The Amazon is one of the most unique and precious places on earth, but deciding where and how to best experience it on what is usually a once-in-a-lifetime trip, is a challenge.
The Amazon river flows for 6,400km, reached by tributaries from eight countries; home to immensely diverse flora and fauna, this veritable Garden of Eden boasts more than 30,000 plant species, 1,800 fish species, more than 1,300 different birds and 311 types of mammals.
Too many numbers? Let’s narrow down your choice to the three best places to experience it all.
Brazil’s vast Amazonian region is accessible on a cruise out of Manaus — in itself an interesting city with its magnificent opera house. Small expedition-style cruises head up the Rio Negro where you can encounter pink dolphins, go piranha fishing, night-time caiman spotting and witness the “Meeting of the Waters” where the black water of the Rio Negro meets the brown water of the River Solimoes. Our pick would be a cruise in stylish comfort aboard the M/V Desafio, a three-masted sailing ship which carries just 24 passengers. Many think the only place to experience the Amazon is within Brazil — but it could not be further from the truth!
Perfect to combine with a trip to Machu Picchu, cruising from Iquitos you’ll discover amazing birdlife including colourful macaws along with pink dolphins, river otters and howler monkeys. The M/V Aqua offers 3, 4 or 7-night cruises in style, with fascinating excursions and gourmet meals. The equally gorgeous Delfin II offers 4-night cruises including visits to local villages. Those not into cruising can enjoy an eco-lodge experience at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica set deep in the Tambopata Reserve, with a canopy walkway for a completely different perspective, and a riverside spa to relax in after jungle walks.
True wildlife enthusiasts should head for Ecuador, which offers the Amazon, Cloud Forest and the Galapagos Islands. The headwaters of the Ecuadorian Amazon boast some of the greatest biodiversity on earth. Here we recommend Sacha Lodge with its forest trails, treetop observation tower and Bird Walk, and dug-out canoes for excursions to the parrot clay licks. Expert naturalist guides and native Indian trackers make this an authentic experience.
Wherever you go to experience the Amazon, you must be prepared for a surprising lack of visible wildlife (other than perhaps caiman, monkeys and birdlife) for the rainforest is dense and the wildlife shy. This is more than made up for when you get in amongst the rainforest on a walking excursion and observe the weird and wonderful insects and plants — not to mention the smaller species such as colourful tree frogs or butterflies — which all play their very specific part in this highly complex eco-system. Night walks reveal some of the best wildlife at their most active, while lying in bed listening to the sounds of the Amazon is a very special experience you will never forget!