Saturday, August 29, 2009

THE GOOD GUYS - The Missouri Botanical Garden

"To discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment, in order to preserve and enrich life." - Missouri Botanical Garden mission.

Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is the United States' oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and a National Historic Landmark. Their work in conserving the world's tropical wilderness areas and in enlightening everyone about the earth's botanical diversity is simply unparalleled.

The Garden is a center for botanical research and science education, as well as an oasis in the city of St. Louis. The Garden offers 79 acres of beautiful horticultural display, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, Henry Shaw's original 1850 estate home, and one of the world's largest collections of rare and endangered orchids.

The year 2009 marks the Garden's sesquicentennial anniversary. For 150 years, the Garden has been an oasis in the city, a place of beauty and family fun-and also a center for education, science, and conservation. Visit them in St. Louis, or go see their excellent and informative website:


Thursday, August 27, 2009


Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon
by Hemming, John. 2008
Thames & Hudson, London. 368 pp.

In this history of the Amazon Basin, the author recounts the adventures and misadventures of intrepid explorers, fervent Jesuit ecclesiastics, greedy rubber barons,19th-century botanists, zoologists, fearless advocates of Indian Rights, and the archaeologists and anthropologists who have uncovered the secrets of the Amazon's earliest settlers. Illustrated, some in color.

More Info/Order


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


No matter how remote the spot may be, there are still animals that are extremely difficult to encounter in the wild. They may be rare, secretive, or strictly nocturnal. Or it could be that their habitat is one that makes them hard to observe. One example of this is the Harpy Eagle, easily the world's most powerful bird of prey and so difficult to find that it holds a nearly mythical place in the world of wildlife enthusiasts.

Bill Lamar of GreenTracks has 35 years' experience in the rainforests of Latin America. During that time he has managed to see 11 Jaguars but only three Harpy Eagles. So, when travelers ask whether they might see a Harpy, our answer is always the same: don't count on it!

Recently a GreenTracks' expedition trip took us to the Río Samiria, a tributary of the lower Río Marañón, in the Peruvian Amazon Basin. The stunningly beautiful river, with its endless series of mirror like expanses of black water, is part of the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, one of the most important wildlife enclaves in the Amazon. We had travelled for several days and had managed to get ourselves soaked by tropical showers on several occasions. After a morning hike we got caught in another downpour on the way back to the boat. It was time to head downstream towards Iquitos so we showered, had lunch, and took our positions on the deck watching for wildlife. The clouds were dark and low and it was a bit chilly, not at all encouraging for birds of any kind.

We had been navigating for an hour when a cry rose up from the front deck. A large, make that a VERY large bird of some sort was flying across the river. The Samiria at this point was quite wide and the huge bird was flying low and somewhat laboriously and practically on a collision course with our boat! To everyone's utter amazement, it was a Harpy Eagle! Despite their bulk, Harpys have comparatively short wings because they do most of their flying within the canopy as they hunt for sloths and monkeys. Flying for distances is not something these eagles make a practice of doing, but this bird evidently wanted to move to the opposite side of the river, and we were fortunate enough to be there when it happened.

Everyone gathered at the bow and we stared in amazement as the great bird winged its way ponderously across our path. Our boat was so near that it was easy to observe details without benefit of binoculars. And that was double luck because not everyone had their binocs with them on deck!

GreenTracks Amazon Cruises


Friday, August 21, 2009


The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve has been called the "mirrored forest" because of the reflective nature of its dark-stained waters.

It is one of the largest protected areas in Peru, spanning over 20,000 square kilometers of tropical rainforest. The reserve is a truly exceptional wilderness area and a unique flooded forest with one of the greatest diversity of animals and plants found anywhere on the planet. Situated deep in the rainforests of the western Amazon basin, the reserve teems with aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. It is at the point where the Amazon River begins its long journey to the Atlantic Ocean. The two major rivers that bound the reserve are the Ucayali and Marañón, which join to form the Amazon proper right where the reserve begins. The huge floodplains of these majestic rivers have produced the low-lying flooded forests of the reserve.

Both the Ucayali and the Marañón originate in the Andes Mountains; the Ucayali actually has its headwaters in the Urubamba River around Machu Picchu and Cuzco.

