The Tambopata is a river in southeastern Peru which rises in the snow-capped Andes mountains, just across the border in neighboring Bolivia, from where it flows across high plains and into the Amazon lowlands. The Tambopata River gives its name to a province of Peru, within the Madre de Dios region (itself named after a great river that has its confluence with the Tambopata River near the town of Puerto Maldonado). The word Tambopata comes from Quechua, the language of the Incas, which is still spoken by millions of people in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia. During the Inca period, a “tambo” was a kind of wayside inn or administrative center, while in Quechua “pata” means “raised area” or “platform”.
It is the Tambopata River which lends its name to Tambopata National Reserve. Together with the adjacent Bahuaja-Sonene National Park in Peru and the Madidi National Park across the border in Bolivia, the Tambopata National Reserve forms part of the largest area of protected tropical and subtropical Amazon forest in South America.
Tambopata National Reserve can be accessed from Cusco via a 25-minute scheduled flight, followed by a fascinating three-hour journey by road and boat from the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado – a trip that feels like an adventure in itself.
Tambopata National Reserve is an enormous area of pristine tropical and subtropical Amazon basin forest. In total, the reserve protects more than one thousand square miles of forest, including eight different types of Amazon ecosystem. It is this broad range of habitats that makes Tambopata one of the most biologically diverse places anywhere on Earth.
Tambopata National Reserve can be visited all year round. The climate is typical of tropical, subtropical, humid or high humidity forest, with a mean annual temperature of 26ºC, fluctuating between 10ºC during occasional unusual cold spells, and 38ºC. Rain or shine, wet season or dry, it is possible to see examples of major Amazon fauna within Tambopata National Reserve and its extensive buffer zone and surrounding forests, as well as countless examples of typical Amazon flora, including many giants of the forest.
Its protected status means that within Tambopata National Reserve visitors can see several species of animals which are now extremely rare in other, less well-protected parts of South America’s Amazon basin. These include jaguars, ocelots, anacondas, caimans, capybaras, giant river otters, and tapirs. And for birding enthusiasts, birdlife in Tambopata is particularly rich, with almost 600 species reported within the boundaries of the National Reserve.
In recent years, Tambopata’s fame has begun to grow, and it has been transformed into one of Peru’s leading ecotourism destinations. Careful management of the National Reserve and areas of the buffer zone, including the Tambopata Ecolodge Private Conservation Area, has meant that the reserve’s protected status has produced a massively positive environmental impact upon local forests. One particularly dramatic indicator of the increasingly good health of the primary forests that surround the Tambopata River is the considerable rise over the past two years in jaguar sightings.