The Amazon Rainforest covers half of the South American continent stretching across nine nations. Brazil contains by far the largest chunk of this impressive cradle of life (about 50%) with the next highest amount occurring in Peru. Forming as streams trickling down the Andes in the west, the Amazon River, which feeds this vast tropical forest, snakes its way east through the trees to gush out into the Atlantic Ocean close to the city of Belem in eastern Brazil. It has been said that the force of water is so strong, sailors could drink fresh water from the ocean before glimpsing the South American continent. The force of water exiting South America from the Amazon River has created its own natural wonder, the island of Marajó. Marajó is about the same size as Switzerland and was created by pressure from the Amazon separating it from the Brazilian mainland. Although the island borders the Atlantic ocean towards its east, because of the force of river flow, Marajó is almost completely surrounded by fresh water.
Many people, including early naturalists and explorers, have formed entire careers and achieved fame and fortune from the Brazilian Amazon. Some introduced the world to now common products first discovered among these trees. For example, “their taste is extremely agreeable when they are fresh; but the oil, with which they abound, and which is so useful in the arts, becomes easily rancid. Although at the Upper Oroonoko we often ate considerable quantities of these almonds for want of other food, we never felt any bad effects from so doing.” is Alexander von Humboldt’s account of Brazil nuts from his expeditions to the Brazilian Amazon in the 1800s.
It is the Amazon’s untouched beauty that draws hundreds of thousands of tourists each year to experience a pre-human world where wildlife abounds. This is Earth’s largest tropical wilderness (larger than the Congo and New Guinean rainforest combined). Here a bird enthusiast can see more species in a week than in a lifetime of touring some temperate countries. It is not simply animals and plant lovers that delight in the Brazilian Amazon, as the quality cruises and well designed lodges provide comfort and a break from the stresses of normal life. As you watch locals canoeing the rivers to fish, you can see that life in the Amazon goes at a slower pace where you can truly stop and smell the roses, or in this case, the Passion Flowers.
Perhaps the most well known city to base yourself for an Brazilian Amazon Rainforest tour is Manaus, a bustling metropolis where it is hard to realize that you are actually in Amazonia. Because forest is more disturbed close to cities, we recommend a cruise from Manaus, as opposed to a lodge, in order to maximize the animals and plants that you can see. On a cruise, such as the National Geographic recommended Tucano Expedition Cruise or Tucano Compact Cruise, you will visit the Anavilhanas National Park, as well as many different areas of rainforest out of reach by other people and other tour companies. You will cruise the forest, take naturalist guided walks into the forest, guided skiff tours down the waterways, and can also take kayaking tours from the vessel.
If you are looking specifically for a cruise on the Amazon River, don’t be put off if you see tours for the Rio Solimões from Manaus as this is the Amazon. It simply changes its name after mixing with the Rio Negro. This meeting of the waters is one of the attractions tourists from Manaus enjoy seeing as the different sediment types produce two distinctly colored rivers flowing side-by-side for 6 km (3.7 miles) creating a natural wonder.
As well as the Anavilhanas, there are many different protected areas of Brazilian Amazon Rainforest, such as Jaú National Park, Mamirauá National Reserve, and a truly fantastic protected area in the southern Brazilian Amazon Rainforest, which was saved from destruction by the Cristalino Lodge and associated foundation. The Cristalino Reserve and Lodge has amazed many birdwatchers and wildlife lovers with its incredible diversity of different animals and plants. From the Cristalino Lodge, accessed from Alta Floresta in Brazil, you can take many guided trail walks, carefully thought out to show off the best from this outstanding forest.
To give an example of diversity and species richness of the Amazon, and animals you may encounter on Brazilian Amazon Rainforest tours, the Cristalino Reserve contains a recorded 586 different bird species, as well as the famous Amazon Rainforest mammals like Brazilian tapir, Jaguar, Capybara, several different monkeys, and majestic Giant Amazon River Otters. Whether you are scouting the waterways or rainforest on forest walks, you are sure to see a fantastic assemblage of different Amazon plants and animals. Kew Gardens, and other key organizations, conducted a survey on the Cristalino Reserve and found 1, 361 different plants, including 5 that were new to science.
Activities people like to do on Brazilian Amazon Rainforest tours include rainforest walks, kayaking the waterways, birdwatching, all the while keeping an eye out for Amazon Rainforest animals and plants, like hanging or blooming orchids, curious monkeys, giant river otters and brightly colored macaw parrots. However, it is not just the Amazon’s wildlife that offers an attraction, as to see the night sky with its twinkling stars and the seemingly different colors of our Milky Way would please Vincent Van Gogh himself.
Another attraction you can try at the Cristalino Lode is to ascend their canopy tower to see out over the rainforest canopy with its various shades of green. The Cristalino Lodge proudly offers the highest canopy tower in the Amazon Rainforest, which is a perfect platform to observe birds flying high across the trees.
Another recommended lodge in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest, aside from the Cristalino in southern Brazil, is the Uakari Floating Lodge accessed from Tefe, which is about an hour flight west of Manaus into more pristine rainforest. Here you can experience the protected rainforest of Mamirauá Reserve to see a great diversity of Amazon Rainforest plants and animals.
When choosing your Amazon Rainforest tour in Brazil, it’s worth pointing out the differences between a cruise and a lodge. If we compare expedition cruises, which actually take you away from the vessel on forest walks, the benefits of a cruise are that you visit several different areas. This may increase the chance of seeing different wildlife at certain times of year as you are gambling on a few widely spaced areas. The benefit of a lodge, however, is that you can experience one key area, usually chosen for its incredible wildlife sightings. The guides are also very familiar with the area and know the best spots to maximize your chances of seeing different wildlife. Generally speaking, tourists often regard a lodge stay as being more in touch with the forest whereas a cruise keeps the forest at a distance. Additionally, a lodge often allows for more flexibility in your itinerary as you are not on a fixed route, whereas a cruise may provide more comfort and a more relaxing experience.
As for time to spend on an Amazon Rainforest tour, it’s good to think that the longer you spend, the more wildlife opportunities you will have. I had to be reminded on my first trip that the Amazon is not a zoo and the animals you will encounter often depend on time and luck. Time is also directly linked to how far into the rainforest you are able to go. Short tours of one to three days often take you to areas of damaged forest where the wildlife sightings will be minimal. To those from temperate regions, this may still offer desired wildlife sightings given the comparatively higher diversity of tropical locations. If, however, you would like to experience the high diversity of the Amazon, we recommend a tour of a week or more. This will allow you to get deep into more untouched rainforest, offer you opportunity to acclimatize to the rainforest, and increase your probability of seeing a fantastic amount of animals and plants.