Rivers that come from the Andes are rich in sediments that they pick up as they tumble down the rocky mountains. This gives the rivers a whitish-brown color. As this nutrient-rich water flows through the flooded forests many of the sediments become deposited on the forest floor, and at the same time, the water becomes impregnated by dark tannins from the leaf litter – the same effect that tea has on water. When the water flows out of the forest and into the channels and lakes it has a dark, almost black color.

The rivers of the reserve have a particularly large population of river dolphins and is the last remaining refuge for the Amazon manatee. Giant river otters are also sighted in the rivers, lakes and channels. There are 13 species of primates in the reserve, many of which are commonly sighted on the forest walks. Macaws and wading birds are very abundant, as are game birds. Peccaries, deer, tapir and capybara are also found. The turtles have rebounded and are now common features of the rivers as are caiman. Here can still be found large black caiman.

The Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is working with the local Cocama Indians to ensure that the natural and human worlds can coexist in harmony. While their dress has changed, the Cocama Indians still live as they did centuries ago. They fish and hunt for meat, collect forest fruits and have small slash and burn gardens. They travel in small dugout canoes and live in thatched roofed houses made from trees and palm fronds of the nearby forest.



This program combines a stay at the Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge with a Camping Expedition deep into the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Throughout, you will be accompanied by one of GreenTracks' expert guides. While at the lodge stay in comfortable bungalows and explore the nearby trails and rivers. Then travel up the Yanayacu River into pristine regions of the Reserve only recently opened to visitors for 3 nights of camping. The staff will set up a tent camp and provide for all of your needs while you explore with our guide. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of the jungle this is an intimate rainforest experience.


We received the following comments from recent travelers on our Amazon Camping Trip:

"We had the absolute best (Amazon Camping) trip in the jungle. I can't tell you how wonderful it was. Segundo was incredible, full of knowledge, life and kindness to us and all the Peruvians. We knew the guide was the key to a good trip, and were so happy to have someone that fantastic. And everything else about the trip was wonderful. It was organized down to the smallest detail. We can't wait to come back to Peru and come back for another trip with you guys. And of course, if we have any friends coming to Peru, we will give them your details and explain how they would never find something better." Janan Markee

More Camping Trip Information


Thursday, August 20, 2009

SPOTLIGHT ON FAUNA - Amazon River Turtles

Before indiscriminate harvesting of eggs took its toll, the vast white sand beaches along the Amazon used to blacken when countless thousands of River Turtles (genus Podocnemis) crawled out to dig their nests. Four of the six species of River Turtle occur in the Amazon Basin, and one of them, the "Charapa" (P. expansa), is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. The Yellow-spotted River Turtle (P. unifilis) is one of the most attractive species and used to be much in demand for the pet trade.

All of these important and impressive turtles are facing extinction but a marvelous head-start program initiated by the late Pekka Soini in Peru's Pacaya-Samiria Reserve has really turned things around. GreenTracks' expedition trips into the Reserve help to provide funding for this and other programs that strive to ensure the future of all wildlife in the Amazon.

River turtles play an intrinsic role in the aquatic food chain and, with the exception of one small species, all are primarily vegetarians. Their massive egg laying parallels the sea turtles and like them their hatchlings are devoured by any number of predators. The problem for these magnificent creatures stems from the fact that their nesting beaches and nests and are so easy for humans to locate. Turtle eggs have been (and remain) a popular delicacy for the local population. With egg predation taking place at such a high level, it is remarkable that any of these turtles exist today. There are almost no places left where, as we observed in the 1970s, there seem to be more turtles than water in the river.

Like so many wildlife crises, this is a story of ignorance and greed, because River Turtles could be easily converted into a renewable resource via head-start programs and farming operations. If solid populations can be returned to the rivers there will be a positive effect on the fishing industry, which also is in decline in many areas owing to non-management. GreenTracks is pleased to help in this effort and we hope to introduce others via visits to the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.



Costa Rica has done an admirable job setting aside critical habitat for conservation. Actually, now that we think of it, if we grade on the curve, that is, if we allow for how much a country CAN do versus what it DOES do, Costa Rica likely comes in well ahead of the USA with regard to conservation efforts.

