Amazon River and Rainforest, Peru

a calm Amazon River tributary with reflected clouds, Peru

How best to see the Amazon River and Rainforest

The Amazon River is 4, 400-miles long running through a 2. 5 milliion square mile basin and collecting freshwater from eight countries (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname), on the way. The Amazon Rainforest is the largest broadleaved forest in the world and home to a massive diversity of plant, fish, bird and animal species.

The main Amazon River flows through Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador where it’s known locally as Amazonas in Spanish and Portuguese. These four countries all offer Amazon tours, cruises and hiking adventures but present different experiences and access.

Brazil is the destination that generally springs to mind when considering an Amazon trip, such as a cruise upriver from Belém on the Atlantic Coast to the jungle city of Manaus but Brazilian tours tend to be more about indigenous humans (i. e. Amazon tribal groups) than animals as Brazil’s Amazon has been slashed/burned and farmed for so long that much of the wildlife has either died or headed west into Peru and Ecuador. There’s certainly more wildlife visible in Brazil’s Pantanal than the Amazon.

A typical Amazon River tributary village.

Which country is best for Amazon wildlife?

Peru, Brazil and Ecuador are the best developed destinations currently for Amazon Rainforest wildlife-watching tours, though Colombia is an interesting wild card.
Whichever desination you choose, the wild action mainly takes place away from the main Amazon River and focuses on the slow, weed-infested tributaries where – ideally – you travel by paddle-power in order to catch sight of animals, birds and reptiles along the banks and in the trees nearby.

A typical first day Amazon River trip scenario

a typical tourist lodge in the Amazon Rainforest, Peru

So after your long, hot but calm boat trip up the Amazon River you arrive at your holiday villa beside an Amazon tributary, . . .

river fish drying beside the Amazon, with rainforest around, Peru

. . . where lunch/dinner is drying in the sun, and discover, . . .

. . . while eating your quite unappealing and muddy Amazon river fish and rice meal, that something has joined the party in search of food. Yes, it’s a. . .

a large Tarantula and someone's foot, Amazon, Peru

. . . baby tarantula. Look out behind you! Mother’s coming!

These scary but actually not-very toxic creatures like to climb to the ceiling of open tourist huts such as the one above, usually during the evenings, from where they can drop onto moths attracted by candlelight. The survival trick for travellers is learning not to intercept a falling tarantula with your head.

Amazon Activities

Jungle walks, canoe trips, piranha fishing, dolphin and monkey spotting, tarantula teasing and (baby) caiman fondling are all available within a few hours boat travel of Iquitos, though don’t expect to see masses of wildlife. Many animals, along with a large selection of deadly snakes and spiders, mostly go to work at night, so you can expect to be offered night hikes by serious Amazon guides.

How to see Amazon wildlife

an Amazon Rainforest cafe/bar with animal skins on the walls, Peru

Some tourists might want to nip into the neighbourhood eco-not bar for a stiffener before venturing out to explore.

Nature isn’t an Attenborough documentary – most animals and birds live in the canopy, many shun daylight, and all are predator-wary. Be patient, quiet and grateful for anything you see.
Take binoculars and field guides for the birds and don’t forget all the insects, frogs and nocturnal species.
Also don’t forget that The Amazon is not just about its wildlife: there is plenty of fascinating human culture to be discovered.

Amazon River lagoons, what lies beneath?

a tranquil Amazon Rainforest lake, in Peru

. . . the average tranquil Amazon Rainforest lagoon, but what lies beneath? Photo by LecomteB

Tranquil, yes, but who knows what lurks under those still waters? ! ! Actually I do, after taking a quite exciting three minute dip that terminated rather suddenly. . . 54 species of piranha fish swarming in shoals, caiman, stingrays and electric eels snuggling into shallow sand bars and needle fish waiting to swim up your urethra and eat you alive from the inside (if you pee while swimming). The peeing part also excites piranha fish (in addition to blood) so probably best not to do that.
Still, the green and murky water is very refreshing on a seriously sticky day. Until unseen things start to bump into your legs. Testing, testing. . .