Boat tour in Santa Elena

I have already reported once about another boat tour, in the nature reserve of Tingana, near Moyobamba in the San Martin region of northern Peru. Today I want to talk about Santa Elena. This nature reserve is closer to the city of Rioja than Moyobamba, only 10 minutes from the main road. Therefore, access is much easier than Tingana and Santa Elena is ideal for half-day excursions.

Santa Elena – what is that ?

Santa Elena is a nature reserve that includes the river waters of the Rio Mayos and the Rio Romeros in the Alto Mayos region. This relatively fragile ecosystem is home to a very large variety of birds, insects and smaller animals as well as the Machin Negro and Blanco monkeys, but also exotic flowers, orchids, bromeliads and trees.

Flowers Santa ElenaEcoreserve

The Association for the Conservation of the Rio Romero River Water (ACARR in Spanish) currently has 26 members and takes care of the maintenance of this immense area, which covers almost 1,000 hectares. The goal is to preserve the natural resources and the extraordinary bio-diversity.

A trip to Santa Elena – how does it work ?

We arrive in Santa Elena. We pay 1 sol per person to the lady at the entrance. Inside the park are several open houses where you can rest, more ladies sell soft drinks or chips. Nilson, the person in charge of Santa Elena, whom we already met during our first visit in August, welcomes us.

Santa Elena Nature Reserve

There are several tours to choose from: the small two and a half hour tour, a slightly longer one of four hours, or then the really big tour that lasts 6 hours. It is logical that you have more possibilities to see monkeys the further you go into the reserve. We still decide to take the small tour.

Nilson offers us life jackets, but we refuse – too warm and too bulky. We walk across the jetty to get into our little canoe. In August we had to walk almost 15 minutes to get into the boat, because it was in dry season and there was no water. Now the water is at least 2 meters higher. The path is under water and we walk on a wooden bridge. (Here for comparison photos from January 2016 left and from August 2015 right.)

Footbridge EcoreserveFootbridge San Martin

We get into the boat and drive off with motor for the first time. Two boats are coming towards us, the guests onboard are enchanted, they have seen monkeys, just a few minutes from the jetty. Great, now hurry !! We turn off the engine. Our two guides (one in front, one in back) start rowing and slowly steering us through the crystal clear waters of the river.

I am again taken by the tranquility and serenite that reign in this place. I love this atmosphere to take a deep breath, reflect on life and clear your head.

We see several species of birds, including a beautiful kingfisher (sorry, the photo is not quite sharp, but unfortunately we couldn't do better) and butterflies of all kinds (blue morphos, lemon butterflies or even transparent red ones).

Finally a legend

As we glide past a tree that Nilson calls "Tangerana", we get a detailed explanation. This tree is home to a very small ant species that stings terribly. The natives of the region, the Awajun, used to torture their enemies with it. They simply tied them to one of these trees. If it was just for punishment, the Awajun protected all the openings like mouth, nose and ears and untied them after a couple of hours. But if it was a death penalty, then the enemies were eaten alive. Ewww !