One of the wildest and most ecologically significant areas in Costa Rica is the Osa Peninsula, situated along the southwest Pacific coast. Home to the incomparable Corcovado National Park, this wilderness is vulnerable to everything from illegal lumbering to poaching to habitat destruction. So it is with pleasure that we recommend the Friends of the Osa organization for their grassroots efforts to save the peninsula.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

SPOTLIGHT ON FAUNA - Amazon Hatched-faced Treefrog

All over the Amazon there are "islands" composed of floating masses of vegetation, mostly water lettuce and hyacinths. These floating mats are home to all manner of insects (mostly grasshoppers) and spiders, and not surprisingly to the frogs which feed on them. During GreenTracks' night excursions by boat, we often run the boats up into these mats and turn off the motor so it is possible to see and hear the chorusing frogs all around us. Typically one will see White-lipped Treefrogs, Clown Treefrogs, Polka-dot Treefrogs, and perhaps a sleeping Iguana. But one little frog makes a curious noise, and it sounds like someone tapping two rocks together. A careful search will eventually yield an Amazon Hatchet-faced Treefrog (Sphaenorhynchus dorisae). Green like the plants they live in and so soft they look like they're made of jelly, Hatchet-faced Treefrogs have a Zen-like quality about them. Perhaps it is the horizontal eyes, or maybe their calm demeanor. When it is breeding season these amphibians lay masses of pearly eggs among the water lettuce. But it is the distinctive clack-clack-clack of their call that makes them so typically a part of the Amazon.



Travellers' Wildlife Guides Peru
by David L. Pearson, Les Beletsky,

From the world-famous Machu Picchu Incan ruins high in the Andes Mountains, to Lake Titicaca in southern Peru, to the Iquitos area of Amazonian northeastern Peru, travelers want to experience tropical forests and other stunning habitats and catch glimpses of exotic wildlife. This book is a good introduction with information you need to find, identify, and learn about Peru's magnificent animal and plant life.

More Info/Order


Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Chalalan Eco-Lodge is located adjacent to Laguna Chalalan, a beautiful jungle lake, only a short half-hour hike from the Tuichi River in the heart of Madidi National Park. Your journey to this remote rainforest reserve begins with a one-hour flight from La Paz over the frozen Andes to the frontier town of Rurrenabaque. After an overnight at a local hotel, you travel upriver via motorized canoes for approximately five hours on the Beni and Tuichi Rivers, for the short hike to the lodge. Here you will certainly have a profound experience of a truly wild region of the Amazon.

More information on Chalalan Eco-Lodge



For those looking for a profoundly “real” Amazon experience, Bolivia's Madidi National Park offers everything available in the more well-traveled areas...and more. This region has been described as the archetype of what the Amazon used to be like and it has it all; dense rain-forest, vast open savannas, winding tropical rivers, large numbers of birds and mammals, and the seldom seen indigenous people of the tropical rainforest. Bolivia's tropical Amazonia begins on the eastern ramparts of the Andes mountains. It's characteristically steep jungle terrain with whitewater rivers that drain green mountain slopes. Gradually, it levels out into lowlands spreading north, east and south. Within this region is one of the most impressive National Parks in the Americas: Madidi. This is a true wilderness area. Human encroachment is in many parts non-existent.
More information on Madidi National Park


Monday, August 17, 2009


Anyone who has spent time in the rainforests of Latin America will be quick to tell you that the rulers there are not the jaguars, the piranhas, or the anacondas. The rulers are the insects, most especially those that bite or sting. We once took a group of wildlife enthusiasts on an expedition trip to the headwaters of a seldom traveled river. They were interested in any and everything, but one fellow in particular, a forester from Mississippi, really felt at home. All week he noticed things usually only the guides could spot. He was having the time of his life, and his interest really spiked when we found an abandoned Bell Wasp nest while we worked our way through flooded forest.
Bell Wasps make distinctive paper nests that look like huge cylindrical white cakes suspended from tree branches along river courses. Up to five feet in height, the white color makes them easily visible. The nest we found was in a dead tree right at deck height. Typically, Bell Wasps crawl around on the outside of their nests and this one had none in evidence. We tapped on the nest, marveling at the thickness and durability of the paper. Then the gentleman from Mississippi said that since it was abandoned he would like to take it home with him. After cautioning him about possible difficulties with the airlines, he was still insistent, so we hacked the branch off above and below the nest and he leaned it against the wall in the galley way where our rooms were located.

