The Amazon river is 6,470 km (4,020 miles) long and the world´s mightiest river. The Amazon Basin has the longest extension of rainforest in the world and is considered a patrimony of humanity by UNESCO due to the biological diversity it contains. The beauty of this areas, as well its biological richness, have made of Peru a destiny for wildlife researchers and nature lovers.
In 1982, the Peruvian Government established the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve (PSNR) with the purpose of preserving the wilderness resources and the beautiful landscapes of the area. The Reserve has an area of 8,042 square miles, which represents 1.5% of the total surface of the country.
Caracters an essential element that is characteristic of this protected area, is the cycle of crescent and reflux of the rivers. Between the months of October and April is the rainy season and the water of the rivers and creeks increases, flooding a large area of the rainforest. This time is known as crescent. Reflux takes place between May and September, when rain decreases greatly and the level of the water falls progressively, reaching its minimum in August. This seasonal change and the predominantly flat terrain have configured a landscape full of small rivers, creeks and lagoons.
The climate in the Reserve is tropical, warm and humid with minimum temperatures of 72 Fº (22 Cº) and maximum temperatures that can reach up to 88 Fº (28 Cº), except for the month of June in which the temperature can drop abruptly due to the action of the cold fronts that come from the Argentinean Patagonia. Generally, dawns and nights in the jungle tend to be fresh. It can rain on any day of the year, being showers more frequent between the months of February and May.
What to bring?
Light clothing preferably cotton.
Long-sleeve shirts, preferably of neutral colors.
Cap or hat.
Photo camera and film / video camera.
Mosquito repellent with 35% DEET.
* We recommend to bring one piece of luggage and to limit its weight to 15 kg (32 pounds).
It is recommended to be vaccinated againts yellow fever; however it is not mandatory.
Flora and Fauna
The name of Pacaya-Samiria comes from the names of two rivers that run through it: Pacaya and Samiria. The Reserve has a great diversity of wildlife as well as aquatic life: 449 bird species, 102 mammals, 69 reptiles, 58 amphibians, 256 fish and 1,204 plants. Threatened or endangered species that can be found in the PSNR are the jaguar (Felix oca), the black alligator (Melanosuchus niger), the giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), the manati (Trichechus inunquis), four different species of primates and two different species of turtles.
Wildlife adapts with no problem to this cycle of crescent and reflux and so, when most of the rainforest remains flooded, animals find shelter in the highest areas, where water never reaches. During the reflux, when water is retained in small lakes and creeks, you can observe a large number of acquatic birds catching fishes which are concentrated there. During this time, large beaches are also formed specially in the main rivers, which are used by the settlers of the Reserve to grow rice, beans, peanuts, and other crops, and also by two very characteristic species of the Reserve, the "charapa" (Podocnemis expansa) and "taricaya" (Podocnemis unifilis) acquatic turtles, which use these beaches to lay their eggs.
In Pacaya-Samiria, the great extension of rainforest remains flooded most of the year, with local species like the "aguaje", a palm tree (Mauritia Flexuosa) whose fruits are eaten by many animals as well as by settlers of local communities. There are other numerous varieties of flora that make the landscape of the Reserve unique in this part of the Amazon. We can also find a great diversity of medicine plants and trees that can reach a height of 150 feet, like the "lupuna" (Ceiba Pentandra). In certain areas, you can still find rubber trees which preserve the marks of the famous rubber exploitation over 80 years ago.
The wildlife of the Reserve is typical of the flooded rainforest, being more abundant the acquatic species rather than land ones. Fish is considered the most important resource due to its role in the ecological process as well as its economic value, and it is also a priority in the nutrition of the local people. There is an extensive variety of birds, specially the acquatic ones like the heron (Egretta Thula) and cormorant (Phalacrocorax Brasilianus). During the time of crescent, the high areas or "restingas"are the places for shelter and nourishment for mammals.
It is worth mentioning the "charapa" and "taricaya" aquatic turtles, which are considered endagered species. In order to prevent any illegal gathering, between the months of July and December, authorities of the PSNR are responsible for the gathering of the eggs that the turtles deposit in the banks of the rivers allowing these eggs the proper incubation time and a better chance of survival for the little turtles. Also, the "paiche" (Arapaima gigas), one of the biggest fresh-water fish in the world, that can reach up to eight feet long. The demand for its exquisite meat has developed in an abuse for its hunting.
The PSNR is part of the National System of Natural Areas and is protected by the Peruvian Government. Its administration is in hands of INRENA (National Institute of Natural Resources) which has offices in Lima and Iquitos. According to the Master Plan for the Conservation of the Biological Diversity and Sustainable Development of the PSNR, tourists have access only to determined zones of the Reserve -previous payment of an entrance fee.
In the PSNR there are 94 communities, 21 of them of the Cocama-Cocamilla ethnic group. The total population of the Reserve is 42,000 people and their main economic activities are centered around fishing, agriculture, gathering and hunting, being the first, their most important activity and main source of food. The closest cities to the Reserve are Nauta and Requena.
Some 100,000 ribereños, or “river people,” live in villages in and around the reserve, relying on its resources for nourishment and livelihood. No other protected area in the country is as directly linked to the survival of so many people. Although their overharvesting of fish, wildlife and trees threatens the system, the ribereños have a strong stake in the forest’s continued well-being. The Nature Conservancy and our Peruvian partner Pro Naturaleza have trained local people as volunteer park rangers and are working with community leaders to develop management plans for fisheries, palm forests and river turtles. Lessons learned here now inform conservation work throughout the region.
Landscape & Elevation
There are two types of landscapes found in the reserve. They are the *alluvial plain and the gently undulating hills found in the western part of the Reserve. The altitude of the Reserve is between 263 to 675 feet above sea level. (How does that compare with where you live?) The vegetation is very typical of what is found in humid tropical rainforests and is characterized by great heterogeneity and diversity of species.
Rivers & Lakes
There are two main rivers in the Reserve. The Pacaya, a tributary of the Ucayali, flows into the left bank of the Puinahua Channel of the Ucayali. Its length is approximately 198 miles. The Samiria, a tributary of the Marañon, flows into the right bank of that river. Its length is approximately 214 miles. Both rivers follow a winding course as they make their way through the Reserve. Their widths vary from 164 to 495 feet and their water levels vary with the seasons. Low water season is August and September, and high water season is February through April.
There are over 80 lakes in the Reserve, the most important ones are the Hatun Cocha, Pastococha, Shinguito, Maldonado, Ungurahui, Yanayacu, Zapote, Yarina, Tamara, Cotococha, Achual, and El Dorado.