At only ten kilometers from Puerto Maldonado, or a one and half hour hike, you find Lake Sandoval, bordered by aguajales (swampy areas full of palm trees), orchids, kapok trees, caoba trees, and Mauritanian palm trees that grow up to thirty meters tall. The lake is also the home for a large variety of species such as toucans, macaws, parrots, egrets, tapirs, turtles, and the refuge for river otters and black caimans, two species on the brink of extinction. In the areas around Lake Valencia, 60 kilometers from Puerto Maldonado by the Madre de Dios River, there are several indigenous communities where the people make their living from fishing for tiger shovelnose catfish, gilded catfish, and paiche; this area is the habitat for plenty of flora and fauna, too.
Day 1: Puerto Maldonado to Lake Sandoval.
Our staff welcome you at Puerto Maldonado airport and we drive through this bustling Upper Amazon Basin city to the Tambopata River boat dock. Here we board a powerful motorized dugout canoe and set off to the nearby confluence of the mighty Madre de Dios River, a headwaters tributary of the Amazon. Here we turn downstream for a 25-minute river trip to the trailhead landing at Lake Sandoval.
Stopping as we go to spot birds and butterflies, we walk – or take a rickshaw ride – along the 3km/2 mile trail to the narrow boat channel through flooded palm forest that leads to the open waters of this peaceful lake. As our crew paddle us across to the lodge (motors are prohibited here), we may see the lake’s surface boken by a massive Paiche – an Amazon fish that can reach 100kg/220lbs. Or perhaps we will hear the strange and haunting calls, and see the heads bobbing above the lake’s surface, that will signal our first acquaintance with Pteronura brasiliensis, the Amazonian Giant Otter.
After lunch and a brief rest to avoid the early afternoon heat, we once again set off by boat or catamaran to explore the entire west end of the lake. Here, along the fringes of flooded palm forest we drift to the sounds of hundreds of Red-Bellied and Blue-and-yellow Macaws as they return to the palm forest for the night. Our viewpoint from the canoe often allows closer and more extended encounters with birds and mammals than on a typical forest trail hike, and we may witness intimate feeding and mating behavior. On Lake Sandoval monkeys, in particular, have almost lost their fear of humans.
We return to the lodge around nightfall for dinner. After dinner we take to the boats once more, in search of black caimans, which today are extremely rare in the Amazon, but still common in this protected lake. They grow up to 4m in length, and compete with the Giant Otters for their share of the fishing. On clear nights we take our boat further out into the lake to get an unimpeded view of the vast southern sky, with its unfamiliar constellations and superb vistas of the Milky Way.
Day 2: Lake Sandoval.
A pre-dawn wake-up call will allow us to be on the lake for what is often a spectacular sunrise, and hopefully an encounter with the Giant Otters, which patrol the entire lake in a close-knit family pack, and are most active at this hour of the day. Most of the lake’s birdlife is extremely active now, too, and this outing should provide views of numerous species of fish-eating birds as they stalk and catch their prey, along with close-up views of the large, clumsy and primitive leaf-eating Hoatzins.
After returning for a late breakfast we set off on a trail walk through the cool understory of the mighty primary rainforest that surrounds the lake. We will see the great Brazil-nut trees that are abundant here, and meet a local family – the only people permitted to live here permanently and harvest the natural bounty of Lake Sandoval. They will show us how they collect the nuts, remove their shells and market this important forest product.
After dinner we will have another chance to spot caiman on the lake, or perhaps take a night trail walk in search of the numerous creatures, including frogs, toads, owls, nighthawks, spiders and night monkeys, that make the forest such a busy and different place during the night.
Day 3: Lake Sandoval to Puerto Maldonado.
After a dawn breakfast we take a final, short paddle along the palm swamps of the west end of the lake in search of the resident Giant Otter family. From here, on clear mornings, we will see a glorious sunrise and its reflection in the open waters of the lake. Returning once more down the trail to the Madre de Dios River, we return to Puerto Maldonado to catch the flight to Cusco or Lima.
Note: Flights can be arranged, but must be requested at time of booking.
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