The main gateways to the northern Amazon Rainforest and providing access to the incredible Amazon River, both Iquitos and Manaus are great places to experiences the Amazon environment. Providing access to the Amazon of northern Peru and Brazil respectively, there are some significant differences between both areas and differences in the Amazon Rainforest lodges and Amazon River tours from Iquitos and Manaus, which we will cover below.
To summarise the main differences, because Manaus is so much larger than Iquitos, as Manaus houses 2 million people whereas 500,000 live in Iquitos, the rainforest surrounding Manaus is much more affected from human impact. The wildlife has therefore left nearby areas long ago and you have to go further and further from the city to reach areas of high biodiversity. This is why we recommend a cruise from Manaus rather than a lodge, as you will travel far from the city and into areas of more pristine Amazon Rainforest. However, even the journey from Iquitos to surrounding areas of high diversity away from the city means traveling 150 km or more from the city itself. Once you travel from the city, however, the wildlife is incredible and the Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest container of animals and plants. You can see several different primates, many colorful birds, caiman crocodilians, and a diversity of weird and wonderful creatures.
It should be noted that if you’re after a short tour of the Amazon Rainforest from one to three nights, these areas are not the best choice as the wildlife-rich rainforest is far from the city, so just getting to the wildlife-rich areas will take up a considerable fraction of your time. For shorter experiences of the Amazon Rainforest, we recommend the high diversity area of the Tambopata National Reserve, which is located 30 minutes from Puerto Maldonado in southern Peru and there are some incredible lodges in Tambopata to choose from. This gives you more time to explore the rainforest and to find more wildlife. The wildlife you can see over 2 nights in the Tambopata area, such as at Sandoval Lake Lodge or the Posada Amazonas Lodge is incredible compared to a short rainforest tour from either Iquitos or Manaus. This is due to the high diversity of the Tambopopata rainforest and its proximity to the gateway town of Puerto Maldonado, Peru.
As for Iquitos or Manaus, the most animals and plants have been recorded in the western side of the Amazon Rainforest, which is the rainforest towards Peru where the rainforest is cradled by the Andean mountains. It’s this region where world records have been set for biodiversity and there are some fantastic Iquitos Amazon River tours, including wildlife lodges and cruises to experience the animals and plants. However, there are also some excellent options on the Brazilian side. Here we will summarise both Iquitos and Manaus and mention some recommended tours, lodges, and cruises to experience these impressive sections of tropical forest. First, we will cover Manaus.
Manaus is a bustling metropolis of 2 million people and an industrial hub for the country. Despite being located in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, while walking the streets of Manaus it’s hard to tell that you’re anywhere aside from a normal large city anywhere in the world. There are telltale signs, however, like the Amazonas Theater built as a symbol of prosperity during the golden age of the city at the time of the rubber boom. The theatre was built from the finest materials the world could offer such as French glass and Italian marble. You can also visit the botanical garden for a taste of the Amazon Rainforest in the city itself. There are also short boat trips taking you away from the city to see the impressive meeting of the waters where the black water of the Rio Negro meet the lighter brown Amazon River and run side by side for many miles creating a natural phenomenon.
From Manaus, we recommend an experience aboard the excellent Tucano Expedition Cruise, which takes you deep into the Amazon Rainforest down the Rio Negro and to areas of the Amazon out of reach for most other tours. Being an expedition cruise, you won’t be confined to the vessel like most cruises, but will head out into the rainforest with your experienced rainforest guide to find different monkeys and a diversity of different birds. The Tucano vessel itself is styled as a 19th Century steamship with wooden decor, spacious interiors, and has skiffs and kayaks for rainforest exploration.
Iquitos is a smaller jungle city than it’s neighbour of Manaus and still has a jungle feel with the main method of transport being small three-wheeled motocarros. This is the largest city on Earth unconnected to any other by road and the only way in and out of Iquitos is the airport and the river.
The main protected areas to visit from Iquitos city are the incredible flooded section of Amazon Rainforest known as the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, which represents one of the largest protected areas in Peru at over 2 million hectares. The best way to explore this magnificent reserve is on a cruise to get deep into the heart of the reserve and visit different sections of this fantastic forest, but we will cover these options a little later.
Another great reserve to visit from Iquitos is the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve, which was founded to protect the range of a rare monkey called a uakari, which differs from most other primates with its practically hairless red red. A few lucky tourists from the Tahuayo Lodge, which was positioned for exclusive access to the reserve enjoy spotting this monkey if they choose deep forest walks.
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is located next to the Pacaya Samiria and contains a higher fraction of higher ground forest that you can visit. An area famous from the Tahuayo Lodge is known as Frog Belly where you can go on walks to find different colorful poison dart frogs.
Both the Tahuayo and Pacaya Samiria Reserves provide fantastic wildlife opportunities to see several different Amazon Rainforest primates, such as howler monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, titi monkeys, tamarins, and marmosets. The pygmy marmosets are the smallest of the New World primates and are more often seen on tours from the Tahuayo Lodge. The birdlife in these reserves is also incredible and you can spot fascinating species, such as the brightly colored tanagers, duelling toucans, large and colorful macaws, and the many different kingfishers darting across the waterways.
To explore the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve, you can stay at the Tahuayo Lodge, which is the only lodge with access to this incredible reserve of Amazon Rainforest. Enjoy a custom itinerary and private guide to explore this section of Amazonia on forest walks, night tours, canoe expeditions, and exploring on motorised boats. You will be on the lookout for two different species of sloths, which your guides will help you spot high in the trees. Another fantastic species to find in the forest near the water is the tamandua, which is a tree-living anteater. Recently, guests at the Tahuayo Lodge have also enjoyed seeing giant river otters hunting in nearby tributaries.
Guests at the Tahuayo Lodge can enjoy the largest canopy zipline in the Amazon Rainforest, two different rainforest lodges, including the main Tahuayo Lodge and Tahuayo Amazon Research Center, and a 1,000-acre primate research grid where researchers are studying primate behavior. Visitors can also walk the grid to find different monkeys and have more chance of observing natural behavior.
To explore the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, we recommend a luxury Amazon River cruise. The rainforest gateway of Iquitos is the best option for a luxury cruise, which makes a fantastic compliment to this incredible environment. Some recommended options are the Delfin II and Aria Amazon Cruise, which offer elegant interiors, highly trained staff, and delicious cuisine. Not on treated to high-class accommodation and service, from these cruises you will explore the rainforest and tributaries aboard small-group skiffs led by some of the best guides in the Amazon Rainforest. For one of the best rates for a luxury Amazon River cruise, you can also consider the excellent Amazon Discovery.