Whether you explore the Amazon rainforest on a small ship or river cruise, stay at a lodge deep in the jungle, or even join a camping expedition via traditional dugout canoe, a trip to the world's largest rainforest -- which stretches more than two million square miles across swaths of Brazil, Peru and Ecuador -- is one of travel's most iconic experiences. With howler monkeys providing an eerie soundtrack, you can go in search of macaws, sloths, jaguars, remote villages, and exotic medicinal plants used by indigenous tribes. You'll want to travel in the company of the best local guides and tour operators, and Stride can guide you to them.
Rurrenabaque, accessible from La Paz by a short flight or harrowing bus journey through the mountains, is Bolivia's gateway town for both pampas and jungle tours. Tours of the pampas (the wetlands that border the rainforest) offer better chances of seeing wildlife, while the jungle tours offer the chance to trek through the wilderness. For the budget conscious, Bolivia is usually the place to find the cheapest Amazon tours.
Pampas tours typically consist of a boat journey up the river, a day exploring the area, and another boat trip back to Rurrenabaque. An abundance of wildlife can be seen along the riverbank, including capybaras (the world's largest rodent), caimans, monkeys, and an array of colourful birds. Off the boat, you'll get a chance to plod through swampland and hopefully see an anaconda. Beware of disreputable tour operators who feed anacondas, and even if your guide insists it's ok, never touch one. Reading reviews is a good way to assure your tour operator is above board.
A highlight for many visitors to the pampas is the chance to swim with pink river dolphins. Watching them pop unexpectedly out of the murky water right next to you is a thrilling experience (one that is best undertaken in the late afternoon when the water is warmer, rather than in the morning when the water is frigid).
Jungle tours from Rurrenabaque can last anywhere from two days to a month. You will get a chance to trek your way through the wilderness and camp out in the rainforest. These treks also begin with a boat journey, and may include floating in a rubber tube down the river. After trekking through dense forestation, you'll set up camp in the wilderness and cook dinner over an open fire. Other activities may include fishing in the river or making handicrafts.
The massive country of Brazil is dominated by the Amazon rainforest (though depressingly less so as time goes on). Tours to the rainforest are available from various points throughout the country, and tours to the Pantanal (wetlands) are available in the south of Brazil.
Similarly to Bolivia, the wetlands are where you'll stand your best chance of seeing animals. Tours of the Pantanal start from of Campo Grande or Cuiaba. While more expensive than those in Bolivia, they offer a greater range of activities, usually including canoeing, piranha fishing, boat trips, walking trips, and floating down the river. All of the animals from the pampas, aside from dolphins, can also be spotted in the Pantanal. There are also good odds that you'll see giant otters and even jaguars. Less easy to spot are tapirs and giant anteaters, so keep your eyes peeled. A knowledgeable guide can greatly enhance your tour of the Pantanal, as well as increasing your chances of finding elusive wildlife.
Trips deeper into the rainforest in Brazil are usually undertaken by boat, whether it's a luxury cruise liner or a riverboat with hammocks. Along the way, you'll have a chance to spot pink dolphins, caimans, and monkeys, as well as trying some piranha fishing. Strolls through the jungle may also include some close encounters with tarantulas! Many tours include overnight stays in ecolodges, where you can fall asleep to the sounds of the surrounding nature.
Peru can be a popular jumping off point into the Amazon, as tourists combine a rainforest tour with a trip to Machu Picchu. While some shorter tours start from the city of Cusco, adventurous types can also head to northern Peru for some deeper jungle treks. Excursions are undertaken on foot or by boat, and highlights include spotting river otters, monkeys, caimans and macaws.
The Amazon basin in Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Here, you'll have the chance to sleep in ecolodges in the rainforest, surrounded by colorful hummingbirds and butterflies. As well as offering similar rainforest treks, boat rides, and animal spotting to other countries. Ecuador also offers visitors the chance to meet and stay with indigenous tribes living in the Amazon. This is a significant undertaking, as the indigenous communities in Ecuador's rainforest are extremely isolated and hard to reach. However, if you are willing to spend the money to fly into the community on a puddle-jumper type of aircraft, and then stay in one of the lodges owned by the villagers, you are sure to have a once in a lifetime experience.
If you're looking for an adventurous exploration of the Amazon, and the chance to feel like an intrepid explorer, then Colombia may be the place to find it. Few visitors choose Colombia for their Amazon trip, meaning you may have this unspoiled land to yourself and a higher chance of seeing wildlife (though it may mean fewer resources and choices will be available). Similarly to Ecuador, Colombian rainforest tours offer the chance to stay with indigenous tribes, where you can make handicrafts and try unique local foods such as mojojoy, a worm that lives in palm trees and is eaten fried.