A country rich in unspoiled natural beauty and friendly people, Nicaragua is still often overlooked by foreign visitors wary of its turbulent past. In fact, Nicaragua has been a peaceful democracy for well over a decade, and has now made the development of tourism a national priority. The country, the largest in Central America (50,000 square miles, slightly smaller than the State of New York), boasts the greatest expanse of primary rainforest north of the Amazon basin and the largest freshwater body in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua. With its abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery, Nicaragua has been thriving to capitalize on these natural assets to emulate its Costa Rican neighbor and become an eco-tourism haven. To this end, 84 nature preserves have been created, protecting more that seventeen percent of the country’s landmass.
This tiny nation, with its remarkably diverse topography and natural treasures, was a pleasure to visit. With a landmass of just under 20,000 square miles, approximately the size of the West Virginia, or Denmark, it stands out as a premier tourism destination in Latin America for travelers drawn by its intense biodiversity. After experiencing some of the highest rates of deforestation on the planet in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Costa Rica engineered radical measures in the past two decades to reverse this alarming trend. One quarter of its land has been set aside for national parks and nature preserves. The country can now boast to being host to a startling five percent of the world’s biodiversity, including more than 800 recorded species of birds, 200 species of mammals, and 900 kinds of trees. Costa Rica attracts over one million foreign ecologically-minded tourists per year.
The Reserva Comual Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo is a remote eight hundred thousand acre nature preserve tucked away deep in the jungle of Loreto, Peru’s largest state. Loreto is an area the size of Montana that lies almost entirely in the Western Amazonian rain forest. The Reserve is bordered to the West by the upper Tahuayo River and its tributary the Blanco River. This is a place where seasonally flooded verzea forests and non-flooding terra firme forests meet, making it one of the most biologically diverse environments in the world. It has been the site of several decades of scientific studies that have yielded some of the Amazon’s richest varieties of plans, birds and mammals as well as amphibians and reptiles. Additionally, the villages in the permanent settlement zone adjacent to the Reserve have been at the forefront of community-based management of the natural resources of the Reserve and surrounding areas for over a quarter of a century. This commitment has enabled them to succeed in preserving their traditional way of life as well as their environment. All of these considerations made the upper Tahuayo River a compelling choice of destination for our Amazon rainforest discovery adventure.
One of the most extraordinary things about the Tahuayo Lodge was that this welcoming enclave of comfort should exist at all in the midst of the untamed wilderness of the Western Amazon. Perched high on a bank of the Tahuayo River, the lodge was a sprawling, thatched-roofed complex of large huts linked together by covered bridge-like walkways. Entirely built on stilts, it was distinguishable only by its size and layout from the tidy indigenous villages down river.