Everything seemed to be fine for a couple of days. That's when the wasps woke up. Soon enough we found ourselves on deck as we pondered our alternatives. The boat we were using had a single hallway with a door towards the bow and another towards the stern. The nest, naturally, was about midway along this hall. It was apparent that someone would have to fetch the nest and remove it, and the logical person to perform this unenviable task was the tour leader. So, with crew members manning each door, in he went. When he picked up the nest and ran towards the stern, one of them opened the rear door and let him charge past, hurling the nest of angry wasps into the river on the starboard side and diving into the river on the port side. Aside from ridding the boat of the problem wasps and providing fodder for lots of laughter from everyone on board, his only consolation was the free rounds at the ship's bar!

GreenTracks Amazon Cruises


SPOTLIGHT ON FAUNA - Horned Screamer

When we travel on the Amazon it is always hard to see the big river as anything but straight. But the truth is, like all rivers the Amazon twists and turns like dribbled honey. And it changes its course, often cutting loops off and leaving them as isolated lakes which we call "Ox-bows" owing to their distinctive shape. In Peru they are known by a Quechua term, "cocha." The fauna of cochas includes fishes and birds not usually found along the river itself, so we visit these lagoons to see special creatures. And one that never fails to interest and amuse us is a ponderous bird that looks for all the world like one of Dr. Seuss' creations. It is the Horned Screamer (Anhima cornuta), one of only two species of bird that comprise the family Anhimidae. Aside from the cumbersome body, this vegetarian sports huge feet to help it walk across islands of floating vegetation. There is a long, bony spike protruding from the head, and an additional pair at each shoulder. Although graceful in flight, watching these immense birds struggle to take flight, seeing them walk and observing them uncomfortably perched in palm trees is somehow funny. Up close they look and act like the original Godzilla model. They just don't seem like birds!

Ranging from Venezuela and Colombia south through the Amazon Basin to Bolivia, these strange creatures suffer hunting pressure in several countries. Fortunately, in Peru they lead fairly tranquil lives so we are usually fortunate in seeing them, and they can almost always be heard. Their sonorous honking sounds like anything but a bird calling and the sound is the subject of several popular jokes told by local fishermen.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Manu - Reduced Rates for 2010

We have just received information that some lodges and tour providers in the Manu region have reduced prices for 2010. Most Manu tours and lodges fill many months in advance. Don't miss this opportunity to visit an incredible wildlife destination and save money. See our Manu region web pages for tour programs, 2009 prices and the new 2010 prices. Manu with GreenTracks


From TripAdvisor travel forum

Question: What is the best Peruvian Amazon Area to visit?

I am traveling to Peru next year and want to visit Machu Pichu and the Amazon. Where would I go to get the best Amazon experience. A boat ride would be nice, as would some nice trails. Is a river cruise the best way to do it?
from: Mistyblue 528 in Connecticut

Answer: Re: What is the best Peruvian Amazon Area to visit?

A riverboat trip out of Iquitos is a great way to see the Amazon. Some of these riverboat trips go to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in which there are excellent trails and lots of wildlife. The Puerto Maldonado area is also very good. Check out GreenTracks, a company I have used and has a lot of experience with all areas of Peru.

from: SurViaje in Lima


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

FREE GreenTracks CD-Rom

Be sure to request your....
FREE GreenTracks CD-Rom of Amazon Information with an Amazon Slide Show.
Features over 200 images of animals, plants, people and scenes from the Amazon.
Photos taken by our tour leaders on GreenTracks tours.
Visit the web page to order yours: Free Amazon CD ROM


FEATURED TOUR - MANU BIO-TRIP - From the Andes to the Amazon.

