Day l: Flight to Puerto Maldonado, and journey to the lodge. Following your early morning flight to Puerto Maldonado from Lima or Cusco, you will be met at the airport by your naturalist guide and transferred to a dugout canoe for the trip up the Tambopata River to the lodge. On the journey the vegetation changes from colonized deforested areas to virgin rain forest. A box-lunch is provided on board. On arrival you'll have a welcome drink and meet the rest of the staff. In the late afternoon you set off for an introductory walk into the "terra firme" forest behind the lodge (Trail 2), dominated by giant Brazil-nut and Dipteryx trees. Frequently seen mammals on this trail are Saddle-back Tamarins, Brown Capuchins, Agoutis, Pacas, Blue-Morpho butterflies, Trogons, Toucans and many other species of birds. After dinner a night walk to find nocturnal animals or insects by the eye-shine a specialization for increasing the light and see better, about 50% of the animals are nocturnal in the rainforest. (L,D)
Day 2: Trip to the Macaw Clay-lick (Collpa). After breakfast you return to the canoe to continue the journey upstream, a further 4 hrs, to an area deep within the National Reserve where the isolated Collpa is situated. The Collpa is actually one of the large clay cliffs lining the Tambopata River in this area. After lunch you and your guide have the afternoon to explore the trail system in the area. Camping on the beach near the Collpa. (B,L,D)
Day 3: Full day at Collpa and explore the forest trails. A pre-dawn start is needed to get to the clay-lick before the birds. They arrive in search of minerals and salts and the digestive properties of the clay particles themselves. On average several hundred Macaws and smaller parrots visit the clay-lick daily, including Scarlet, Blue and Yellow, Red and Green, Chestnut-fronted and Blue-headed parrots, among others. This clay-lick is considered one of the largest in the world. Following a late morning hike in the trail system in search of some of the nine species of monkeys present in the area, including Spider monkeys, Squirrel monkeys and Dusky titi monkeys as well as the elusive large mammals like Tapir, White-lipped peccaries and Jaguar. After lunch a rest time taking a trip up river to explore a clear forest stream where you can take a bath. Camping on the beach near the Collpa. (B,L,D).
Day 4: Visit the Collpa, return to Libertador Tambopata Lodge and hike to a Oxbow - lake. A second opportunity to witness the wonders at the lick. You will return to the Libertador Tambopata Lodge in the early afternoon in time for lunch. After lunch you will hike to the Condenado Oxbow – Lake, where you will see a special kind of ecosystem created in hundred of years for the chance of the river source, rich in bird and aquatic life. A family of Giant Otters live in the vicinity of the lake and are often observed. Birds abound especially Rufescent Tiger-herons, Great Egrets, Wattled Jacanas, Hoatzin, the noisy Donacobius and many others. Remember to bring your hat and sun cream for there is no shade out on the water. You will return to the lodge in time for lunch. At night you will go searching for Caiman (alligators) and other nocturnal animals by canoe along the Tambopata River. Night in Libertador Tambopata Lodge. (B,L,D).
Day 5: Departure. A dawn start is required for the canoe trip back to Puerto Maldonado giving memorable views of the sun rise over the river. Lookout for the early morning wildlife which is particularly active at this time. Howler monkeys are frequently heard, as they stakeout their territories. Your guide will take care of you on arrival in Puerto Maldonado and will deal with all the necessities at the airport prior to you departure. (B)
Additional days at the Macaw Lick or Collpa: Any number of extra days in the vicinity of the Collpa, over and above the aforementioned program, are possible. These can be guided or unguided according to your preference and interests. During these days you can either; explore the trail system in more depth, going further a field along trails not visited before; visit a small lake hidden amongst the trees with a floating viewing platform situated in it; take a trip up river to explore a clear forest stream teeming with fish. Full board is included during each of these days.
Services included in your Macaw lick trip: All meals and accommodation (camping gear) from lunch on Day 1 to Breakfast on your final day (inclusive). All transport from your arrival al Puerto Maldonado to your return to the airport (inclusive). All guided excursions describes in the itinerary (including on additional days, if you wish). One night excursion on the river looking for Caiman.
Services Excluded in your Macaw lick trip: Flights to and from Puerto Maldonado, The entrance Fee to the TNR (Aprox US$30), airport taxes, Tree climbing (with harnesses and ropes). Any drinks you may purchase from the bar. Tips.
MACAW CLAY-LICK (COLLPA DE GUACAMAYOS)
A macaw clay-lick in the first few hours after dawn must be seen to be believed. After the first few rays of the morning sun begin to hit the eroded river bank cliff face, hundreds of parrots and macaws belonging to ten or more species arrive and alight in nearby trees. They arrive in discrete pairs or in flocks hundreds strong, depending on the species. Then, with a flapping of wings and ear-splitting squawks, they begin landing on the face of the cliff to consume small portions of the clay. Generally the smaller parrot species (Dusky-headed parakeets, Mealy parrots, Blue-headed parrots, Orange-cheeked parrots) descend first, followed by the larger macaws (Blue and yellow macaw, Scarlet macaw, Red and Green macaw, Blue-headed macaw, Chestnut-fronted macaw, Red-bellied macaw). At any one time there can be up to 500 parrots and macaws in the vicinity of the lick.
