Amazon Biodiversity Expeditions
in Southeastern Peru
December 13-22, 2020 & December 28-January 06, 2021
Join the Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon in Peru as we explore a remote corner of the world's largest and most biodiverse rainforest and study some of its key groups of plants and animals. Our goals are to document species diversity in this poorly-known area and monitor plant and animal populations over time, and ultimately protect the region's incredible biological wealth in the face of rapid global change. You will help us to do it.
Dec. 13-22, 2020 or
Dec. 28-Jan. 06, 2021
Camping in tents,
Expedition Highlights >>
We will focus our work on three taxonomic groups. Expedition participants can assist in one, all, or any combination of groups that suits their interests. Scroll down to read about them.
Insect diversity and biology
The ASA has several ongoing projects related to insect diversity and biology in southeastern Peru, and our expeditions further the goals of these long-term projects. In particular, we focus on the order Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths. We will document the butterfly and moth species present in the study area, collecting butterflies by day using hand nets and baited traps placed in the rainforest canopy, and sampling moths at night using a portable LED light setup. We will also search for butterfly and moth caterpillars and rear them to adulthood in our field laboratory, to document species' host plants. You can read more about our work with Lepidoptera in Peru and our research progress and publications here.
In addition to Lepidoptera, we will also sample insects in other groups ranging from beetles to ants to true bugs and Orthoptera (crickets and grasshoppers), among others, using a variety of field sampling techniques across a range of Amazonian ecosystems found at the study site. The diversity of insects in our region is staggering, so we will have our work cut out for us!
Reptiles and amphibians
Surveying reptiles and amphibians is relatively straightforward but, due to the cryptic nature of many species, long hours are required to build a site inventory. Thus, we will spend significant time in the rainforest searching for these animals, especially at night, when they tend to be most active. Tropical reptile and amphibian species are facing serious threats, including habitat loss and declining populations due to illegal trade and disease (e.g., Chytridiomycosis). Data gathered during the expedition will provide important baseline information to monitor changes in populations over time as these threats grow. Although the study site has not been explored, target species which we hope to find include green anaconda and several other species of boas, bushmaster, other viper species, caiman, turtles, and, of course, a large diversity of frogs and other amphibians.
We will survey these animals using two methods. First, we will document primate diversity and abundance by patrolling trails and transects within the study area. Target species include howler monkeys, two species of capuchins, squirrel monkeys, tamarins, and night monkeys, among others. Second, we will deploy camera traps at strategic locations to document more elusive species such as jaguar, puma, giant anteater, short-eared dog, giant armadillo, ocelot, and white-lipped peccary. We expect all of these species and many more occur within the study area, but without any sampling their presence remains to be confirmed. We will be the first biologists to do so, establishing a baseline inventory of the site from which changes in populations over time can be monitored.
About the study area
Sunrise over the rainforest at the study site
Aerial view of a large 'aguajal', or palm wetland, near the study site
The big broccolis are Brazil nut trees, one of the dominant canopy species in our area
Sunrise over the rainforest at the study site
Peru's Madre de Dios region, located in the country's extreme southeastern corner, is home to some of the largest expanses of pristine rainforest remaining anywhere in the Amazon. Roughly half of the region's forests are protected for the conservation of biodiversity and other natural resources, including Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa), which are harvested sustainably across more than one million hectares of natural rainforest in Madre de Dios. We will travel to the end of a road that provides access to a large area set aside for Brazil nut extraction, where other activities that are devastating much of the rest of the Amazon—logging, gold mining, and cattle ranching, to name a few—are not permitted. As primary, undisturbed rainforests become ever more scarce throughout Amazonia, a better understanding of their biodiversity and how intact plant and animal communities function is of increasing importance. If we know how a rainforest ought to look, for instance, as well as what species it ought to contain and in what numbers, we will be better able to restore degraded areas to their ideal state. The data that we will gather during our expeditions, from primary rainforests that have been almost untouched by humans, will help us to better protect species and conserve biodiversity as the threats posed by human activity grow throughout the Amazon.
