I’ve been lucky enough to have spent a lot of time exploring the Amazon rainforest. I’ve seen an awful lot of incredible animals in the wild including some rarely seen ones. Yet I’m still awestruck every time I get to watch the family of giant river otters in Peru’s Lago Sandoval.
Yesterday I made my 9th trip this year to Sandoval a few miles south of Puerto Maldonado just off the Rio Madre de Dios. (Lago Sandoval is actually a lake left when the river changed course years ago.) I love going here because every time the experience is different.
Of course, there are always lots of other animals to see at Lago Sandoval. Monkeys are a huge favorite — capuchins, spider monkeys, and red howlers. Since it’s not a park or a zoo, whether you get to see any depends on the animals themselves.
[You can check out my previous post with some fantastic pictures in this post: Lago Sandoval (Puerto Maldonado) is Wondrous!]
This time was special because for the first time I was able to watch the resident family of giant otters out of the water for a change.
Usually the otters are seen swimming across the lake hunting for nice meals of piranhas, but this time I was able to see them not only on land, but from only a short distance away.
These beautiful creatures are extremely social and their vocalizations can be heard from far away. They are constantly on the lookout for predatory black caiman that also reside in the lake. (I’ve seen one huge beast there that is close to 5 meters in length.)
We literally were just a few minutes from leaving the lake when we spotted the local family of otters swimming just a few hundred meters away. Needless to say, we turned the canoe in their direction and began paddling in their direction. (Reserve rules don’t allow us to get too close, but I think we stretched the rules as much as possible to approach within a short distance.)
At first we followed them as they were swimming near the shore feasting on fish, but soon they moved closer to the end of a long peninsula and surprisingly crawled out to dine some more and spend a little time out of the water.
I’ve seen then many times, but this was the first time I’d ever seen the giant otters on land. They were obviously quite aware of our presence, but didn’t seem to care.
Sadly, if ever there was a time to have brought my video camera, that was it, yet I left mine at home! Of well, guess I’ll have to go back again soon!
What the day did convince me was that I really need to upgrade my camera and long lenses if I’m going to be a serious wildlife photographer. I already have a plan for that, too!
Unfortunately for me, visiting Lago Sandoval requires a guide. I booked the day with a company near the Plaza de Armas, but as often happens, they put me in with a group organized by Tambopata Wild. I have to say that Tambopata Wild did an excellent job and the guide was spectacular. He apologized for not speaking great English, but it really wasn’t bad and he was extremely friendly and knowledgeable. I’ll book directly with them on my next trip.
Generally guides have allowed me to do pretty much whatever I want and be way from the group as much as possible. That has allowed me to do find animals away from the usually loud groups of tourists. Thankfully, I am usually allowed to sit in the front of the canoe, too, because I’m pretty good at spotting wildlife.
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Hint: If you want to see more animals, go slow and quiet in the jungle. When the ground is dry, I stay off the boardwalk which now goes the entire trail. I can move much easier and in relative silence that way.
I can’t recommend enough visiting Lago Sandoval if you are in Puerto Maldonado. The cost is 100 soles (about $30 USD) and well worth it. I know I’ll be back again soon.
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