Mother and son: A Peru Adventure by Jo Kessel and Gabriel De Leuw (Part 1: The Amazon)

Caimans, canoes, canopies and creepy crawlies. UK travel journalist, Jo Kessel and her son, Gabriel, came face-to-face with the flora and fauna that call the jungle home. In part one of their whistle-stop tour of Inkaterra, the duo take us on an adventure as they explore and delve deep into the Amazon Rainforest.


I’d longed to go to Peru, but because my husband had already travelled there pre-me (he walked the Inca Trail) he kept choosing to explore countries new to him. And so it was that I came up with another plan – to take my adventurous thirteen-year-old son, Gabriel, with me instead. Not only was Gabriel up for it, he was ecstatic at the notion.

A dream comes true for a young adventurer, Gabriel says:

Going to South America is a dream for every 13 year old who yearns for adventure. It seems so far away and enchanting compared to wet and windy London. For me, the jungle was a highlight, lying in my hammock for hours on end, watching the world go by, and then canoeing on massive lakes and spotting otters and magnificent birds.


My dream was to visit Machu Picchu, but my son was keen to explore the jungle and eventually we decided upon a week-long itinerary which incorporated the two. A quick overnight in Lima staying at the J W Marriott Hotel gave us enough time to explore the capital’s chic, trendy Miraflores district before hopping on an internal flight to Puerto Madonaldo, gateway to the Amazon jungle.

The thrill I experienced as we sailed in a motorboat along a tributary of the Amazon towards our first hotel – Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica – was huge. I kept pinching myself to believe I was really there, in the middle of remote jungle, far, far away from civilisation as I know it.


We’d heard great reports about the boutique Inkaterra chain of hotels in Peru and particularly loved their eco-friendly credentials. If you’re going to be in the jungle, you (or at least I) might prefer to do it in style, which is something else that Inkaterra does well!

We loved our wooden cabaña which overlooked the river, with its beds draped in mosquito nets and its porch with two hammocks. Gabriel wasted no time hopping into one of them. I imagine that he would have happily stayed glued to his hammock for a whole week, but I pulled him out so that we could go on a twilight river cruise. We spotted the world’s biggest rodent (a capybara) as well as a posse of baby white spectacled caimans. Sailing along the river in the dark, listening to the jungle’s nocturnal sounds was both eerie and magical rolled into one.


Over the next two days one adventure followed another as we packed in excursion after excursion, all included in the price. There was great camaraderie and banter between fellow guests (we made a lot of friends) and wherever we went we were accompanied by knowledgeable guides who took great delight in having a joke at our expense. Their favourite line was: “Let’s go. The tarantulas are waiting for you.” We trekked through the jungle day and night and yes, we did see tarantulas – very scary for a woman that normally shrieks when she spots a common house spider! The only thing which matched in terms of scariness was seeing a toxic toad – their bites are fatal. Needless to say we steered well clear.

The jungle floor was covered with creepy crawlies, including an army of leaf-carrying ants. There were fire ants too, one of which bit poor Gabriel. Their bites aren’t dangerous, but they REALLY hurt for ten minutes or so. Higher up monkeys hopped from tree to tree, several different species, many of them endangered. And way above the treetops (we followed Inkaterra’s canopy walkway – a series of suspension bridges 30 metres high) countless exotic, brightly –coloured birds soared overhead.


Gallant Gabriel reflects on his time at Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica.

One thing I loved (and my mum hated) was seeing a wasps nest as big as you and I, dangling from a tree, 30m high in the jungle canopy. We also went piranha fishing, but the only person who could catch one was the guide!!


For two days we laughed, we shrieked and we lapped up every second, with other highlights including paddling a native canoe along a lake as the sun set. Oh, and the food. We weren’t expecting much in terms of jungle cuisine, so it was a pleasant surprise to eat so well. Everything’s made from local produce and my favourite was paiche – a large white-meat fish – which comes served either in a palm leaf or in a spicy stew. Delicious.

The jungle had been Gabriel’s choice, not mine, but I was so pleased he insisted we go there because it was enthralling from beginning to end. We transferred for our third night to Inkaterra’s smaller hotel in the Amazon – Inkaterra Hacienda Concepción – where we slept in a cabaña on stilts, went piranha fishing (and caught one would you believe!) and found the plant that viagra is made from in their botanical garden.