Sunset on Lebnon beach in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Doug88888
South America’s largest country, offers the tourist kaleidoscopic carnivals, spectacular cities and towns – Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Curitiba for example – lively friendly people, superb beaches and the massive Iguaçu Falls in the south, but naturally many visitors come to Brazil looking for wildlife.
The Amazon, however, can raise false expectations as it is not an African wildlife experience with teeming herds of animals.
Visitors should go there for the ambience, the river and rainforest views, the chugging life and the best jungle experience as well as the critters that make themselves available. Forget animal head counts, go to feel, hear and see the world’s greatest rainforest in all its monstrous, sweaty, buzzing, uncomfortable glory. While it lasts. . .
Manaus downtown and the Amazon River. Photo by Pontanegra.
It’s easy to be overconscious of the crime situation in Brazil and spoil your trip – or not go at all for that matter, but things are not as bad as that; obey some basic rules and you’ll have a wonderful time.
• Don’t walk lonely back-streets at night, especially after too many drinks; take a taxi home.
• Keep a close eye on your baggage on buses or trains, particularly at night. In fact, try to avoid night moves completely.
• Stay in as expensive hotel as you can afford, and use the safe.
• Don’t take valuables to the beach and preferably don’t wear any jewellery or pricey watches.
• Don’t do drugs.
• Don’t resist if someone does rob you. In fact locals often carry a small roll of throwaway cash in a pocket and more serious cash hidden elsewhere.
• Don’t automatically run to the police if you do get robbed, they’re sadly corrupt and useless.
An Amazon River tributary, with local village. Photo by Jim
Amazon jungle trips are more about the boating upriver into the damp, buzzing, oppressive ambience than seeing animals, since most of the bigger critters only appear at night when you least want to be there.
Floating about on a dugout canoe at night in search of caiman by torchlight, freaking at odd splashes and squawks and beating mozzies off would not be untypical. . .
You may well see caiman (crocs), monkeys, sloths, pink dolphins, tarantulas, electric eels and parrots galore, but don’t think of this as a massed-animal experience such as you may see in East Africa or Namibia. Best July-Oct for the dry season.
See Amazon Travel Tips
Wildlife is possibly more visible in the Pantanal (see below) to the south, though it’s a swamp, not a jungle, so offers less ambience, romance or name-dropping.
Note that one of Brazil’s South America neighbours, Peru, also offers great Amazon experiences starting from the grubby town of Iquitos.
*Belem. A not unattractive Amazon city and starting point for Amazon river journeys. A riverboat up to Manaus takes about five days. Second-class on these boats is distinctly hot and uncomfortable.
If you can afford it tourist boats will not only give you a good night’s sleep and protect your valuables, but they may give you lessons on the environment too.
*Manaus. A historically interesting city, but now overbuilt and unattractive, though a necessary evil for starting Brazilian Amazon exploration.
***The Pantanal (south of the Amazon). A massive wetland and ranch area in central-west Brazil (NW of Rio) alive with wild things, including iguanas, tapir, capybara, caiman (crocodiles), giant snakes and anteaters, but in particular birds (parrots, macaws and so on). It’s best July – Oct (the dry season, so less humidity, less mosquitoes, more life visible).