The study site is covered mostly in upland, 'terra firme' rainforest where the dominant emergent trees include Brazil nut, ironwood (Dipteryx micrantha), and ana caspi (Apuleia leiocarpa), among many other species. These emergents tower over the rainforest canopy and are found here in great numbers, whereas they are declining in most other areas due to illegal and unsustainable logging and conversion of rainforest to agriculture. There is also an 'aguajal' within easy access, which is a unique Amazonian wetland ecosystem that is dominated by the palm tree Mauritia flexuosa, known locally as 'aguaje'. These palms form dense stands that are an important resource for nesting blue-and-yellow macaws, a variety of large mammals including howler monkeys, and a large yet unknown diversity of terrestrial and aquatic insects, other invertebrates, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. We will have the opportunity to explore these diverse Amazonian ecosystems by foot and by water, allowing us to sample an incredible number and variety of unique plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth.
Geoff Gallice, Ph.D.
President of the Board, ASA
Geoff has been studying Amazonian butterfly ecology, natural history, and conservation for more than the past 10 years. He has a particular interest in understanding what makes some species common and others more rare, and he also heads a long-term project to document all of the butterfly and moth species, as well as their host plants, in southeastern Peru. Geoff has taught field courses, led expeditions, and conducted biological research throughout the world's tropics, including Peru and Ecuador, Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Day 1. The team meets in Puerto Maldonado, the bustling capital and economic hub of the Madre de Dios region. In Puerto Maldonado we'll have the chance to pick up last minute supplies before heading to our base camp, Finca Las Piedras. Overnight at Finca Las Piedras.
Day 2. Finca Las Piedras is the ASA's home base in Madre de Dios, and it is here that we'll get our first introduction to the rainforest and the techniques used to study biodiversity in the Amazon. We'll also use this time to make final preparations for the next day's expedition further into the jungle. Overnight at Finca Las Piedras.
Day 3. From Finca Las Piedras we'll travel to the end of a rough road used to take Brazil nuts out of the rainforest. This will be our base camp, miles from the nearest town, shop, or house, from where we will explore the rainforest, its different ecosystems and myriad plants and animals. We'll set up our tents, get settled into the remote jungle, and get to work! Overnight in our tents at the remote expedition site.
Days 4-8. The field work continues. Since we'll be studying different groups of animals during both day and night, we will organize our time so that everything gets done and everyone is contributing to the project or projects they have the greatest interest in. We'll be hunting for butterflies and scanning the canopy for monkeys in the day, walking the rainforest at night to search for reptiles and amphibians, and spending every minute possible searching for too many things than can be listed here. Nights spent in tents at the remote expedition site.
Day 9. With our work finished, we’ll retrace our steps back to Finca Las Piedras to clean off our gear, sort through our specimens, enter data, and organize photos and videos. Tonight we will have a farewell dinner as a group and reflect on our experience in the rainforest. Overnight at Finca Las Piedras.
Day 10. With the expedition concluded we will make sure each participant makes it to the airport for their flight home or onward travel.
The expedition fee covers all project-related local transportation and all accommodations, including transfer to and from the airport (or bus terminal) in Puerto Maldonado, all other transportation to and from the expedition site, all lodging (lodging at Finca Las Piedras, as well as a basic campsite at the expedition location), and all food (3 meals per day). All field equipment related to biodiversity surveys (insect traps and nets, specimen storage equipment, GPS units, etc.) will also be provided.
What's Not Included
The fee does not include meals in Puerto Maldonado (if arriving early), international or domestic airfare (i.e., from your home country to Lima, and then on to Puerto Maldonado), or personal expenses in Peru (e.g., souvenirs, alcoholic beverages, etc.). Personal gear and equipment, including tents or other camping gear, binoculars, etc., are not provided. Medical expenses, including travel/medical insurance that covers you in Peru (required), as well as any costs associated with medical care and/or evacuation in Peru, are also not covered by the Expedition Fee.
