Your Helpful Guide to Visiting the Amazon
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The canoe is gliding silently on the Amazon high waters. In the distance, you can hear the roar of a howler monkey.
A variety of plants dot the river’s banks. Towering canopies, twisting rivers, exotic landscapes…these are what make up the uniqueness of the Amazon.
Blessed with an ecosystem that is unrivaled in size and diversity, the Amazon Basin is truly a place like no other.
Though planning an unforgettable trip to the Amazon may not be an easy task, rest assured, here, you will find what you need for an unforgettable adventure. This includes:
- Where and when to go
- Where to stay,
- What species of wildlife you are likely to encounter, and
- What to pack.
Where is the Amazon located?
Covering 40% of the South American continent, the Amazon stretches to 8 countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname.
The Amazon River Basin is home to the largest rainforest on Earth. The majority of the impressive forest is found in Brazil, but significant amounts are also found in Peru and Ecuador.
If you’d like to cover a significant part of the Amazon Rainforest, these are the three main countries to visit. The good news is that all three offer very good lodges and activities in addition to exceptional biodiversity.
National Parks protecting the Amazon
Covering 2.6 million sq miles / 6.7 million sq km of land, the Amazon Basin is home to a lot of important and unique wildlife and plant life. But only 44% of that area is protected by national parks and biosphere reserves.
Conservationists work constantly to ensure that the rainforest is protected and preserved. Each year, more and more areas are established as national parks or reserves to ensure that this amazing landscape continues to live.
Many of the national parks are extremely remote and can often only be accessed by water and with the help of a guide.
By visiting the Amazon’s national parks, you have a chance to see the untouched wilderness in this unique part of the world.
To make it easier to choose which parks to visit, here are some of the most important ones from the main countries in the Amazon Basin.
Photo credit: Iguana Turismo
Jau National Park: The largest forest reserve in South American and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to the Itaubal trail, which crosses the rain forest and regenerating forest, offering visitors access to the Amazonian flora and fauna. The park is home to endangered species such as the jaguar, margay, and the giant otter.
Mamiraua Sustainable Development Reserve: This is Brazil’s largest wildlife reserve. Home to 400 bird species, out of which 19 are parrot species, the reserve also features the largest submerged forest in the world (the forest is flooded by the “white” water rivers from the nutrient-rich Andean slope, thus the trees lie submerged beneath the water).
Pico de Neblina National Park: Home to both dense Amazon forest and the country’s highest mountain range, Pico de Neblina. It is one of the wettest areas in the Amazon forest which can be difficult to access. That said, the park is home to the endangered primate uakari, bush dog, jaguar, and Guianan bird, cock-of-the-rock, making the trip really worthwhile.
Photo credit: Sani Lodge Ecuador
Yasuni National Park & Biosphere Reserve: One of the most wildlife-rich areas on Earth, it covers about 1 million hectares of lowland rainforest, gently sloping down from the Andes.
Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve: The reserve is located north of Yasuni National Park, across Napo River. The wildlife is similar to Yasuni National Park but less diverse. Because of the more flooded nature, this reserve has more waterways and lakes, which attract different wildlife such as sloths, anteaters, jaguars, pumas, tapirs, dolphins, and manatees.
It is a very accessible reserve as it only takes half an hour to fly from Quito to Lago and from there another 1 ½ hours by car to get to the park.
Limoncocha Biological Reserve: Located between the Coca and Aguarico rivers, it is characterized by wetlands and swamps. It is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world. 450 bird species can be found here, as well as unique trees such as palms, ceibos (cockspur coral tree), balsa, laurel, pambil, and cedar.
Photo credit: One Guide Peru SAC
Manu National Park & Biosphere Reserve: The most famous national park in Peru, is one of the largest protected areas in South America and thought to be the most biodiverse area in the entire world. It is located on the eastern slopes of the Andes and comprises a variety of habitats including mountain forest, lowland forest, and grassland. About 1,000 species and 200 mammal species have been identified here.
Tambopata National Park: The park is more accessible and less restrictive than Manu. It is made up mostly of lowland forest. It is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, too.
Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve: The largest natural reserve in Peru and of the Amazon’s richest wildlife habitats. It is made up of rainforest and wetlands. It is much less visited than Manu and Tambopata and it is also less accessible. To get here, you need to fly into Iquitos, which takes about 1 ½ h from Lima. Then you need to travel by land to Nauta (about two hours) where you will board a canoe and travel for another 3 hours to get to the lodges.