This six-day program provides a complete overview of the habitats and wildlife found at different elevations along the road-and-river route from the heights of Cusco to the Manu lowlands. You travel in our expedition bus down the orchid-festooned cloud forest road to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, which offers the world's finest viewing of these blazing scarlet birds.
The following day, we drive and boat to Pantiacolla Lodge or Amazonia Lodge in the foothills of the Andes. On day three, we boat to Manu Wildlife Center and spend three nights there exploring the vast Manu lowlands. This trip includes visits to the Macaw Clay Lick, the Tapir Clay Lick, a rainforest canopy platform, and a mature oxbow lake. On the last day, we fly out from Boca Manu to Cusco.
View full Itinerary or visit


GreenTracks Book Review

Peru's Amazonian Eden: Manu National Park and Biosphere Reserve
by Kim MacQuarrie (Author), John Terborgh (Author), Jordi Blassi (Editor), Andre Bärtschi (Photographer)

This richly illustrated book is a labor of love. It traces the history of the Manu region, the origin of the park and those responsible, provides an overview of flora and fauna and covers resident indigenous populations in depth. Concluding comments deal with the future of the reserve. Check lists of flora and fauna and an extensive bibliography are provided. Considerable effort has been made to identify the species depicted in the color photographs and for the most part they are correct. The images made by André Bärtschi are exceptional.

More Info/Order


Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The Peruvian department of Madre de Dios, which includes the renowned Manu National Park, is part of what the ancient Incas called "Antisuyo." The name "Madre de Dios," according to the Dominican Friar Pío Aza, derives from a legend in the archives of Paucartambo (now Cuzco) regarding an image of the Virgin Mary said to have appeared along one of the rivers in the area. Although much of the region is forested, the least altered area is Manu, which boasts a biological diversity considered to be one of the richest on the planet.

For many years the Madre de Dios was all but inaccessible. Faustino Maldonado made the first significant penetration of the region, and today the regional capitol Puerto Maldonado honors his name. The valley of the Río Manu and its tributaries now comprise Manu National Park. Owing to years of effective protection, Manu and the surrounding forests retain significant amounts of wildlife and, in contrast to much of the Amazon, it is still fairly easy to observe.

In fact, Manu is one of the few places where one can hope to see a Giant River Otter, a Tapir, White-lipped Peccaries, or perhaps a Jaguar. All of these and more species have been observed during our expeditions into the area. Spectacular numbers of macaws and parrots mob the mineral licks in several areas along the Río Madre de Dios.

From the beautiful Cocha Cashu with its mirrored waters in Manu national park to the equally impressive Lago Sandoval near Puerto Maldonado, Peru's southern Amazon Basin beckons lovers of wilderness and nature the world over.

More information on the Manu region



It was long believed that building rainforest reserves around the home range of the top predators would provide the minimum critical area for success. Thus, the wide ranging Jaguar (Panthera onca) was the benchmark for such efforts in South America. The idea, in part, is a good one, but we now understand that the real top predator in any ecosystem is--look in the mirror--Homo sapiens.

It is generally accepted that helping local communities solve their problems leads to sustainable use of resources and has a beneficial effect on the habitat in which these people live. While many conservation organizations do a good job of popularizing animals and their plight, we want to recognize an outstanding group called Cultural Survival.

Cultural Survival was founded in response to the opening up of the Amazonian and South American hinterlands during the 1960's, and the drastic effects this had on indigenous inhabitants. It has since worked with indigenous communities in Asia, Africa, South America, North America, and Australia, becoming the leading US-based organization defending the rights of indigenous peoples around the world.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Delfin I and Delfin II Amazon Cruises

Cruise the Amazon in upscale comfort aboard an elegantly appointed riverboat to visit the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Excursions to view wildlife, hike in the rainforest and visit a riverside village.

The best alternative for those wishing to explore the Amazon from a comfortable riverboat but who can not devote a week as with our 7 day program.Even though these are technically Amazon River Cruises, you won't be stuck on the cruise vessel. As the boat travels the Amazon River and its tributaries, you will enjoy frequent off-boat excursions, such as hikes through the rainforest and small-boat trips in search of wildlife. Expert naturalist guides will give explanations of the incredible plants and numerous species of captivating animals that you'll see. You will even visit several riverside villages and meet some of the true natives of the Amazon.

