Salt Lake City
Taking a trip into South America and looking for the best way/options to see the Amazon. ANY advice would be greatly appreciated!
We will be in South America for 3 months and can dedicate 1-2 weeks to the Amazonas. What is the cheapest option to get there? Either via plane or boat and through which country? I am on a backpacker budget so the cheaper options are the best but I am willing to splurge if it's really worth it!
Places we are already visiting are: Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil, Lima and Cusco in Peru, La Paz in Bolivia, Guayaquil in Ecuador, and Bogota and Cartagena in Columbia.
The main thing I am looking for when visiting is to see wildlife, possibly trek/hike, see the Amazon River, and see the canopies. Do you have to get a tour or can you trek the Amazonas without one? If so, any recommendations would be great. Thank you!!
What time of the year will you be there? This will make a huge difference in your options.
I flew into Manaus in June, 2006. This was at the peak of high water season that year - the river was 30 feet higher than low water season. We were told the high water mark that year was only slightly higher than average. High fast moving water also means fewer bugs/misquotes - and definite plus!
During this time of the year, the Rio Amazonas (Amazon River) triples in width so a boat is necessary to move between areas of high land. We booked an Amazon River Cruise aboard the Amazon Clipper. http://www.viverde.com.br/amazon_clipper_i.html Our 4 day 3 night journey had 8 guests (16 max) from 3 countries - it was an awesome adventure!!
Highlights include visiting the "Meeting of the Waters" (where the Negro (dark water) and Solimoes (tan water) rivers meet, but do not mix), fishing for and eating Piranha, hiking through the jungle (swinging on a vine, drinking pure water from a freshly cut plant that filters it, etc.), canoeing through flooded areas of the jungle, and meeting people from one of the hundreds of native tribes. At dusk, they'd tie to the boat up to the top of a short'ish tree (remember, we're up to 30 ft above the ground) to anchor us for the night. After dinner, we'd take the canoe out to look for caimans (relatives of crocodile), sloths, snakes, etc. In late evening, we'd drink caipirinhas (national drink of Brazil) on the deck, star gaze, and listen to the wildlife. The tour guides were fabulous - their English was excellent (including use of humor and sarcasm!), they answered our non-stop questions, and even customized the trip based on the interest of the guests. It was a magical experience!
Bridy F. gave you nice tips. I advice you to come between July and November because doesn't rain too much.
The better way to come is take a flight from Miami,FL direct to Manaus. Just 4:30 hours :)
Hope I have helped. Just let me know if you have more doubts.
Mentioned in this answer:
I spent a week in Iquitos in May 2014, and I would highly recommend it as your entry-point into the jungle!! The city is only accessible via plane or boat (no roads), and it's deeep in the jungle. You'd want to find a guide to take you into the jungle and stay at a jungle lodge. I found this guy Gerson, the Amazon Jungle Guide, listed as the top attraction in Iquitos on Trip Advisor, and the experience his crew gave me was incredible. He runs an operation with about six guides who take you into the jungle for 3-6 days (I'd recommend 3-5, not less because you wont see enough, not more because..it's the jungle..).
Your home base is at a basic jungle lodge about 3 hours down the river on an estuary and you make day trips from there, on small river boats of course, to see tons of wildlife, go fishing, camping if you want, trek through the jungle, swim, you name it... What's great about this is it's a small operation and you call the shots! You decide before bed what you want to do the next day, wake up around 7am and you're off. I got to see the coolest birds in the world, lots of monkeys, snakes (anaconda), catch and eat piranha, spot river pink dolphin.. it was one of the best weeks of my life! Definitely more for the adventure traveler.
You should get in touch with Gerson a least two weeks before you arrive in Iquitos via email at amazonguidanceservices (at) gmail.com. You can have him arrange for your pickup from the airport, or you can spend a couple days in Iquitos and he will meet you to arrange things and tell you about the trip; I'd recommend at least one day in Iquitos after you return from the jungle to clean up and rest before a flight. The cost was about $115/day, but that includes everything; housing, cooked meals, transportation, the guide to motor you around on the water for 5hrs/day, it's well worth it! Do expect to pay for full days on your arrival and departure days (I was a little caught off guard with this). Also, you have to pay cash up front.. Gerson is a honest and very trustworthy guy, he's known and respected by everyone locally and brings a lot of money to the local villages, so everyone you'll meet on the adventure will take great care of you! I'd recommend visiting during the rainy season (it only rains in the late afternoons) because the river is 10ft higher and you can see/do more by boat.
Things to bring: camera with telephoto lens to get the best shots of wildlife, extra camera battery because power is limited, lots of strong deet bug repellant and after bite to help with itching, sun block, towel, long pants and long sleeve t-shirts, snacks and a canteen for water. He'll go over all this with you in his email. Make sure and bring an open mind and great vibes, you're gonna have a lot of fun! Here's some pictures to inspire you:
Sunset on the amazon riverPoison frogDinnerSteveSaturday at a jungle village
The elusive toucan
I just got back from Amazonas in Colombia and had a fantastic experience there. You are going to have a lot of options, particularly with the amount of time that you have. Given that you have so much time, you might be able to do something like a boat trip from Manaus to Leticia or Leticia to Iquitos or vice versa. You will need to fly to any of those cities. The cool thing for you is that you'll already have your Brazilian visa—we were too cheap to spring for it. :)
You will probably need to hire a guide or go through a lodge to do some of the things you're hoping to do, and you really can't DIY a trek in the Amazon. My husband and I are highly independent travelers and before this, we'd never done any sort of guided anything. We travel on a tight budget, but we did splurge on this experience because, well, it's the Amazon—it's very big and it's very wild and it's the kind of place that needs to be respected as it is not particularly hospitable to people who are not *highly* knowledgeable about it. Plus, I really think hiring a guide will help you get the most out of going there. We went with Yoi EcoLodge and were extremely happy. What you get is your own private native guide, a translator, plus your own boat (they drive it, not you) so you can do the activities that suit you best during your stay. We did hikes, went to a great monkey sanctuary (not Isla de los Micos, which is a tourist trap) and spent a lot of time on the river (which was our top desire). We left early every morning and got home well after dark every night—boating up an Amazon tributary by starlight is an incredible experience! You also have the option of camping in the jungle.
What we avoided by hiring a guide service/lodge was having to arrange every single boat trip every day, waiting for public boats to fill up before they'll leave the dock and the risk of getting caught out and needing to hire a truly expensive private boat. I think you'll have more room for flexibility with time, which is great, but it's something to consider. Also worth noting that you need good Spanish skills in Colombia's Amazonas.
As Bridy mentioned, the time of year in which you'll visit will be a factor, so do your research on how the high water vs. low water will affect the things you want to do and where you want to go.
As far as wildlife goes, keep in mind that this is really a crapshoot. I've read that some areas are better than others, but I've also heard that areas where more people see mammals are the places where animals are more habituated to humans and less wild (not really a good thing for the health of the forest). We saw troupes of monkeys and tamarins three times, a brief glimpse of otters, a couple rodent-type animals, a lot of insects, numerous dolphins (pink and gray) and tons of birds. We did see ocelot footprints and vomit (which contained the bones of his last meal), but not the actual cat.
The Amazon is not going to be your cheapest destination by any means, but it is incredible. Save your pennies and spend 'em here because it's so worth it. It's a little bit old and hard to find, but if you can find the Bradt Amazon guide, give it a look—it has some good info.
Mentioned in this answer:
It's been a long time since I visited, so I can't remember all the details. But, I highly recommend white water rafting in the Amazonas while you're there, and living in resorts that are actually in the jungle. Both are very cool experiences.
Mentioned in this answer: