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Peru river journey

Thursday, February 14, 2008
The Republic of Peru stretches for 2414 kilometres along the Pacific coast of South America. The Andes Mountains divide it into three sharply differentiated zones and it experiences 89 of the world's 110 climates and microclimates. It share borders with Ecuador and Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and the Pacific Ocean washes at its west coast.

The Cradle of the Inca Empire, Peru has countless indigenous ethnic groups and languages numbering in the hundreds. Its registered 5000 archaeological Inca sites grows each year as the most exciting discoveries are uncovered.

Peru's capital, Lima, is on the central western coast and is large, noisy, polluted and shrouded in a misty fog called the garua for much of the year, though there can be sunny times between December to April. It runs at a slower pace than many South American metropolises with friendly and calm people. It has important historical sites and quality museums, most notably the internationally famed National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology.

570 kilometres south-east is the mountain city of Cusco, a city where past and present collide. It is the archaeological capital of Peru and the mythical capital of the Inca Empire with walls and battlements of stone evoking the greatness of the people of the sun. It is a place of historical monuments, relics, myths and legends, all of which fascinate visitors.

The Getaway crew took a 10-hour truck ride from Cusco and slowly made its way to the little river port of Atalaya before heading to the Manú National Park in search of one of Peru's mystical jungle shaman (medicine men).

The only way to travel the Manú National Park is by riverboat along the Rio de Madre de Dios, 8200 kilometres of river system. It originates in Cusco and flows down the range, through Bolivia and joins the Amazon before flowing into the ocean in Brazil. Covering an incredible 8.2 million square kms, the Amazon is the largest rainforest on earth.

Local wildlife is varied almost beyond belief. Over one-third of all animal and plant species on earth are found there — including 800 bird species and 15,000 species of plants. Up to 250 tree varieties have been found in a single hectare. Animals play an important role acting as omens and message bearers.

Brightly coloured flocks of parrots arrive each day to eat the red clay of steep cliffs. No one is sure why they do this, but zoologists are trying to fathom it but believe it is to aid digestion.

The vast majority of Peru's 27 million people live a very simple, subsistence life and while pressure from western countries is mounting to cease its cultivation, the cocoa leaf is a most important crop to them.

Cocoa leaves are the raw ingredient for cocaine and have been chewed by Andean Indians for over 5000 years. It eases the effects of high altitude, gives energy and is still offered as sacrifice to the gods. The plant's natural habitat is the higher foothills of the Andes, specifically in Peru and Bolivia. Despite the Spanish objecting to its use when they arrived in South America, it was through them that the leaves first reached Europe.

Quite understandably, poor farmers will sell the leaves they harvest to cartels for twice the amount they would receive on the legitimate market.

After five days of travelling down stream, our crew reached the tiny village of Boca Manu. As small as it is, it has one of the Amazon Basin's biggest reputations, and it's all about the river boats they build.

The boat yard the crew visited keeps 18 men employed year round, so it is a vital source of income for the village. Enormous cedar logs and other driftwood floats down river after the big wet season, and that is pulled from the river to create the boats. The craftsman Ben met turns out 25-30 a year. A beautiful 12 metre long cedar boat sells for around $1700.

After spending some time with the villagers, the jungle trek to meet the shaman began. It became evident along the way that these people, while living in one of the world's most remote places, live very successfully off the land, and have done so for centuries. They have everything a city has. There's a place where they make tools, a place to make medicine — even a supermarket — and after days of travelling, it was time to meet the shaman.

Shamanism is a range of beliefs and practices used to communicate with the spirit world. There are many variations throughout the world, but they all share some beliefs. The main belief is that spirits play important roles in human lives and that the shaman can control or co-operate with those spirits for the benefit of the community.

Sprits can be good or bad, and shamans engage in various means of inciting trances. It could be singing, dancing, taking entheogens (a plant or drug used to bring on a spiritual experience), meditating or drumming.

Shamans are healers, gurus and magicians and their spirits leave the body and enter the supernatural world during certain tasks.

It is believed shamans can diagnose and cure human suffering, and in some societies, can cause suffering. They act as an intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds, using magic to cure illness, foretell the future and control spiritual forces. They have been credited with being able to control weather, interpret dreams and travel to upper and lower worlds. Their traditions have existed throughout the world since prehistoric times.

Our crew met a shaman and his wife at their home. It was basic, but set up for travellers seeking his advice. Shamanism is thought to have been practiced in Peru for 3000 years.

The shaman prepared a ritual potion using the sacred ayhuasca plant, and he and his patient entered the spirit world together, seeking answers.

You can enter the world of deepest, darkest Peru with Ultimate Tours.


Peru on the west coast of South America.


Ultimate Tours Peru has seven-day Jungle Tours starting at about $3350 per person including accommodation and camping huts, all meals and all land and river transport.

Private (two people): $3350
Group (Four people):$2160*

*$2160 per person for groups of four people.

Aerolineas Argentina has flights to Lima.

  • Sydney $1899
  • Melbourne & Brisbane $2099
  • Adelaide $2199
  • Perth & Darwin $2669

Valid for travel between March 01-November 30, 2008. Conditions apply.

Prices quoted correct at 14.02.2008

For more information

Ultimate Tours Peru
Ph: (02) 9977 1152

Aerolineas Argentinas
Level 3, 64 Clarence Street
Sydney 2000
Ph: (02) 9234 9000
Fax: (02) 9234 9020

It is recommended travellers to Peru see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended for Peru. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information visit

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User comments
I Just want to know whens the next part going to be on?
Thank you Ben for the insightful tour of El Manu - i have done a similar journey myself and i know that although the 10 hour journey on the river is not luxurious it is real travel!
Peru's jungle, rivers, desserts, beaches, cities, mountains and every single corner of the coutry has so much to offer than the rubbish Ben has been wasting his time on. He is clearly patronising locals with his comments and mocking poor people he meets. Stop being arrogant and do something more professional! Mili
How amazing that Ben went on an ayahuasca journey on primetime, I am hornswoggled..
I would like to congratulate Ben Dark on his excellent reporting on Getaway. Ben not only goes to the best destinations, but he isn't afraid to "rough it" and go to the more remote destinations that the others don't go to. Well done!!

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