Visiting the Amazon Rainforest is akin to being a teeny insect in the greatest biodiverse area on the planet. It’s humongous and you will never see it all — 2.1 million square miles. One-fifth of the freshwater flowing into the Earth’s oceans comes from the Amazon River. The Amazon has more than 40,000 different kinds of trees and plants, 2.5 million kinds of insects, 3,000 freshwater fish, 427 mammals, 378 reptiles, 400 amphibians and 1,300 different species of birds.
It’s huge, fascinating, beautiful. And as a visitor, enjoying even a small part of it should be on everybody’s bucket list. Visiting the region will bring appreciation and understanding to the role Amazonia plays in our planet’s water resource and retention, as well as the important role the flora plays in the air we breathe, the medicines we use, and the survival of our planet — more important now than ever before.
The Amazon Jungle Basin can average rainfall of approximately 7.5 feet. In some areas of the northwest portion of the basin, yearly rainfall can exceed 20 feet, often flooding the civilizations that make Amazonia their home.
In 2012, the highest flood level ever recorded in Manaus reached 93 feet. Multiple rivers feed the jungle, emptying eventually into the giant Amazon, which can be at times 20 miles wide. The Amazon flows from Peru 4,000 miles to the Atlantic.
As a visitor to the state of Amazonas, you will likely begin your journey in Manaus, the largest city in the region with a population of 1.8 million. Manaus is where most tour operators meet their guests and transport them to multiple lodges, resorts and even small cruise ships that provide a variety of ways to safely and comfortably enjoy the jungle with a variety of different price points and tour choices.
One great option is Manati Lodge (www.manatilodge.com), a small, comfortable but no-frills, reasonably priced, all-inclusive resort on the Rio Negro. Two guests for five days including transportation, room, meals, guide and multiple excursions will run about $1,200. Manati has an international guest list with options for three-, four- and five-day stays.
The multitude of tours and activities you can do with a guide include:
• Tour by small boat to enjoy the jungle from the water. There is green, and then there is Amazon jungle green — an indescribable range of hues not seen anywhere else on the planet. Throw in the remarkable rainbow, and it is a pleasant way to start your adventure.
• Visit one of several local villages, where you can get a feel for life on the river, buy some handmade souvenirs and maybe spot a sloth lounging high in the trees.
• Go piranha fishing. Using raw meat as bait, wait for the fish to nibble then jerk the fish into the boat.
• Enjoy a guided three-hour jungle walk, exploring a fascinating variety of flora, including dozens of plants that are used in Western medicines, from Vicks Vapor Rub to Milk of Magnesia. Learn about wild acai, Brazil nuts, palms used for roofs, plants the indigenous people use for poison and hunting and other plants used for survival in the Amazon jungle.
• Swim with the famous Amazon pink dolphins. The Brazilian government allows the dolphins to be fed four days a week, and this is how the tourists get to see them. The rest of the time, they are left alone so they do not grow overly dependent on humans.
The dolphins are not in a pen. They swim freely and come to the platform when fish is available. They are large and incredibly strong, but also gentle and enjoy being petted. And they smile.
Also known as botos, dolphins are born grey and become pinker with age. As they mature, the skin becomes more translucent, allowing the blood to show through. When excited, they will flush to a bright pink, like your face might when you get embarrassed or excited.
• Take a sunset swim in the deep warm waters of Rio Negro.
• Tour a local manioc farm and learn the importance this plant plays in the diet of all Brazilians.
• Visit a local indigenous people such as the Dessana, who accept visitors as a way to earn money and share their culture. Today, at least 400 indigenous tribes live in the jungle, much as they have for millennia.
The Brazilian government works to protect the rights and traditions of these people, all while trying to help them find diverse ways to earn and survive. Additionally, a handful of tribes still live untouched from any interference by the civilized world and they wish to remain so. The experience of watching the dancing, hearing the stories and rituals (through an interpreter) and seeing and purchasing some of the locally made crafts might be a highlight of your time in Amazonia.
• Follow the estuaries that lead from Rio Negro through the thick grasses and deep into the jungle, where you will likely come upon a family of squirrel monkeys. These small and social animals are very vocal and as interested in you as you are in them — especially if you have any bananas in your boat.
• Go crocodile spotting after dark with a guided boat tour. Using flashlights, the hunt for the giant reptiles’ glowing eyes might give you nightmares in the future.
• Want more reptiles? Visit an Anaconda rehabilitation home, where you can hold one of these strong and scary-looking snakes and learn about other local wildlife and plants.
Or maybe spend several hours napping, reading or watching the birds from a hammock, perfectly positioned for guests to take full advantage of the sights and sounds of this remarkable place. If you are lucky, you might visit more than once — but when describing a visit to the Amazon Jungle, most people will exclaim what a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it is.
Life is short — make some memories in Amazonia soon.