I’m pretty sure there’s no better way to see Peru than from a big inflatable raft floating gracefully down the river. Or if there is, I haven’t heard of it yet. You’re moving slow enough to take in all the magnificent green surrounding you. Even the muddy brown water just serves to emphasize the brightness of the glistening surrounding you on both sides and the bright blue sky above with its skidding white clouds. The river stretches away from you in front and behind.
We traveled from the community we were staying with on the back of a truck. The rain was thudding down—the weather in the jungle is pretty bipolar; it changes from balmy summer day to tropical storm in a moment—and the truck was open-topped, so we used the uninflated dinghies as a makeshift tent, propping them up with paddles.
It more or less worked, and we arrived at our destination only half-soaked. The rain-sodden jungle glistened at us as we juddered through on the almost road. When we got there, we stopped for a hearty breakfast that was more like a dinner: we had a choice of lomo saltado (beef pieces stir-fried with tomatoes, red onions, chips and soy sauce), arroz con pollo (stewed chicken leg with rice) and a big mug of black, already sweetened coffee. It was a heavy breakfast and exactly what we needed after being crammed together and rained on for most of the morning!
We walked down to the riverside and inflated our four dinghies. I looked on apprehensively. We only had two guides, so two boats were expert empty and were to have only clueless landlubbers in them. I was one of those clueless landlubbers, and I wasn’t very confident in myself or my team, convinced I was going to meet my soggy end in the middle of a jungle river.
There were five to each inflatable boat, with three paddles between each team. Two sat at the back and paddled furiously, one was perched at the front, directing the boat, and two laid back and relaxed in the middle.
For the most part, the river was calm, which gave even the paddlers plenty of chance to look around and enjoy, try to spot unusual animals, and wave at the occasional person on the river-bank, but there were a few choppy sections to add some drama. Each little leap out of the water sent everyone screaming, but dinghies being so chubby and sturdy, there was never any real danger of us tipping over, despite my initial concerns.
While you can’t really go any way but with the current, facing the right way and not floating off into a tree at the riverside took some concentration and a fair bit of teamwork. We were only on the river for a few hours, but ended the trip tired, wet, and very happy.
Our jungle rafting took place in Pichanaki, in the region of Junin—otherwise known as the eyebrow of the jungle. It’s among my favourite experiences in Peru, and I’m itching to do it again. If gentle paddling isn’t really your thing, and you’re looking for a more white water experience, other good places to go rafting in Peru are the valley of Lunahuaná and in the Colca Canyon.
Have you done a rafting tour abroad? Tell us your experiences below!
Hannah Vickers has lived in Lima, Peru for a year and a half and is the editor of Peru this Week. You can read more of her work on her blog http://hanwyn.blogspot.com/ or on the Peru this Week website. She wrote this article on behalf of Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned jungle lodge.