One of the most well-known and exotic rivers in the world is the Amazon. It runs from its modest source in the Andes down to the Atlantic Ocean in northern Brazil, and includes territory from nine nations: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname. The biodiversity in the area is astounding, with one in ten of every natural species to be found. If you decide to visit the Amazon and don't know where to begin, we’ve selected our top five things to do:
1. Spot wildlife
One of the greatest thrills of visiting the Amazon is to catch sight of an exotic creature in the dense and lush vegetation. While there are plenty of hiding places for the animals, glimpses of mammals and other wildlife can be experienced, although more often than not fleeting or partially obstructed by foliage.
Typical wildlife watching excursions include boat journeys at sunrise and sunset, piranha fishing, canoeing, and walking safaris by day and night. Alternatively, you can take an expedition cruise from 4 to 8 days in length to penetrate further into the forest. The guides on these excursions are always extremely good at spotting, identifying and pointing out the different species, and you’ll almost certainly see a good variety of fauna.
Spot wildlife in the Amazon on our Family Ecuador and Galapagos, Signature Bolivia: The final frontier, and Family Brazil: Waterfalls, rivers and rainforest holidays.
2. Cycle to the Peruvian Amazon
This adventurous 4-day trip takes you closer to the unspoilt world of the Manu Biosphere by tackling the terrain on a mountain bike and the Rio Madre de Dios by white water raft.
You start the adventure by driving part of the way to the reserve, after which you take on a stretch of the route by mountain bike, descending from the Andean crest of the highlands down into steamy subtropical cloud-forest. Travel deeper into the jungle wilderness the next day by rafting along a tributary of the River Amazon, past river banks drenched with lustrous vegetation. Once you reach your remote lodge at the Manu Learning Centre, you’ll continue the adventure with jungle hikes in search of wildlife as well as other excursions into the wild green realm all around.
3. Discover three Amazon countries in one day
The Amazon basin disdains political frontiers. People and wildlife have to submit to the dominance and resilience of the dense jungle forest and the river. However, throughout history the borders have often been disputed, no more so than in the southern corner of Colombia, where the frontiers have finally been established with Peru and Brazil. You can visit these three countries in just one day on a guided excursion from Leticia in Colombia.
The border between Colombia and Brazil runs through an avenue within town. You’ll notice when Leticia meets Tabatinga when suddenly signs are in Portuguese instead of Spanish. Tabatinga is slightly less vibrant than Leticia, but you can visit a beauty spot by the river where there’s a bar servicing excellent caipirinhas – Brazil’s nation-defining cocktail. From there, you take a short boat ride to Isla Santa Rosa in Peru, a slightly less developed village than the other two towns, before returning to Leticia.
4. Discover Indian culture in the Colombian Amazon
Leticia is not only the town where Colombia, Brazil and Peru meet; it’s also a gateway to 22 indigenous communities from the Ticuna, Yagua and Cocana tribes, all self-governing and fiercely protective of their traditions. Many of them are now welcoming visitors to their homes, makeshift craft shops and dining rooms, but effectively live goes on as before. Public riverboats sail thrice daily upriver from Leticia, calling in at riverside settlements on demand to collect and disembark local passengers, as well as visitors.
Visit Mocagua where the stilt-supported, brightly painted houses are decorated with giant murals of indigenous, exotic birds and animals and where you can have lunch at a makeshift restaurant in the home of a local family. Other, unspoilt and authentic villages worth visiting are Palmeras and Santo Sofia, as well as San Antonio on the Peruvian side of the river, where the main grassy thoroughfare is an abandoned airstrip constructed by long-gone drug lords.
Discover Indian culture in the Colombian Amazon on our Off the beaten track Colombia: San Agustin and the Amazon holiday.
5. Take an Amazon cruise
Few experiences have as much power to awe and humble us as the feeling of being utterly surrounded by the untamed wild beauty of the Amazon rainforest. What better way to achieve this than by taking an unforgettable Amazon cruise?
During a 3-, 4- or 7-day river cruise on the luxurious MV Manatee and MV Anakonda departing from Coca in Ecuador, you travel deep into wild territory and can enjoy a daily activity programme, including canoe trips, wildlife walks and visits to local indigenous communities.
In Brazil, you can take in all the sights and sounds of Amazônia from either the wooden river boat, Tucano, or from the Amazon Clipper. Enjoy delicious food, ever changing panoramas and join activities and excursions such as canoe rides, piranha fishing trips and night safaris.
A luxury cruise can be enjoyed in Peru, where stylish Amazon expedition vessels offer an extra touch, with gourmet dining, elegant indoor spaces and beautiful wooden observation decks. Cruises last 4-7 days and also include a carefully designed programme of daily excursions accompanied by expert guides.