Tasting the Carretera Interocéanica?
Cuzco-based adventure biking outfit, Tasting the Road, specialize in two things: running exciting Peruvian pedal-athons, and combining these with flavorsome forays to discover the local cuisine. They offer an eight-day bike tour along the Carr Interocéanica between Cuzco and Puerto Maldonado, capped off by a stay in a jungle lodge. An adrenalin-pumping cycle between the Andes and the Amazon: almost 500km of it!
Besides the plethora of basic budget places, you can also choose from pleasant backpacker accommodations or comfortable hotels/lodges in the city itself. Note that not all lodges have reservations offices in Puerto Maldonado; some only have offices in Cuzco, Lima or the USA.
Outside Puerto Maldonado there are around 30 jungle lodges.
Regional specialties include juanes (banana leaves stuffed with chicken or pork and rice), chilcano (a broth of fish chunks flavored with cilantro) and parrillada de la selva (barbecued marinated meat, in a Brazil-nut sauce). Plátano (plantain) is served as an accompaniment to many meals.
Other culinary options are Wasai Lodge's restaurant, El Faro, or delicious Thai food at Anaconda Lodge.
Drinking & Nightlife
The city’s nightlife, while nothing beside Lima or Cuzco, is some of the Amazon’s liveliest. Discos mostly just have recorded music, but bars and clubs pound away until the early hours of a weekend.
Proximity to local tribes means many lodges around town, such as Posadas Amazonas on the Río Tambopata, are better for purchasing local handicrafts than the town itself.
Most visitors arrive with prearranged tours and stay at a jungle lodge − convenient, but by no means the only possibility. You can also arrange a tour upon arrival by going to the lodge offices in town, where you'll likely get a significant discount on a tour that would cost more in Lima or Cuzco.
You can, too, look for an independent guide. However, to enter the Reserva Nacional Tambopata (including Lago Sandoval, and anywhere upriver of Puesto Control El Torre on the Río Tambopata) all guides need licenses which are only issued if they are affiliated with a lodge or registered tour operator (this is an important thing to check). Choosing an independent guide not working for a lodge/tour operator also gives you way less recourse in the event of a disastrous trip.
With independent guides, choosing one can be a lottery. They’ll offer you tours for less, yet stories of bad independent guided trips are common. Beware of guides at the airport, who often take you to a ‘recommended’ hotel (and collect a commission), then hound you throughout your stay. Shop around, don’t prepay for any tour and, if paying an advance deposit, insist on a signed receipt. If you agree to a boat driver’s price, make sure it includes the return trip, and if quoted prices are all-inclusive or exclusive of national park entrance fees.
Almost all of the best guides with official licenses granted by the Ministerio de Industria y Turismo work full-time for one of the area's jungle lodges. Guides charge from S120 to S200 per person per day, depending on the destination and number of people. Going with more people reduces the cost; in fact, some guides will only take tours with a three-person minimum.
Most tours, either with a lodge or with an independent guide, leave from the Río Madre de Dios ferry dock, heading downriver on the Río Madre de Dios or upriver on the Río Tambopata (meaning a large expense on a jungle trip is the fuel the boat will expend).
Some lodges/independent guides now cut hours off a Río Tambopata river trip by heading to the community of Alto Tambopata Filadelfia (45 minutes on the Carr Interocéanica towards Cuzco, then an hour down a rough track).
Throughout your travel in the Peruvian Amazon, you will come across numerous places offering the chance to partake of ayahuasca. This is the derivative of a hallucinogenic jungle vine, used to attain a purgative trancelike state by shamans (witch doctors) for centuries and now very popular with Westerners. Ayahuasca is invariably taken as part of a ceremony that can last anything from hours to days, depending upon who is conducting the rituals.
Be wary of taking ayahuasca: it can have serious side effects, including severe dehydration, convulsions, dramatic rises in blood pressure and – if taken regularly – blindness. If mixed with the wrong substances, it has even been known to be fatal. Also, for the purists, know that some places mix LSD in with the ayahuasca to intensify the 'trip'.
Be sure, too, to do research into the type of ceremony you’re signing up for. Among some shamans offering a genuine ritualistic experience (although even so the aforementioned health risks still apply), there are charlatans out there who have also been known to rob and on occasion rape unsuspecting gringos under the influence. And such cases are reported on a yearly basis.
Lonely Planet does not recommend taking ayahuasca and those who wish to do so, do so at their own risk.
If you are convinced an ayahuasca ceremony is nevertheless for you, remember that doing so properly involves a necessary dietary adjustment beforehand. Read up about it too: resources such as Ayaadvisors can provide helpful feedback on the places that offer ayahuasca to tourists. Regarding where to do it, as well as a number of independently operating shamans, the majority of jungle lodges offer ayahuasca ceremonies – and in the last few years many dedicated ayahuasca retreats have sprung up.