Lepidoptera Expedition 2017
Traveling to Peru
How do I get there?
The Lepidoptera Expedition begins and ends in the town of Puerto Maldonado, located in the center of Peru’s Madre de Dios department. There are two ways you can travel to Puerto Maldonado: overland (i.e., by bus) or by air. A bus from Lima will take about 30 hours or more, from Cusco about 10 hours; a direct flight from Lima is about 1.5 hours. The Puerto Maldonado airport (PEM) is serviced by Latam, Avianca, and Star Peru, each of which have multiple daily flights to and from either Cusco, Lima, or both. You may be able to fly directly to PEM from your home city, with a layover in Lima; you might also find it more convenient or cheaper to purchase your flight to Lima, and then a separate flight onward to Puerto Maldonado. Note that Latam and Avianca are the most reliable airlines, but charge higher rates for foreign (i.e., non-Peruvian) travelers. If coming by bus, we recommend either Tepsa or Movil Tours; these are the most reliable companies that have service to Puerto Maldonado, and both have excellent safety records.
Do I need a visa to enter Peru?
Citizens of the United States do not need to apply for a visa to enter Peru for stays of 90 days or less. Rather, 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. Once you have entered Peru, make sure to keep the small white slip of paper that the immigration officer gives you (‘Tarjeta Andina de Migracion’ or ‘Andean Migration Card’), as you may be fined if you can not produce it upon exiting the country.
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. 2016 was about S/. 3.40 to US $1, and this has been stable for several months. ATMs are widely available in most major Peruvian cities, many of which dispense either soles or US dollars. You will receive a slightly better exchange rate at a currency exchanger (available in Cusco and during business hours in Puerto Maldonado) than at an ATM when withdrawing soles. We recommend that you avoid changing money at airports, as the rate will be very poor.
How much money you will need while in Peru (and not with the Expedition) will depend on your taste and spending habits. As a rule, you can eat at a fancy restaurant in Puerto Maldonado for about $10 (S/. 30-35); 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 might be as much as $100-300 per person, per night.
What’s the weather like in the Amazon?
The Expedition takes place in the lowland Amazon rainforest at the beginning of the dry season (also called ‘verano,’ summer). You should be prepared for periods of blistering heat when the sun is out, and intermittent, torrential rain when storms pass through. 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 Fahrenheit), so you should be prepared with a change of warm clothing. The rainforest is an interesting, if bizarre place during one of these cold spells, but you’ll want to be prepared for it!
What clothing and gear should I bring?
We will provide all of the gear and equipment that will be used for our field activities (e.g., collecting equipment, tree climbing gear, 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. Please see the packing list for a complete list of what to bring to Peru.
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. 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 visit.
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 is rare in the study region, but does occur. It is more of an issue in larger towns, though, since at remote sites such as ours there aren’t enough people to serve as constant reservoirs for the disease. We are unaware of any cases of Malaria at any of our field sites, but your decision of whether or not to take a malaria prophylaxis is entirely up to you and your travel doctor.
Dengue is slightly more common in the region in general, especially in Puerto Maldonado, where there are many potential reservoirs and Aedes aegypti—the mosquito that transmits the disease—is more common. There is no vaccine for dengue, but there are treatments. However, as with all insect-vectored tropical diseases, avoiding insect bites is your best protection. Although it can be unpleasant, DEET is very effective at keeping these and other biting insects from biting you and transmitting the disease in the first place.
Leishmaniasis is endemic to our study region. It is transmitted by bites of small sand flies (family Psychodidae), which are active mostly at dawn and dusk, and at night. The disease itself is usually not serious or painful, but can become serious if left untreated for long periods or if the patient has a compromised immune system. Therefore, if a team member has a bite or small wound that does not heal in a week, we will recommend that they get tested locally. Again, this, as with all other insect-vectored tropical diseases, are best avoided through the prevention of insect bites. Covering up while in the forest (e.g., pants, long sleeves) and at camp in the evenings, as well as sleeping in a tent or under a mosquito bed net (provided at all of our non-camping sites), are your best protection.
