The Amazon basin is a marvel of the world and the imagination, an ecosystem of unrivalled size and diversity, and a place of near mythical status among travellers. The Amazon River has more water than the next eight largest rivers combined, and is twice the area of India, and the basin spans eight countries. It’s a life spring of the planet, the source of so much of the air, water and weather we all depend on. However, unreasonable travel expectations – like seeing jaguars and semi-clothed Indians around every bend – can be a recipe for disappointment. For all its size, the joys of the Amazon are mostly subtle: the ghostly roar of howler monkeys, the remarkable variety of plant life, the kindliness of riverside communities and the quiet but awesome power of the river itself. Here we focus on the accessing the Amazon in Brazil.
When to go
May to June is a great time to visit, being midway between the rainiest months (February to April) and the hottest driest ones (September to November). It’s also when the water level in the Amazon River is highest and the surrounding forest is flooded. The Amazon rises and falls by an amazing 12 to 15 meters annually, and few experiences are more sublime, or uniquely Amazonian, than gliding silently in a canoe through the flooded forest. That said, the dry season is attractive for its clear weather and opportunities for long hikes.
A common way to experience the Amazon is at a ‘jungle lodge’. Most lodges feature private rooms, family-style meals and daily excursions, but amenities such as en suite bathrooms and 24-hour electricity vary. Many lodges include a chance to sleep in the forest, whether just a night at an established camp or hiking for two or three days on a ‘survival tour’. Near Manaus, Amazon Antonio Jungle Tours and Amazon Gero Tours (www.amazongerotours.com) have good lodges and reasonable rates. Upscale options in the same area include Juma Lodge and Anavilhanas Lodge. And one of the best lodges in the entire Amazon is Uakari Lodge (www.uakarilodge.com.br) in Mamirauá Reserve.
Riverboats offer another way to see the Amazon – chugging along the river, stopping for excursions, sleeping on board. The boats vary in creature comforts, from hammocks to deluxe berths, and trips typically last five to 10 days. Reliable operators include Amazon Eco Adventures (www.amazonecoadventures.com), Lo Peix (www.lopeix.com) and Swallows and Amazons (www.swallowsandamazonstours.com).
Tree climbing and sport fishing are also popular in the Amazon, and can be arranged as day trips or as part of a lodge or boat tour. For tree climbing, try Tropical Tree Climbing (www.tropicaltreeclimbing.com) or Amazon Tree Climbing (www.amazontreeclimbing.com); for sport fishing, try Maia Expeditions (www.maiaexpeditions.com), all in Manaus.
There are a handful of activities virtually every visitor to the Amazon does. The most memorable are long hikes or canoe trips to enjoy and learn about the forest, and hopefully spot some wildlife. You may also visit the home of a local family, spend a night in the jungle, and do fun stuff like piranha fishing and cayman spotting. Always confirm what activities are included in a tour before booking.
How long to visit
For most people, a week is a good amount of time to enjoy and experience the Amazon. Accounting for two to three days of travel and transfers, that leaves four to five days for excursions and activities. If you’ve got more than a week, consider splitting your time in different areas of the Amazon rather than spending it all in one place.
Where to go
Manaus is the region’s largest city, and the quickest and easiest route into the jungle. You’ll find many good tour operators here, from budget to upscale. The flip side is that tours tend to be more crowded, and the surrounding area is less pristine.