Where The Wild Things Really Are

Where: From Iquitos, Peru

The Amazon has tempted explorers since the 16th century when an intrepid European first encountered it. Today, the world's largest river by volume and second longest (after the Nile) is much easier to navigate, but just as alluring.

Most boat rides into the Upper Amazon begin in Iquitos -- the most populous city in the world that's unreachable by road, and an adventure destination in its own right. This urban oasis is a good spot to settle in for a few days before immersing yourself in the rainforest.

From Iquitos, you'll travel about 80km (50 miles) down the Amazon. Traveling along the dark waters, far into the depths of the wild, your senses become increasingly acute and your heart pounds, unsure of what might be lurking around the next bend. Your eyes strain to take in the overwhelming diversity of flora and fauna. Your ears tune into the many bird calls and animals rustling through the leaves. Your entire body awakens in this fully alive environment. The Amazon is home to a vast biodiversity: more than 2,000 species of fish; 4,000 different kinds of birds; 60 reptiles, including anaconda, the world's largest non-poisonous snake; and mammals ranging from anteaters and pumas to dolphins and crocodiles. Scientists are still working to classify it all, and environmentalists are still striving to preserve this wondrous part of earth. When you see it for yourself, you'll instantly understand why it's worth protecting.

When you reach the Yanamono Stream, you'll check into the secluded Explorama lodge. Using this as your base for a day or two, you'll hike through the lowland rainforest or take short boat excursions if the water's too high to walk through. You may even spot a freshwater dolphin. This area is also home to one of the world's widest varieties of trees in a given ecological system.

Next, head further into the Amazon until you reach the Napo River, where there's a field station for research and another solitary lodge nearby, this one a bit more rustic than the last. Here, you can walk across a swaying canopy walkway, suspended high up in the treetops, that spans 500m (one-third of a mile) and reaches more than 35m (115 ft.) above the forest floor. You can take other boating excursions, hike into the forest to learn about medicinal plants with a shaman, visit with local river people, and even take a jungle walk at night. At one point, your guides will tell you to shut off your flashlight and the entire forest floor -- covered in phosphorescent fungus -- transforms into something like a starry sky. When it's finally time to retire to your lodge or camp out beneath the pitch black sky, you may or may not actually glimpse the nocturnal animals lurking around, but just knowing they're somewhere out there is enough to keep your heart racing and eyes open for part of the night.

Information: Peru Tourism Bureau (www.visitperu.com).

Tour: Amazon Explorama Lodges (tel. 51/65-25-2530; www.explorama.com).

When to Go: Dec-May for the highest waters and most boat excursions; July-Oct for more trekking.

Getting There: Iquitos airport.