Our staff welcome you at Puerto Maldonado airport and we drive through this bustling Upper Amazon Basin city to the Tambopata River boat dock. Here we board a powerful motorized dugout canoe and set off to the nearby confluence of the mighty Madre de Dios River, a headwaters tributary of the Amazon. Here we turn downstream for a 25-minute river trip to the trailhead landing at Lake Sandoval. Stopping as we go to spot birds and butterflies, we walk the 3km/2 mile trail to the narrow boat channel through flooded palm forest that leads to the open waters of this peaceful lake. As our crew paddle us across to the lodge (motors are prohibited here), we may see the lake’s surface boken by a massive Paiche – an Amazon fish that can reach 100kg/220lbs. Or perhaps we will hear the strange and haunting calls, and see the heads bobbing above the lake’s surface, that will signal our first acquaintance with Pteronura brasiliensis, the Amazonian Giant Otter. After lunch and a brief rest to avoid the early afternoon heat, we once again set off by boat or catamaran to explore the entire west end of the lake. Here, in the flooded palm forest we drift to the sounds of hundreds of Red-Bellied and Blue-and-yellow Macaws as they return to the palm forest for the night. Our viewpoint from the canoe often allows closer and more extended encounters with birds and mammals than on a typical forest trail hike, and we may witness intimate feeding and mating behavior. On Lake Sandoval monkeys, in particular, have almost lost their fear of humans. We return to the lodge around nightfall for dinner. After dinner we take to the boats once more, in search of black caimans, which today are extremely rare in the Amazon, but still common in this protected lake. They grow up to 4m in length, and compete with the Giant Otters for their share of the fishing. On clear nights we take our boat further out into the lake to get an unimpeded view of the vast southern sky, with its unfamiliar constellations and superb vistas of the Milky Way.