Zika. This disease has received much attention in the news lately, and has infected large numbers of people across Latin America. Although the symptoms of infection with the virus are typically rather mild (e.g., fever, rash, etc.) and only about 20% of those infected exhibit even mild symptoms, there is a possible link between infection during pregnancy and a condition known as microcephaly in newborns. We know that the Zika virus is transmitted by A. aegypti (the same mosquito that transmits dengue), but much of the rest of the disease’s biology remains a mystery. We follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, and recommend that women who are pregnant, or who may become pregnant during or soon after the Expedition, exercise extreme caution while in Peru. The CDC has a very informative webpage regarding this disease: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.
Do I need any vaccinations?
We recommend that all travelers to the Amazon region have their updated Yellow Fever vaccine, as well as all other standard vaccines and boosters (e.g., hepatitis, typhoid, measles mumps & rubella, tetanus, etc.). Please note that we do not intend to dispense medical advice here; any medical decisions you make, including those regarding vaccinations or other health precautions, are between you and your travel doctor.
How can I stay safe in Peru?
As with anywhere else in the world, you should exercise caution and common sense while traveling in Peru. Don’t walk alone late at night in larger towns and cities, for instance, and avoid ingesting substances from people you don’t know and trust. In addition, you should try to travel only with official taxis, as unofficial ‘pirate’ taxis (just unmarked cars) have been implicated in robberies. Although violent crime directed to foreigners is relatively uncommon in Peru, it is not unknown, and a good dose of caution will help you to avoid any trouble.
Petty crime, especially opportunistic thievery, is more common in Peru than violent crime. Don’t leave valuables (cash, cell phones, tablets, wallets, etc.) in visible or easily accessible, public places at hotels or hostels; instead, check these with your hotel’s safe deposit box or put them in a locker. Also be careful when traveling on long-distance buses—leave your backpack in the rack above your head while napping and you might wake up to it missing. Wallets in back pockets are also easy targets for pickpockets, especially in large cities. Finally, when in doubt, ask at your hotel which parts of the town or city you should avoid, and at what times, and heed their advice. The vast majority of visitors to Peru have a safe and healthy visit, and with a bit of good judgment you will likely have the same experience.
At the Field Sites
What’s a typical day like in the field?
Days will vary by location and depending on what the day’s activities are. 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. We will hold discussions and lectures in the evenings, again to maximize our time out in the field. See the Itinerary for a detailed list of each day’s activities.
What’s the food like at the field sites?
Three healthy meals will be served each day at each of our field sites. At Finca Las Piedras and the Las Piedras Amazon Center meals will be prepared by the onsite chef and served in the common dining hall (the ‘comedor’). On the river we will have a cook who will prepare meals that we’ll take at the campsite. We’ll also have a cook in Monte Salvado that will prepare meals for the group. Meals are always prepared with fresh, local ingredients, and reflect both general Peruvian and regional (i.e., Amazonian) cuisine. Hot water for coffee and tea, as well as snacks, will be available at all times.
We are also happy to accommodate any special diets or food restrictions (allergies, etc.) with advanced notice.
What is phone and internet service like?
There is good cell coverage in Puerto Maldonado, and limited reception at Finca Las Piedras. Once we depart for the Las Piedras Amazon Center and Monte Salvado, however, there will be no cell coverage. Internet use will be limited to Puerto Maldonado (but data coverage is limited at Finca Las Piedras as well), where there are numerous, cheap internet cafes with connection speeds.
We recommend that you discuss international rates and plans with your home service provider. We are also happy to discuss options for purchasing cheap phones or cell/data plans (pay as you go or ‘chips’) with local carriers as well. Make sure you mention this early so we can go over options.
How do I do laundry at the field sites?
There are laundry facilities in Puerto Maldonado that can wash and dry laundry for a fee. In the field, however, 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 Puerto Maldonado.