[This is a series talking a little about my favorite places that I miss, but can’t visit because of the quarantine we have been under since mid-March. The series is not done in any order of preference. I’m just having a little fun remembering some of the wonderful places I’ve visited in Peru and reminiscing with some of my favorite photos. This is the kind of stuff I normally am posting! Be sure to click on the individual photos to see larger versions.]
Lago Sandoval is a remnant cocha (lake) where the Madre de Dios river once flowed, but shifting channels left behind the 3 km long lake another 3 km from the current river.
I honestly have lost count of how many times I’ve visited the lake. I used to try to go at least once a month because it was an easy chance to visit the jungle as well as my friends who live in the jumping-off city of Puerto Maldonado.
[A guide is required and you can’t go to the lake by yourself so a tour is necessary. I strongly urge you to go with Tambopata Wild. I’ve gone with probably all of the main day your companies and Jesus and Tambopata Wild are easily the best. I also always stay at Hospedaje Selva Magica when I’m in Puerto Madldonado.]
The first few times I went to Lago Sandoval, the walk to the lake from the river was a muddy mess in the rainy season like nothing I’ve ever trekked. Sometimes the water was so deep that it would spill over the tops of your rubber boots. Fortunately, in March of 2019, the boardwalk was completely all the way from the control headquarters to the lake saving a great deal of time and an unbelievable amount of effort slogging along the muddy jungle path.
I always like to go ahead of the group, if possible, because I have a better chance of finding animals that way.
One of things I’ve learned over hundreds of trips into the rainforest is that you rarely see animals with your eyes first. Always it’s with your ears. By doing this I usually am able to spot things like monkey or unusual birds before the rest of the group catches up. Knowing what to listen for has earned respect among many of the guides who are now keen to let me venture away from the others in search of cool stuff.
One of favorite parts of the trip is the short 150m trip along the narrow channel to get into the lake itself. It’s a chance to drift through the jungle swamp that’s very rare. Keep an eye out because you are very likely to see a black caiman along the way. I’ve always seen at least one small one and sometimes you can spot several silently floating on the edge of the channel.
Once you get into the lake, it opens up onto a generally calm body of dark water surrounded by towering palms and jungle trees. The lake holds some of the rainforest’s most impressive fish including the giant paiche — frequently known by it’s name in Brazil of arapaima — as well as the infamous piranha.
I like to stir up the water to attract piranhas by making them think there’s a distressed animal then sprinkle a little food on the water to watch them dart about swallowing tiny bites. (Tourists love to see this!)
I also like to sit in front of the canoe where I can spot bird and animal life on the shore while the guides sit in the back and paddle. Again, lots of practice helps me to see things well before the guides including one of the strangest looking birds in the world — the hoatzin — or shansho as it’s known in the jungle.
All kinds of other birds are commonly seen, too like the tiger heron, the cormorant, anhinga, green kingfisher, and many others both on the water and along the shore.
Everyone’s favorite animal to see, however, and one that is not always seen, is the giant river otter.
If you see one, you’ll see the whole family probably swimming across the lake searching for fish. I’ve only seen them on land once and it was a spectacular experience as they actually came up very close to our canoe. (Rules require that tourists keep a considerable distance away and often you’re just chasing them across the lake, but this time they came to us.
This only scratches the surface of all that’s there to see. I miss the sounds of macaws flying overhead, the distant roar of the howler monkey reverberating through the jungle, and even the jaunes (traditional rice and chicken meal wrapped in banana leaves) that are always provided for lunch!
Lastly, here’s a video I did last year that I think you’ll like. (It was runner-up in a short film contest!)
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