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Peru: Lake Sandoval, Madre de Dios

May 11, 2010

Sometimes nice places are quite accessible.  In the Peruvian Amazon oxbow lakes like Lake Sandoval, formed when winding rivers change course, are common geological features.  When a curve in the river slowly silts and becomes isolated from the flowing current, a lake results.  Untold thousands of them exist throughout Amazonia.

The lake can be reached via boat from Puerto Maldonado, a short hop by air from Cusco.  One can also travel overland on the road that connects the Peruvian Andes to Brazil, but most visitors elect the easy way around yet another terrifying Peruvian road that plummets from the highlands into the jungle.

Puerto Maldonado holds little to captivate the casual observer.  The town exists to service the various enterprises that exploit the rain forest and it is also a transportation hub.  In recent years gold mining has become a concern in the area.  Informal operators ply the river in dilapidated rafts,  scooping silt from the bottom and mechanically panning for gold dust.   The environmental degradation is substantial, but the rain forest still offers escape to those searching for solace in the interior.

1) Waiting for the tide

From the haul-out on the Madre de Dios River a variety of craft ply the waters, carrying both cargo and bringing tourists to various destinations and lodges in the region.  Not far from town is the famous Tambopata Candamo Natural Reserve, a popular waypoint for travel itineraries that include the Amazon.  To get to Sandoval one heads downstream.  The ride takes around an hour, depending on the kind of boat.

2) Putting the “port” in Puerto Maldonado

3) Looking upriver toward the town.  In the background center is the ferry station for the road to Brazil

The stopping point for the hike to Lake Sandoval looks like a random piece of jungle.  A good wide trail plunges into the forest.  Muddy in the wet season, the walk can be a chore, but in the dry season it’s tame enough.

4) For the sedentary traveler, rickshaw transport can be arranged by the lodge: photo courtesy of Charlie Munn

At the end of the trail a small canal leads to the lake.

5) Paddling through the narrow channel to the lake

Lake Sandoval is pristine and nearly untouched.  Giant otters, caimen, paiche, and piraña abound in its waters.  Birds congregate here, too, including the ancient-looking Huatzin.  One shoreline is swampy as its waters drain slowly toward the river.  The other side is bordered by high ground.  Here a nice lodge overlooks the lake.

6) Lake Sandoval Lodge

The views are spectacular.

7) Lake view

You can have great fun borrowing a dug-out and paddling around the lake.  Lots of people swim in it, too.

8) Another vista

However a person gets there, Lake Sandoval is a place worth returning to.

9) Nothing like a double sunset


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