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The Ultimate Amazon Adventure: Kayaking and Camping in the Heart of the Jungle

Trust your guide, keep him in your sights, and do what he says. That is if you speak Spanish. If not, relying on a translation app gets it right about half the time. So when he says it is safe to swim in the lake with the piranha, you double-check before jumping in. ¿Es seguro nadar? Si. Ok, the water is 78 °F, it’s hot and sunny, here goes. After all, this is the ultimate Amazon adventure.

Pulling a kayak through the jungle on the ultimate amazon adventure.
Overland. The trip requires dragging kayaks between the river and the lake.

San Antonio Lake is a forty-five-minute boat ride upriver. Arriving at a side channel, we paddle a narrow jungle corridor, past blue Mariposa butterflies, twisted Tarzan vines, and wasp nests that look like six-foot cigarettes hanging in the trees, to an inconspicuous trailhead. From here, we drag our kayaks overland along a narrow jungle path to the lake.

Kayaking on an Amazon lake.
Brown water. The lake has several side channels for exploring giant ant, termite, and wasp nests hanging in the trees.

Our guide, Agusto, the son of indigenous parents in Peru, is believed to have a gift that allows him to see and hear animals in the jungle that are invisible to others. And his skill with a machete is impressive. He can clear a campsite with a single blade, cut sticks for bug net anchors, build a wooden barbecue, and grate wood shavings to start a fire.

Chicken on homemade wood stick bbq in the jungle.
Lunch. Agusto builds a wood barbecue to cook the marinated chicken.

While the chicken for lunch is cooking, we kayak in the lake with pale skin under the noon equator sun, watching two Osprey catch fish and hearing Saimiri monkeys hollering in the distance. The 400-pound Pirarucu has no gills and must leap out of the water to take a breath. A fisherman in a dug-out wooden boat quietly tends to his gill net in a corner of the lake.

Fisherman fishing at side of lake.
Piranha fishing. Agusto catches dinner while we swim a few yards away.

Returning to camp, Agusto has hammocks hung with rain covers and bug nets, chicken seared without somehow burning the wood sticks it cooked on, rice, potatoes, and fishing poles ready to catch dinner. After the meal and a short siesta, we go for more kayaking, and finally, after either mustering enough courage or too much sun, we jump in for a swim. And make no mistake about the piranhas in that lake. Swimming over to the campsite, Agusto catches three toothy devils right before us, which he turns into a Peruvian soup with banana, shallot, cilantro, and tomatoes finely diced with that same machete.

A soup pot with bananas and piranha.
Dinner. Peruvian piranha and banana soup with tomato, cilantro, and shallot.

After dinner, we are back in kayaks, this time to see the fireflies and familiar but flipped images of constellations in the crystal-clear sky. We sleep in comfortable hammocks for the first time and wake to gentle rain. All seems peaceful until we realize that our guide Agusto and the kayaks are gone. We panic until we discover that he has dragged both kayaks back to the river. We pack up the camp and paddle back to the Palmari Reserva for breakfast, keeping our sights on Agusto and doing what he says.

A loaded kayak on the river.
Heading back. Agusto loads his kayak for the paddle back after sleeping in a hammock and waking to the rain.

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Hi. We are Paul and Cindy, two biologists, fit and over 50, who enjoy exploring, photographing, and blogging about our outdoor travel. Our journey is to find outdoor activities that are away from crowds, kind to nature, and authentic. We carry backpacks, stay in clean accommodations, and feel that good food is as important as good friends.

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