From the beaches of Copacabana to condors soaring high over the Andes, South America is one spectacular continent, attracting more than its fair share of superlatives. Here, size does matter!
The Amazon is no exception. The world’s largest rainforest, its river is the biggest by volume and no less than 6,400km long, while its species are the most diverse of any ecosystem on Earth. At last count, this veritable Garden of Eden boasted more than 30,000 plant species, 1,800 fish species, more than 1,300 different birds and 311 species of mammal.
To explore this unique environment, you can board a small-ship cruise or stay in an eco-lodge — there are many on offer, and I am fortunate enough to have tried and tested some of the best in Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.
Most people think of the Amazon as being in Brazil, and it largely is, with vast tracts of rainforest and numerous tributaries giving rise to the “Meeting of the Waters” where the black water of the Rio Negro meets the brown water of the River Solimoes. Here, cruises head out of Manaus, itself an interesting city with its magnificent opera house. The headwaters of the Ecuadorian Amazon also boast some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, which can be explored from incredible eco-lodges deep in the forest.
My ultimate Amazonian experience is in Peru. Cruising from Iquitos you can spot colourful macaws, pink dolphins, river otters, various species of monkey, boa constrictors and more. Daily excursions with expert and passionate naturalist guides take you out into the smaller tributaries, visiting local villages, and on walks into the forest. Getting in amongst the forest is essential as the foliage is dense, and other than perhaps caiman, monkeys and birdlife, there is actually a surprising lack of visible wildlife. On foot along jungle trails you can observe the smaller stuff — the weird and wonderful insects that you only spot when you stand still, the plants that all play their very specific part in this highly complex eco-system, and the smaller species such as colourful tree frogs or butterflies. Night walks in particular reveal some of the best wildlife at their most active, and lying in bed listening to the sounds of the Amazon is a very special experience you will never forget!
Cruising the Amazon aboard a luxury small ship allows you to enjoy the comfort of stylish accommodation each night, while getting in amongst some of the most remote places on Earth where there most certainly isn’t an acceptable hotel around the next corner. The cruises we offer are all very environmentally friendly, being of smaller size, and take great care to avoid any impact on the regions they explore. Excellent service, and the chance to enjoy some of the finest Peruvian cuisine is a bonus!
Many who explore the Amazon are awe-struck, and most return home as newly enthusiastic advocates for the protection of such a pristine and precious place.
Words: Chris Lyons, Director, World Journeys