amazon or a few days spent exploring the trails and trees here, you won't regret traveling to this incredible region. It's one of the most unique places on the whole planet.