The first two nights of the expedition, as well as the last, will be spent at Finca Las Piedras, the ASA's rustic yet comfortable home base in the Peruvian Amazon that has shared rooms, shared composting toilets and showers, a screened dining hall, and WiFi. The remaining nights will be spent camping at a remote site with very basic facilities. Expedition participants should each plan to bring a tent (or share with another participant), a sleeping pad, and a light sleeping bag. Meals will be cooked for us at the campsite and we will eat under the rainforest canopy and a brilliant jungle night sky.
How to Apply
Joining the expedition team is easy! Just follow the following four easy steps:
1. Make sure you meet the eligibility requirements (See FAQs).
2. Decide which session you'd like to participate in and fill out the form below. Once we receive it we'll send you further instructions.
4. Return all follow-up documentation and pay your full balance by up to two weeks before the start of your expedition.
Important Information Regarding Covid-19
The health and safety of participants in our programs is of extreme importance to us. We have adopted a number of measures to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus at our facilities and on all of our programs that are based on guidelines provided by Peruvian and international health organizations, including the Peruvian Ministry of Health, the WHO, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These measures include social distancing and sanitation protocols, among others, and will be in place during all expeditions.
We also understand that the rapidly evolving situation makes planning difficult, especially in terms of travel arrangements. To accommodate this uncertainty we have temporarily relaxed our normal requirements for payments and registration deadlines. Until further notice participants will be able to pay the full balance of their program by up to two weeks before its start date. We have temporarily waived the normally-required application fee. Please read our Terms and Conditions for further details.
Am I eligible to participate?In order to join the Expedition you must 1) be at least 18 years old (unless accompanied by a parent or guardian); 2) have proof of medical and travel insurance that covers you in Peru; 3) be in excellent physical condition; 4) have a valid passport or ability to travel to/within Peru. No formal training or education is required; we invite people from all background to assist our biodiversity surveys. However, a healthy curiosity for tropical nature, a positive attitude in the face of challenging field conditions, and a willingness to work with people from a variety of backgrounds to achieve a common goal are essential. Please note that if you plan to join the mammal team, and wish to handle mammals (bats only), then you will need to provide the ASA with proof that you are up-to-date on your rabies vaccination, or that you will be by the time the Expedition begins.
How do I get there?The Biodiversity Survey begins and ends in the city of Cusco, located in the high Andes of Peru’s Cusco Department. There are two ways you can travel to Cusco: overland (i.e., by bus) or by air. A bus from Lima usually takes just over 20-25 hours; a direct flight from Lima is about 1 hour. The Cusco airport (CUZ) is serviced by Latam and Avianca, both of which have daily flights from Lima, but you can also purchase flights through international carriers that are operated by one of these local airlines. You might find it more convenient or cheaper to purchase a flight to Lima from your home city, and then a separate flight onward to Cusco. If coming by bus, we recommend either Cruz del Sur, Movil Tours, or Tepsa; these are the most reliable companies that have service to Cusco and they have the best safety records.
Do I need a visa to enter Peru?Citizens of the United States do not need to apply in advance for a visa to enter Peru for stays of 90 days or less; a visa will be granted at the international airport in Lima upon entering the country (or at the border with a neighboring country). Requirements for citizens of other countries vary, and we recommend that you check these with the website of your country’s embassy in Peru.
What about money in Peru?Peru’s currency is the Nuevo Sol, usually referred to simply as the ‘sol’ (plural ‘soles’). The exchange rate as of Nov. 2019 was about S/. 3.30 to US$1, and this has been stable for several months. ATMs are widely available in most major Peruvian cities, including Cusco, many of which dispense either soles or US dollars. You will receive a slightly better exchange rate at a currency exchanger (available in Cusco) than at an ATM when withdrawing Soles. We recommend that you avoid changing money at airports, as the rate will be fairly poor. How much money you will need while in Peru (and not on the Expedition) will depend on your taste and spending habits. As a rule, you can eat a meal at a fancy restaurant in Cusco for about $10-20 (S/. 30-65); cheaper places (e.g., set lunch or ‘menu’ restaurants) will obviously be much less. Prices for hotels also vary—backpacker hostels may charge S/. 30 per night, whereas nicer hotels will charge as much as S/. 200-300 per night; high-end tourist lodges in the jungle might be as much as $100- 300 per person, per night.