5 day/4 night and 4 day/3 night programs available. Read more...


We received the following comments from recent travelers on our Amazon Riverboat Cruise:

"We had a great time on the Delfin II and at Ceiba Tops. Especially because there were only 12 of us on the boat and we had our own guide in the jungle. Great weather, great wildlife, great scenery, great accommodations. Thanks for your help with this trip!!" Marlene Ruby-Canaday


GreenTracks Book Review

One River. Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest
By Davis, Wade. 1996
At once a treatise on Amazonian ethnobotany, global geopolitics, and a personal odyssey, Davis’ book also provides a biography of his mentor, the great botanist and explorer Richard Evans Schultes. Thoroughly researched, masterly interwoven, and well written, this book not only enlightens us about a great man and a great river, but also it defines the author. Superb.
More Info/Order


Thursday, August 6, 2009


Murphy's Law must have started somewhere in the Amazon, because whatever can go wrong usually does. Seeing wildlife requires some effort, but also a lot of luck, and even though GreenTracks Travelers are usually aware of this and gracious about it, we still feel the pressure to produce. And so it was that on a recent trip we hosted a group whose primary interest was not just in seeing birds but in seeing macaws. We explained that we would eventually reach an area that had often been productive but that it was still several days" journey by boat. Each day they asked about macaws and, despite having seen a small group fly over the boat, their interest remained strong and our tour leader and guides felt the pressure. Naturally it rained every day and the fact that macaw colors are especially difficult to discern on cloudy days made us worry even more. Finally we reached the spot we had told them about. We arrived late afternoon in a drizzle; no macaws in sight! We took a night hike that produced everything from sleeping monkeys and manikins to beautiful frogs, but the pressure was on. And wouldn't you know it, the next morning was perfect: a beautiful sunrise and all sorts of bird activity. But macaws are not inclined to sit around; they fly considerable distances over rainforest and perch in the largest trees. We knew it was a roll of the dice, but we were hopeful as we piled into the smaller boats and headed across the river to the big lagoon.

Our destination was a huge tree right at the water's edge. Macaws used this as a perch… sometimes. The entrance to the oxbow lake was alive with birds and in rapid succession we spotted a Rufescent Tiger Heron, a gorgeous Capped Heron, flocks of Canary-winged Parakeets and even a stunning Swallow Tanager, with iridescent turquoise plumage that rivaled that of a morpho butterfly. With fingers crossed we rounded the last bend and there before us, with the slanting morning sun angled perfectly on it, stood the huge tree and no fewer than 36 Blue-and-yellow Macaws graced its branches!!

It was simply too good to be true! Needless to say, everyone on board was jubilant, and binoculars and cameras were glued to their faces. Punctuating the air with raucous screams, several of the big birds would circle the tree before settling again. Others groomed or fed themselves. It was a full and perfect a show as anyone could have hoped for and those of us responsible for everyone's happiness breathed a collective sigh of relief!!! Not only had we found exactly what everyone wished to see, but also we were privileged to witness a chapter of macaw life not always available for viewing.

GreenTracks Amazon Cruises


SPOTLIGHT ON FAUNA - Pigmy Silky Anteater

Once in a while when GreenTracks is doing a night walk in the rainforest we find a bizarre animal that looks for all the world like it was created by committee. Not much larger than a rat, and covered with fine soft fur, the Pigmy Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) has a prehensile tail like a monkey and a snout like an armadillo. This diminutive mammal is the smallest of the three anteater species found in the Amazon and it may be the most common. We say "may be" because they are difficult to encounter so no one really knows. But Silky Anteaters are so easily overlooked that they turn up close to human settlements on a regular basis. Finding one by day would be pure luck, but at night we are able to see details much more clearly than by day. Typically, Silky anteaters move slowly along horizontal branches around ten feet or so above the forest floor and they hunt for several prey species of ants that nest and forage at the same level. They use their strong, sharp claws to open ant tunnels in decaying wood and to support themselves as they climb. Although these anteaters are sleepy and easy going, they can defend themselves effectively using rapid slashes with their claws, so when one turns up we look but do not touch!!