Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, Peru
The second largest national park in the Amazon safeguards a huge tract of rainforest in eastern Peru between the Marañón and Ucayali rivers. More than 80 percent of the park is flooded during the high-water season between December and April, giving rise to the nickname La Selva de los Espejos ("Forest of Mirrors") because of the way the jungle reflects in the water. Jaguars, giant river otters, sloths, manatees, macaws, and river dolphins are among the species found in the park.
What We Love
Manatee Rescue Center: The ACOBIA-DWAzoo rescue and rehabilitation center for Amazon River mammals on the road between Iquitos and the port for Pacaya Samiria is a great place for close encounters of the baby manatee kind.
Tawampa Lake: Deep in the rainforest, this secluded lake offers a jungle canopy walk, scenic kayaking, and a chance to see the giant arapaima, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish.
Best Known For
Pink Dolphins: The waters of Pacaya Samiria provide a rich natural habitat for the Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis). Either light pink or mottled gray and pink in color, these long-nosed, gregarious marine mammals are even more curious than their ocean-going cousins.
Feathered Friends: With around 500 species spotted within the park, Pacaya Samiria is one of the holy grails of global bird watching. The scarlet macaw, yellow-headed caracara, jabiru stork, and roseate spoonbill are a few of the more colorful species.
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Who It's Best For
Wildlife Enthusiasts: Unlike other parts of the Amazon where wildlife is often hard to see because of dense foliage, the waterways of Pacaya Samiria expedite animal observation and photography.
People Who Aren't Afraid to Get Wet: Most cruises through the park feature opportunities to swim in the rivers — with pink dolphins, piranhas, and other freshwater creatures.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It's Not Easy to Reach: Cruises depart from Nauta, a 90-minute drive south of Iquitos. And that's after a domestic flight over the crest of the Andes from Lima.
Contact with Locals Is Limited: Although thousands of indigenous people live within the park boundaries, not all cruise itineraries include a chance to visit their villages or interact with them.
Joe Yogerst is a California-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Travel + Leisure.