What's the weather like?The expedition begins in the city of Cusco, where temperatures are generally mild during the day and cooler at night (average high in January 11°C (52°F), average low in July 7°C (45°F). During summer months (June-August) temperatures can drop below freezing, especially at night, so make sure to bring one change of clothing to keep you warm before heading to the jungle. The expedition base camp is located where the Andes mountains meet the Amazon basin. Days can be hot when it's sunny (35°C/95°F) or cool if it's cloudy or raining (20-25°C/68-77°F). Evenings generally are cooler than days. Summer also brings ‘friajes,’ which are cold snaps resulting from a cold front moving north from Patagonia along the Andes mountains. Temperatures during friajes can drop below 10°C (into the 40s F), so keep your set of Cusco clothes handy just in case. Although we’ll be in Manu during the region’s dry season, it can still rain any day of the year, so you should also be prepared with rain gear.
What kind of clothing and gear should I bring?We will provide all of the gear and equipment that will be used for our field surveys (e.g., collecting and surveying equipment, etc.). Everything else is your responsibility. The Expedition involves camping in the rainforest, thus there are several items that you will have to bring with you in addition to your clothes, toiletries, etc. Each team member must have a tent (or arrange to share one with another participant), a sleeping pad, and a light sleeping bag or something else to sleep with, as well as several other items. We will provide a complete packing list once you've paid your deposit and recieve the Full Expedition Description.
How do I stay healthy in the rainforest?Despite some of the stories and exaggerated tales from past explorers in the Amazon, the rainforest is not as dangerous or scary a place as many people think. Today, the vast majority of visitors enjoy a completely safe and healthy stay. Nevertheless, we take the safety of our team members very seriously and offer a number of recommendations to help ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable time in Peru. Perhaps the greatest nuisance to humans in our study region is posed by biting insects, including mosquitos and biting sand flies. These are also the vectors of several rare, but potentially serious, tropical diseases. Malaria, Dengue Fever, the Zika virus, Yellow Fever, and Leishmaniasis are all rare but present in the Amazon. We recommend that you discuss your travel plans with your medical doctor for specific recommendations of which vaccinations and/or prophylaxes to take.
What's a typical day like in the field?Most days start early (e.g., breakfast at 6 or 7 am), so that we can make the most of the shorter tropical daylight hours for surveying biodiversity. Those on the bird team will typically be up earlier, since bird activity peaks just after first light; herpers will be out until late on most nights, so will require a bit more time to sleep in. Lunch and dinner are generally taken together as a group, around 1pm and 6pm, respectively, and field work is conducted in between meal times. We take meals very seriously—surveying biodiversity in the rainforest is hard work!
What's the food like in the field?In Cusco we’ll have a wide selection of restaurants to choose from, ranging from local Andean and Peruvian cuisine to international fare, and spanning all budgets. At the expedition base camp at Pantiacolla we will have three healthy meals daily, which will be prepared onsite and served by the expedition chef. Meals are always produced with fresh, local ingredients, some of which come right from the fields outside of Pillcopata. Hot water for coffee and tea, as well as snacks, will be available at all times. We are happy to accommodate any special diets or food restrictions (e.g., allergies, etc.) with advanced notice.
What is phone and internet service like?There is good cell coverage in Cusco (discuss international rates and plans with your home carrier), and limited reception at in Pillcopata, as well as somewhat-reliable WiFi at all of our hotels. Once we depart for Pantiacolla, however, there will be no cell or internet coverage. This Expedition is a time to disconnect and immerse yourself in nature!
How do I do laundry?Cusco has tons of cheap laundry services available. In the field, we wash clothes by hand. We recommend that you bring laundry soap (preferably biodegradable) with you. Otherwise, you can purchase soap and/or detergent in Cusco or Pillcopata.
Still have questions? Send us a message: