Frequently Asked Questions
Preparing to travel to Peru
Download a packing list here. Please read sections below for additional information.
The currency in Peru is the Peruvian Nueve Sol. We say 1 “sol” and many “soles.” The currency exchange rate is ~ 2.7 soles to 1 USD. Changing US dollars in Peru is a difficult thing to do; you will need to bring brand new,high-denomination bills, without any blemishes on them, for a bank to exchange them for you. You can find currency exchanges easily in the airport in Lima as well as in Lima city. In Puerto Maldonado you will have to change currency at a bank (so keep in mind bank working weeks and hours). Thus, the easiest way to get money is to use an ATM via a credit or debit card.
Things to consider: Bring two cards, in case one doesn’t work. Test that your pins work on both of your cards before you come to Peru. You can use an ATM in Lima and Puerto Maldonado very easily. The most you can withdraw in a single day from an ATM is 700 soles or ~$260. ATM charges can apply, including conversion fees, so check with your bank about that. Withdrawing from an ATM is convenient, and prevents you from carrying around a lot of cash, which is always a much safer way to travel.
Traveler’s checks are entirely a thing of the past – just don’t buy them!
You do not need to have cash on you at the station except for possibly 100-200 soles at the very most, for emergencies. There’s nothing to buy, no stores to spend it on; cash, in short, is irrelevant in the rainforest. You only need enough to allow you to return back to town in comfort.
You will require gumboots (aka wellingtons or muck boots), which are knee-high rubber boots. These are essential for all activities, every day at the station. You can bring these from home or buy them in Puerto Maldonado. If you have unusually large feet, don’t risk it and please buy your boots at home. Select a natural colored or black pair, if possible. You will wear these boots every single day while you are in the forest, so if you’re bringing them from home, break them in if you can. If you have sensitive feet with arch trouble, please bring insoles for your boots.
A pair of sneakers will come in handy during your travels and for use while at camp itself. You will never wear flip-flops at camp, for your own safety. You may however prefer to bring a pair so that you can wear them to — or in — the shower.
Pack in something you can carry on your shoulders. Suitcases are not very practical (though people have managed with them). We recommend bringing a big duffel bag, or a backpack with most of your things in it. Try to make it waterproof, or buy some kind of waterproof cover. In the worst case scenario, though, you can put your whole bag in a giant plastic bag to keep it dry once you get to Puerto Maldonado. You’ll also need a small daypack when on site.
The most important things you need in the forest that we will NOT be providing (other than rubber boots) are your daypack, a water bottle, insect repellent, rain jacket or poncho, and a pair of binoculars. Additionally, for most RAships a laptop (not a Chromebook) will be extremely helpful, as will be a digital watch with a repeat timer if you will be collecting behavioral data (see below). Check your packing list for more details. In addition, some things to consider bringing include a penknife (check it in, don’t hand carry – it will get caught), a bandana or hat, and some kind of energy bar as an extra snack.
You will need to use a battery-operated headlamp with LEDs at this site. This headlamp will be your best friend and is useful since it is hands-free. If you’re interested in seeing wildlife at night, bring one that is bright and that has a red light option, as the red light disturbs nocturnal animals a lot less. Headlamps will need batteries and we strongly suggest that you bring rechargeable batteries with you. This means that you must also obtain a small battery charger. If you can’t and have to bring regular batteries, please buy energy efficient ones so you use as few as possible, since you will have to take all batteries back with you and recycle them (you cannot leave them at the field station).
Yes. Make sure that you have something extremely reliable as an alarm clock – whether you use your phone or watch is up to you. Please buy a digital watch with a repeat timer – this last factor is essential in allowing you to collect behavioral data. When at the store, please specifically ask if you can set a timer for a specific duration (eg. 1 minute) that will continually beep every minute. That is what we mean by a repeat timer. If in doubt, purchase this watch from Amazon Smile, or something like it.
Passports are valuable items that you want to protect from mold in the rainforest. The best way to do this is to put them in small ziplock bags and then leave them entirely alone. Do the same with any cash you bring with you also. Paper gets moldy very quickly.
While the weather at the station is typically warm and pleasant (~24C or 75F), we do get moments of cold weather coming in from the Andes. We call these friajes and they can last anywhere from a day to a week. At these times, temperatures can drop as low as 8C (~46F) but tend to be around 12C (~54F). Now a lot of you have definitely experienced temperatures a lot worse than this, but experiencing this type of weather in the rainforest is quite different from anything you have been through. Since the station is designed to keep people cool for most of the year, all the buildings are made of wood and wire mesh (to keep bugs out). Unfortunately, this lets the cold weather right in, so you have to be prepared for this to happen. Bring at least one pair of warm socks, a pair of light gloves and a hoody and some thick sweatpants. If you tend to feel colder than most, bring a little more warm clothing than listed above.
We cannot promise you a friaje but they occur often from May to July, so you have to be prepared for one to happen!
The field station and the course do not provide any medications to students. As such, they must bring a small medical kit for minor issues:
– A course of broad-spectrum antibiotics (ciprofloxacin is a common and effective one)
– A course of antibiotics for digestive trouble, and a small number of pills of immodium (to be used in emergencies only)
– Electrolyte/rehydration packs (hint: the juice flavoured ones are much nicer than the medical ones)
– Anti-fungal cream/powder (effective on yeast), particularly if you are prone to these infections
– Anti-itch medication: over-the counter lotions are ok
– Camphorated alcohol – a local anti-itch/disinfecting method that we highly recommend (can be purchased in Puerto Maldonado)
– Antacids to comfort your stomach
– Band aids, tweezers
– An Epi pen if you are allergic to anything at all
– Antihistamines to be taken in case of mild allergies (something like Claritin/ Zyrtec)
– A venom extraction kit: these are useful in case of wasp or bee stings.
You will have to provide proof of a normal vaccination record (as listed here by the CDC). For travel to Peru, we require that you also get the following vaccines: Typhoid (oral or injectable), Yellow Fever, and Tetanus. If you have the flu shot for the year, all the better. Find a travel clinic and get your shots EARLY.
Those participating in the Wildlife Handling program will additionally need to get the Rabies pre-exposure vaccine series. This is not required for any other program.
We take the health and safety of all participants very seriously at this site. We look out for each other and take care of our team. The field site has stringent protocols on safety procedures in the case of an emergency that we are obliged to follow. If anyone should need medical help, they can be transported downriver to town in a matter of three hours, where they can be treated or evacuated to Lima for treatment. Neither the field station nor Field Projects International will be responsible for costs associated with medical emergencies.
Before being accepted to the program, applicants must submit a brief medical history evaluation. This is not meant to discriminate against people, but instead to protect them from being in a situation where they are at a serious or life-threatening disadvantage.
All participants must sign a participation contract, without which applicants cannot participate in our courses or research programs. We make special references to an alcohol policy in our participation contract – we have a zero tolerance policy at this field station. You will also sign a sexual and gender-based misconduct contract (and so will your supervisors). This is not to suggest that this issue is a problem at this field site in particular. However, there has been a large amount of reporting on these matters in the press of late, and we want to assure you that we take any such violations extremely seriously. We want our participants to be as safe and comfortable as possible.
Field Station Amenities
You will be provided with three meals at the field station each day – breakfast (6 – 7 am), lunch (12-1 pm) and dinner (6:30 – 7:30 pm). These meals are healthy and will fill you up, but this being the middle of the rainforest, don’t expect to get all your food groups represented in the same way you try to eat while you are at home. If you are concerned, take a multi-vitamin while at the field station. Every single thing you eat has to be brought in by boat, so there are limitations on what will make the journey. Rice is a major staple of most every meal, with proteins, vegetables, and fruits widely available. The station has fabulous cooks who can make the tasty dishes with basic and wholesome ingredients. Vegetarians will sometimes get tofu and soy meat substitutes. Being vegan at this field site can be difficult (but not impossible).
You will also have access to cookies, crackers, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, at all times during the day (while you are at camp). If you think you will do better with Cliff or Lara bars (or the like), please bring some for yourself. Any additional treats you bring (including precious chocolate) will be fair game for a lot of small rainforest creatures, so bring plenty of ziplock bags in which to place your food. Also avoid leaving wrappers in your rooms because that will attract some curiosity from miniature wildlife.
The station will provide you with sheets and towels during your stay. However, we strongly encourage you to bring a spare towel for use while your present one is in the wash or drying. It really sucks to be without a towel!
We strongly encourage you to bring your laptops to the field station, as well as your cell phones. They will come in handy for data entry, entertainment, and for checking email. Due to the intermittent/slow nature of internet, as well as the need to use Garmin Basecamp software, Chromebooks are not recommended at all.
Electronics have to be treated differently in the rainforest than you would anywhere else. Do not bother to bring a soft sleeve for the laptop with you, because it will suck up moisture from the air and will envelope your laptop in it, which is bad news. We find that simple plastic ziplock bags work better than sports dry bags. We recommend that you purchase at least two ziplock bags that are large enough to fit your computer. You can also purchase silicon gel packages online (Amazon Smile or Jake’s Silica Gel are good places to try, along with local stores like REI). Put a couple of 5 gram packets inside the ziplock with your computer and bring at least 2 more packets with you.
Peru uses a different set of plugs than the U.S. or England. The field site, however, will have extension cords and power strips that accept US plugs. If you want to plug things in while you travel, though, you might consider picking up a small converter for your electronics that will fit plugs in Peru (see here for a full explanation). The Peruvian system uses 220 volts, instead of 120/140 volts as in the U.S. Please CHECK your electronics to make sure they are compatible before plugging them in at the station or anywhere in Peru. If they don’t work at both voltages, you will need to bring a step up converter such as this one. Also note that you will not find three-pronged sockets in most places, so definitely at least bring a three-to-two prong modifier (such as this) for your electronics.
Electricity at the field station will be provided via a generator from 6 pm to 9 pm each night, during which you will charge your electronics as needed. You may certainly bring solar chargers if you feel the need to, but most of the day you will not be using your electronics at all.
Do not bring a hair dryer, electric razor, or electric toothbrush because those are very much considered an unnecessary luxury at this site. We will prioritize charging absolutely everything else over those items.
Internet access at the field station is wireless, but slow. This means that smartphones, iPads, tablets, and computers of all kinds should be able to connect to the internet.
Please note that since the internet depends on a satellite connection, weather can interfere with it in two ways – one, messing with the signal and two, not allowing solar panels to charge long enough to power the wireless router.
Thus, the internet will not be available at all hours of the day. Most likely, neither will you, since you’ll be in the forest fully occupied. The network will work in the evenings when the generator is on and running, but since everyone will be trying to connect it can slow down a lot. We strongly recommend that you do not rely on it to be available to you every day. Sending an email once every three days or so is a reasonable estimate to provide to your family. See the section on phones to learn about other ways in which to communicate with home from the field station.
The best way to stay in touch with your family is through your phone. The phone network accessible at the field site is called “Claro.” Contact your cell service provider and make sure that you can pick up Claro service while in Peru. Then, purchase an international calling plan, pre-paid minutes, or some kind of international texting plan. This will allow you to communicate with your family at home, as and when you want.
Things to consider: If your phone is not compatible with Claro, you can rent a cell phone in the Lima airport with a local number. You can communicate by services like Whatsapp while you are in Puerto Maldonado because your hostel has wireless internet service, but remember that the internet can often be slow or inaccessible at the field station.
You will do your own laundry at the field station, so bring (preferably) biodegradable laundry detergent from the US with you. You can purchase non biodegradable detergent as well as clothes pins (to secure your washing to a line for drying) in the Puerto Maldonado market.
This is the Amazon rainforest, and as with all tropical areas, there are disease risks. Unlike towns, however, this field station does not hold enough people to serve as constant reservoirs for many diseases.
As such, malaria is not a major concern, and none of our principal researchers take malaria prophylactics. Your travel doctor will most likely disagree because their information is about the region in general, and it is true that malaria can be contracted in Puerto Maldonado. As such, the choice to take malaria prophylactics is entirely personal – if you feel better about it, take the medication. FPI offers no recommendation or medical advice whatsoever.
In recent years, there have been a few cases of dengue at this site, although it is hard to verify whether researchers have contracted it in town or at the field station. There is no vaccine, but there are cures – we remain watchful for this disease.
Leishmaniasis is the a tropical disease that is found at this site – and several researchers have contracted it in past years. It is not a painful disease, but it can be unpleasant if left untreated. As such, if any student or researcher receives a bite that does not heal in a week, we advise them to get tested locally. This has worked for everybody in preventing leishmaniasis, and will be the rule for our team at this field site. In short, any misgivings you may have about using high concentration DEET are significantly outweighed by the unpleasantness of leishmaniasis. Treatment for leishmaniasis can be obtained in Peru or abroad at a travel/CDC clinic.
The recent Zika outbreak is of concern in much of Latin America, although a great deal is still not known about this virus. Since Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are the primary vector of the virus, we again recommend DEET to prevent bites. For much more detailed information, please see the next section in this FAQ.
Chiggers are annoying but do not carry disease. They are small mites of the family Trombiculidae (also known as harvest mites) that can cause you some irritation at Los Amigos. They cause small welts, like mosquito bites, that can itch very badly. They clear up quickly, and there are rarely any scars. Using insect repellent can help in preventing these bites. Also avoid directly on the ground, and tuck your shirt into your pants. Wearing the tall rubber boots will also help greatly. FYI, the mites are 1/60th of an inch long (nearly invisible to the naked eye) and are long gone by the time the bites start itching.
A great deal is still not known about this virus, which is spread by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. There is a possible link to a condition called microcephaly in children born to infected women. While mosquitoes are the primary vector of the virus, the virus can be sexually transmitted.
The CDC’s travel advisories for pregnant women have extended to Peru, suggesting that students who are pregnant — or likely to be pregnant at the time of the course — use caution. There is currently no evidence of any effect on future births for those who are not pregnant at the time of infection, and only around 20% of all infected people exhibit even the minor symptoms of Zika (fever, rash, etc.). There is an additional suspected link to a rare but more severe condition called Guillain-Barré, however this risk is exceedingly low.
The Peruvian government is taking numerous proactive measures to prevent the spread of Zika within the country. These include the use of ovitraps to identify the virus in mosquitoes at many monitoring sites around the country, allowing for swift response if detected.
This is a developing story, and much is still unknown regarding the transmission and health risks of this virus. We recommend that each prospective student and researcher determine their own comfort levels by weighing the available data against their own relative risk. At this point, FPI’s non-pregnant investigators and other staff remain confident about safely returning to the field.
To reduce mosquito bites, we recommend repellents with DEET as the active ingredient, along with loose-fitting clothing and long-sleeves. Clothing may also be treated with permethrin. Furthermore, mosquito bed nets are provided at the field station.
Travel and Stay in Puerto Maldonado
Please make sure to arrive in Puerto Maldonado on the exact date specified for your RAship.
For departure, please plan to leave Puerto Maldonado the day AFTER the end date listed for your program. This will assure that you do not miss your flight because of boats running late or other issues.
For example, if your program runs from June 1st to July 1st, please arrive in Puerto Maldonado on June 1st, and fly out of Puerto Maldonado no earlier than July 2nd.
If you have any confusion about this at all when booking your flights, please contact us (email@example.com).
No, it does not. You will be using either Taca, LATAM or StarPeru to fly the last leg between Lima and Puerto Maldonado. It does not matter which flight you book on that day at all. All flights arrive before 4:00pm and the earlier you fly in, the more time you get to spend in the town and the market.
*Please make sure to arrive in Puerto Maldonado on the date specified for your RAship. If you have any confusion about this at all when booking your flights, please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
You can take a bus from Lima to Puerto Maldonado, but it is a very long journey so give yourself a lot of time to finish this. People frequently experience delays in bus travel from Lima to Cusco, and sometimes from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. Traveling by bus from Lima to Cusco takes ~21 hours non-stop, and tickets cost between $65 and $85 for a one-way ticket. Traveling from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado takes ~11 hours and occurs only overnight at a cost of ~ $30 each way. (These prices are based on bookings at this site – note that we are not responsible for the failures of third party websites) If you are late in arriving to Puerto Maldonado, the scheduled boat might leave without you and you will have to take a local boat taxi to the site. We strongly advise you to give yourself plenty of time if you are planning to rely on bus service in Peru for local transportation.
When all RAs for a project have submitted their travel information, we will collate this information and send you an Arrival Packet. This document will let you know if others are traveling on the same flight/bus as you, and provide you with their email addresses so you can get in touch in advance (if you want to). You will also receive exact instructions on what to do when you land, and an image of your PIs or team leaders so you can look out for them at the airport/bus station. If they cannot be there, we will arrange hostel transportation and/or a trusted local fixer to meet you. The Arrival packet will also provide you with instructions on what to do if you have been delayed, or if your luggage should go missing. In addition, it will include local contact information for your instructors so that you can get in touch with them if needed to let them know if your travel plans were forced to change for some reason.
Getting to the station: It is likely that you will travel as a group to the field station on a boat that is owned by the station, or on a water taxi. Boats depart from Laberinto, a town ~ 1 hour from Puerto Maldonado. Vans will be arranged to take you from Puerto Maldonado to Laberinto. The journey to the field station takes ~6 hours, going up stream on the Madre de Dios River.
Returning to Puerto Maldonado: Return journeys can happen in less than 3.5 hours, because you will be traveling by boat downstream on the Madre de Dios River. Taxis will take you from Laberinto to Puerto Maldonado.
From the airport, you will be picked up and taken to a hostel for the night. You will likely be sharing rooms with others. Women preferring not to share dorm rooms with men will have their requests honored. You do not have to pay for this accommodation, as it will be covered by the program fee. You will spend one night in Puerto Maldonado both before you go to the field station and one more possibly after you return from the station.
Individual lunches and dinners in Puerto Maldonado will not be covered by the program, and snacks are highly recommended for the boat journey to the field station. Meals in Puerto Maldonado are very affordable. For example, a fancy dinner at a very nice restaurant will cost ~$10. Other meals can be purchased for much less than that amount. You will thus be responsible for a lunch (possible, depending on your flight) and dinner on your first and last day in Puerto Maldonado. Breakfast in Puerto Maldonado will be provided at your hostel (on the last morning only, since we typically leave for the station too early in the morning to have the hostel breakfast).