Best time to visit the Amazon
The best time to visit the Amazon highly depends on which country you plan to visit.
May to June is a great time to plan your trip if you are heading to Brazil. It is right in between the rainiest (February to April) and hottest and drier (September to November) times of the year. The water level is high, and the forest is flooded which is ideal if you plant to do a canoe trip.
If, on the other hand, you want to do long hikes, it’s best to visit the Amazon in Brazil during the drier time of the year.
Should you plan to visit the Amazon in Ecuador, you’d be pleased to know that it’s a year-round destination. The country is located so close to the Equator that there are no seasonal variations. With that being said, you should know that Mid-November to end of December is a drier time of the year, hence it may feel hotter than the rest of the year. But rain is present throughout the year.
Heading to the Amazon in Peru? If you want to trek, then choose the dry season, from June to October. But if you plan to explore the river by boat, it’s best to travel during between November and April, when the heavy rains make the river ideal for canoeing.
Amazon tours and activities
Photo credit: Amazon Reise Services & Tours SAC
While the Amazon basin is home to the largest rainforest in the world, there are also other ecosystems here, ranging from savanna to swamps.
There are some activities that any visitor to the Amazon can do: long hikes and canoe trips. These are suitable for anyone and allow travelers to learn about the forest, and hopefully see some wildlife, too.
Since the Amazon River passes through so many countries, it can be a bit difficult to decide where to go. But, as mentioned previously, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador come highly recommended because of the biodiversity, wide range of accommodation, activities, and accessibility.
Wildlife of the Amazon River Basin
The Amazon Rainforest is home to over 2,000 species of animals. Out of them, 427 species are mammals, 1,300 are birds, 378 are reptiles and more than 400 are amphibians.
With such diversity, it’s worth mentioning the most interesting animals that can only be found in the Amazon forest: Amazonian manatee, electric eel, giant armadillo, giant river otter, and Amazon river dolphin.
Other animals that can be found here (and in other parts of Central and South America) are spider monkey, golden lion tamarin capybara, sloth, green iguana, giant anteater, macaw, harpy eagle, tucan, anaconda, kinkajou, spectacled owl, poison dart frog, and jaguar.
You should also know that the Amazon forest is home to plenty of endangered species such as South American tapir, uakari monkey, and hyacinth macaw.
Accommodation in the Amazon
Photo credit: Avatar Amazon Lodge
A common Amazon experience is to stay in a “jungle lodge”. Most lodges have private rooms, family-style meals, and offer excursions. But other amenities vary from place to place (i.e. bathroom en-suite, 24 h electricity).
These lodges appeal to all budgets, with affordable, mid-range, and luxury options available in all countries.
Whichever accommodation you prefer, be sure to check with the travel organizer and ask plenty of questions before you book. This way, you’ll more likely know what to expect and be able to make a well-informed decision.
How to get to the Amazon
If you are heading into the Amazon in Brazil, you will likely fly into Manaus. It is serviced by direct flights from all over Brazil, as well as from North America.
Another option is to travel by boat from anywhere in the Amazon, but you are in for a long ride. For example, Oriximiná to Manaus takes 36 hours, while Leticia to Manaus is a 7-day trip.
Should you be visiting the Amazon in Ecuador, chances are you’ll get to Lago Agrio or Coca by bus. There are many ways to enter the area and there are plenty of buses from Quito available. The alternative is to fly into either Lago Agrio or Coca from Quito.
And if you plan on visiting the Amazon in Peru, you’d likely be flying into Cusco. And from there fly or travel by boat to the national park of your choice.
What should I pack?
As you’ll be spending time in a tropical forest, keep in mind that it may rain (hard) at any time of the year so be sure to pack accordingly.
Here are the items we recommend to pack for the adventure in the Amazon:
- Sturdy waterproof backpack with rain cover
- Waterproof daypack with rain cover
- Sturdy lightweight waterproof hiking boots
- Money belt
- Over the counter medication (antihistamines, anti-diarrhea, ibuprofen)
- Camera, lenses, rain cover for the camera bag
- Fast drying clothes (waterproof light jacket, sweater, swimsuit, long-sleeve blouse, long trousers)
- Rain poncho (instead of an umbrella)
- Insect repellant.
Looking to explore the lush and mysterious waterways of the Amazon? Why not book a jungle tour in the Peruvian Amazon?