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Visiting the tropical rainforest of the Amazon Basin is one of the highlights of any South American vacation. The majestic Amazon River and its tributaries cover an area of nearly seven million square kilometers (roughly 40% of the continent), most of which is (still) covered by dense tropical forest.
The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests, comprising unparalleled biodiversity and constituting the largest collection of living plants and animal species in the world. Scientists estimate that the region is home to millions of insect species, tens of thousands of different trees and plants, and some 5.000 kinds of fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 65% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 14%, Bolivia with 10%, Colombia with 6%, Ecuador with 3%, with only minor amounts in Venezuela and Guyana as well.
Each of these countries offers several options to experience the Amazon rain forest first-hand. In the following article we present our favorites and why!
THE STANDARD JUNGLE ADVENTURE
No matter where you go or what organization you decide to go with, the
re seems to be a “standard jungle package” that you will always be offered. This often includes a canoe or boat trip up some branch in the tributary waters of the Amazon to a remote, romantic lodge in the middle of the jungle where you will most likely be accommodated in simple huts with beds or hammocks surrounded by mosquito-nets. Activities often comprise several guided excursions (mostly by foot or boat), one night excursion with flash-lights, alligator- or cayman watching, the ever popular piranha fishing adventure, and visiting a local village or farm of nearby indigenous people.
All this is included in the following jungle adventure options listed below and the descriptions will therefore not be repeated, as we rather concentrate on the uniqueness of each of our favorites. You decide which one you like best!
The first association that many people have when they hear “The Amazon” is “Brazil”. Fair enough, as almost two thirds of the Amazon rainforest belongs to South America’s largest country. Our favorite jungle adventure in Brazil takes place at the “Lodge Amazônica”, located right next to the Ariaú River, a feeder of the Rio Negro (“Black River”) near Manaus.
The color of the river is, as suggested by the name, almost black as it carries rich sediments from the jungle. The black water also keeps away the mosquitos, which is an awesome side-effect, and provides for an interesting excursion to the Encontro das Aguas where the black water of the Rio Negro meets the much brighter Rio Solimões.
Other unique attractions here include a visit to the local and very remote Caboclo people, swimming with pink dolphins and getting to know Vitória Regia, one of the largest species of water lilies. If you are lucky, you might spot monkeys, caimans and iguanas too.
The country with the second biggest share of the Amazon rainforest is Peru. Our favorite lodge here is the Inotawa Lodge on the shore of the Tambopata River near Puerto Maldonado. The remote location of this lodge makes it unique, surrounded by a few local farmers in the middle of the Peruvian jungle, it is a family-run business and extremely well organized. The construction of the lodge is also unique. It was constructed completely of natural local resources from the jungle.
Apart from the aforementioned jungle adventure basics, the lodge offers trips on a raft across Lake “Tres Chimbadas”, where monkeys, otters, toucans and turtles are regular visitors. Another option is to visit a nearby salt-lick which is a favorite meeting place for many different types of parrots, or one of the surrounding farms to get to know the local cuisine and culture.
If staying in a remote jungle lodge is not your cup of tea, but you still don’t want to miss out on the Amazon adventure, then heading to Rurrenabaque in the Bolivian lowlands north of La Paz would be a good alternative for you. This little city in the middle of the jungle offers a good variety of day-trips while being based in a simple hotel with all the luxury of a swimming pool or the possibility to zip an evening cocktail at a bar such as the (in)famous “Mosquito” right at the Rio Beni.
Excursions on the Yacuma River often provide the sights of capibaras, turtles, monkeys, caymans and a huge variety of birds. If you don’t mind getting up early in the morning, chances are high that you can also spot bats and pink dolphins – it is even possible to swim with them if you don’t mind the other few reptiles in the water.
Adrenaline junkies might also want to try out on of those giant swings above the Yacuma, while others might prefer a quiet drink at the beautiful Dolphin bar overlooking the river and jungle.
The ecological community of Puerto Nariño at the very south-eastern corner of Colombia, located right at the shore of the Amazon River about 75 kilometers upstream of Leticia, is the living proof that man and nature can peacefully coexist: motorized vehicles are banned from the little town which is tidied up every morning by its 2.000 mainly indigenous inhabitants, and its recycle and organic waste management is second to none.
All in all an excellent base for several self-organized jungle adventures like observing the pink dolphins of Lake Tarapoto by kayak, exploring the jungle on foot, visiting several nearby indigenous villages like San Martin or 20 de Julio or enjoying the sights and sounds of the Amazon from the town’s lookout tower appropriately called “The Mirador”. This is a “do-it-yourself” experience, rather than a fully organized adventure.
If all this sounds a bit too independent and flexible, you might want to opt for one of the classic jungle lodge experiences just across the border in Brazil, such as the Reserva Natural Palmarí.
Although only 3% of the Amazon belong to Ecuador, visiting the Yachana Lodge [link tohttp://viventura.de/blog/ecuador/ecuador-yachana-lodge] on the shore of the Napo-River near Loreto between Coca and Tena is highly recommended. Due to its remote location, it can only be reached by canoe and surprises the visitor with its beautiful garden and nicely decorated cabins. According to its social-ecological philosophy, a part of the lodge’s profit goes to a local school to allow children from poor families attend class as well.
Activities organized by Yachana include gold panning (which is still a good source for the local people) or tubing down the Napo River, visiting a shaman, learning some local hunting skills like javelin throwing and blow pipe shooting, and an excursion to spot the Hoatzín, a very colourful local bird.
Another standout activity is the local cooking course. If you ever wanted to know how to roast caterpillars, prepare hearts of palms, use banana leaves correctly or to process any kind of exotic fish of the Amazon, including piranhas, this is the place to be!