PERUVIAN AMAZON – Iquitos & Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve

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May 27, 2020 | by

Our journey into Amazonia begins, officially, back in Lima, Peru. We visit this part of the world in February/March each year, flying into Lima and often enjoying a day trip to Lomas de Lachay. You can read our intro to the Peruvian Amazon region, and learn details about that day trip, HERE.

Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve – photo by Sally Ingraham

Today I want to share some other interesting locations that we encounter on our way to the Amazon River.

Iquitos & Nauta

Arrival in Iquitos – photo by Mark Amershek

Iquitos – the “Gateway to the Amazon” – is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road. It is only accessible by air or boat. We fly from Lima to Iquitos to begin our trek to the Amazon River.

Iquitos is a fascinating place with a long history, located on the Amazon about 2,500 miles upriver from the Atlantic (and 628 miles northwest of Lima).

We spend little time in the city (although we usually pick up some new trip birds around the airport and as we board the bus, including Gray-breasted Martin!) We travel from there to Nauta, where our riverboat awaits us.

Waiting tricycle taxis in Nauta (the main means of transportation off-river in the region) – photo by Sally Ingraham

Nauta is connected to Iquitos by the only road in the region. This roughly 60 mile journey takes at least 2 hours to complete, as the motorized tricycle traffic, hills, and curves make navigation tricky.

Nauta lies on the bank of the Rio Marañón, just a few miles up from where the Marañón meets the Ucayali River and forms the Amazon.

The town was established in 1830 by Manuel Pacaya-Samiria, a leader of the Kokáma peoples. Nauta is the commercial hub of the Peruvian selva baja (the Amazonian lowlands) and the departure point for many riverboat cruises – including ours!

Between Iquitos and Nauta lies the Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve, and we usually stop here to eat breakfast and take a hike in the rainforest.

Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve

Two of our group in February 2020 in the white sand forest – photo by Sally Ingraham

The reserve lies 16 miles from Iquitos, and it protects a particularly rare type of rainforest. These ancient white quartz sand forests are home to extremely high levels of biodiversity, even in comparison to more “typical” Amazon Rainforest.

The Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve contains 500 varieties of trees per 2.5 acres, 1,900 flora species, and 475 bird species. Many creatures and plants adapted to the white sand forest ecosystem are extremely restricted in range, leading to lots of endemism.

The reserve has been called a “laboratory of evolution” and new species of plants, insects, and other organisms continue to be discovered there. 

We usually spend a few hours exploring just a corner of the reserve (which covers 142,272 acres), studying lichens and ferns and butterflies, and getting down on hands and knees to meet tiny Leaf Frogs.

We will find Dusky-headed and Cobalt-winged Parakeets, and Swallow-winged Puffbird here. The Yellow-billed Nunbird we will only see here in the reserve, as well as Russet-backed Oropendola (other nunbirds and oropendola await us along the river!) We might see Gilded Barbet, and Masked Tityra, and the gorgeous Yellow-tufted Woodpecker.

Dusky-headed Parakeets; Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl; leaf frog; Double-toothed Kite; mystery insect – photos by Sally Ingraham

There were Double-toothed Kite there when we visited in February 2020, and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. Chestnut-eared Aracari revealed themselves to some, while others caught a glimpse of Black-faced Antbird.

Black-faced Antbird – photo by Sally Ingraham


Like the rest of the Amazon rainforest, there is an inexhaustible amount of flora and fauna to discover in Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve – especially if you check it out from all angles…! This is our first chance to really explore, and for most people it is a humbling and exciting experience.

And after visiting the reserve we’re always grateful that there is time for a nap on the bus before we reach Nauta!

We always stop in Nauta to pick up school supplies and soccer balls (gifts for kids we might encounter in our continuing adventures). Then we make our way at last to a pair of motorized skiffs, and set out across the Rio Marañón to our riverboat. The rest of our Amazon adventure awaits!

La Perla, our riverboat home, on the Rio Marañón – photo by Sally Ingraham