In my dreams I’d been to the Amazon. It was a steamy world of luxuriant foliage, beady-eyed monkeys, jewel-bright birds and improbably large insects: a place where anything could happen – and frequently did. I had such high expectations that I wondered whether the reality would disappoint. I needn’t have worried. Within minutes of arriving in the Peruvian rainforest, I saw a crimson hummingbird dart from a flower, had to duck as a flock of parakeets swooped over my head, and watched as an agouti – a sort of giant guinea pig - cracked a Brazil nut between its teeth.
I was staying at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica; a tropical lodge on the banks of the Madre de Dios River, a tributary of the mighty Amazon. It’s a 40 minute boat ride from the busy town of Puerto Maldonado and a great place for watching wildlife. Even on the way there we saw a caiman (a type of crocodile) basking near the shore and an emerald cloud of parakeets clinging to a muddy salt-lick beside the water. There are 35 comfortable wooden cabins (cabañas) with palm roofs and tiled showers, set in a clearing beside a central lodge/restaurant. It’s the jungle without discomfort. For many people, Peru is solely characterised by Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, but it’s also a superb destination for nature lovers, as the people at Inkaterra realised back in the 1970s when they pioneered eco-aware holidays here. The dense rainforest that etches the north and east of the country is home to an immense variety of plants and animals, ranging from the elusive jaguar to the malevolent sounding strangler fig. The bird life is extraordinary – around 18.5% of all the world’s bird species occur in Peru. Almost 400 of those species have been found in the pristine expanse of rainforest that Inkaterra lease from the Peruvian government – and consequently protect from major development. They regularly invite biologists to stay, in order to identify and monitor