The precise reason for this spectacular behaviour is still under debate and is the subject of research. Theories suggest that the clay may contain vital salts and minerals which are usually lacking in the birds' frugivorous diet.
It is thought that the very small clay particles themselves are consumed in order to detoxify the bird's fruit diet. Many fruit and nuts, especially when unripe, defend themselves against predation using a plethora of toxic chemicals. The clay particles are small enough to mop up toxins before they get into the body.
Collpa Colorado, the largest known macaw clay-lick in the world, is located on the Tambopata river about 120 km upstream from Puerto Maldonado (4-5 hrs upstream from the lodge) and is one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in all Amazonia. The Libertador Tambopata Lodge operates special excursions to the lick.
Tropical rainforests are among the most outstanding natural ecosystems on the planet, an awe inspiring tangle of life to some, an unfathomable puzzle with more questions than answers to others. They represent the pinnacle of life on Earth. Vegetative production (2 kg/m2/yr) is more than double that found in the most productive temperate forests, species diversity hits the roof and the whole system is considered the most important natural regulator of the Earth's climate, for which we are forever indebted.
Tropical rainforests, among which the Amazon is the largest single tract on Earth, span the globe between the tropics where rainfall exceeds an average of 1500 mm per year (6 feet) and where temperatures do not drop below an average of 17ºC throughout the year.
The ecosystem is entirely self-sufficient, requiring only the steady input of sunlight to maintain the plants, which in turn maintain the rest through the many interconnecting webs of interactions, checks and balances that are a constant feature of this twilight world.
Plants form the basic structure of the forest on which everything else depends. The vegetation is broadly arranged into strata (see diagram opposite), which though not readily observed or defined, certainly exist. The most distinct division observable is between the canopy - a strata exposed to the full effects of the sun and the wind, and the undergrowth, which is poorly illuminated in comparison, although it is more stable with respect to the environmental conditions of temperature, humidity, wind and so forth. The contrast between these microclimates can be striking and goes some way towards explaining the complexity of life forms, each adapting to a unique array of microclimates and the micro ecosystems within them.
Animals also have been affected by the forest's structure. In the various strata the availability of food, the opportunities for concealment and possible modes of locomotion are very different. For example, an animal living in the treetops can readily obtain large quantities of vegetative foods (flowers, leaves, fruit, etc.) but must have limbs adapted to climbing, swinging, jumping, gliding or flying from tree to tree. In contrast, the ground dwellers have little or no climbing ability and depend largely on food falling down from above.
Only recently has the treetop community of plants and animals been a focus of interest to biologists and it is proving to be exceedingly rich in life. More than half of all the forest's animals are now believed to be arboreal (living in the trees) of which the majority complete their entire lifecycles without even approaching the ground.
The sheer number of species that live in tropical rainforests exceeds the imagination. Over the last decade the number of insect species thought to inhabit the planet has risen from a mere 2 million to 30 million or more due to the intensive research now being aimed in the direction of the tropics.
The explanations for such species richness are numerous and are not mutually exclusive. General theories hypothesize that the tropics themselves have experienced a fairly constant climate over the millennia, so that the flora and fauna have not been adaptively restricted as much by physical conditions, enabling them to compete more vigorously with each other. This competition over a protracted length of time has resulted in more specialized adaptations to reduce or overcome the competition resulting in slight physical and/or temporal changes in plant and animal populations, culminating ultimately in the creation of separate species. A high degree of specialization by organisms in these environments has been found to be common. The more constant environment may also have resulted in less extinction compared to the harsher conditions at greater latitudes where the weak or poorly-adapted are quickly weeded out.
It is one of the paradoxes of tropical ecology that however luxuriant the rainforest vegetation may appear, its presence is not an indication of great soil fertility; on the contrary such soils are some of the poorest of all. This fact however can be explained when one considers the timescale during which plants have been actively competing for nutrients in this environment. Rainforests have been around for approximately 125 million years. The length of time that current tracts of forests have been present can be measured therefore in millions of years, during which time the plants have been experiencing greater and greater competition for soil nutrients, so that their adaptations for obtaining these nutrients have been steadily honed to such an extent that today the nutrients locked up in a dead leaf on the forest floor can be recycled directly into the plant without ever becoming part of the mineral soil. 95% of nutrients as a whole are locked up in the living matter. Recycling of nutrients from the dead is fast and extremely efficient.
This lack of nutrient and poor soil structure, endemic in the tropics, is extremely debilitating once the forest cover has been removed and explains why farming on most tropical forest soils is non-sustainable and leaves permanent scars on land which cannot be colonized effectively by the forest again, ultimately due to its own efficiency!