Exploring the mysterious Amazon River Basin—one of Earth’s most exotic natural realms and our planet’s largest rain forest ecosystem—is an unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime experience. Rising in the Peruvian Andes, the Amazon River winds its way east over the northern part of South America until reaching the Atlantic Ocean. Stretching for more than 4,345 miles across Peru and Brazil, it is the longest river in the entire world. It carries into the Atlantic a higher volume of water than the earth’s top-10 largest rivers flowing into the ocean combined. It also happens to wander through some of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet with stunning plant and wildlife that simply cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. This makes it an amazing experience for adventure travelers looking to take a river cruise into a region that even to this day remains largely unexplored by humankind.
The Amazon has been named as one of the world’s new seven wonders of nature. The region stretches over more than 2 million square miles of South America and remains one of the world’s greatest mysteries. For time it has been described as the cradle of evolution, an ancient, almost mythical ecosystem which richness and wonder continues to lure adventurous travelers from all walks of life. With entire indigenous communities that have never been contacted by modern society, ancient ruins that remain unexplored, and thousands of species that have yet to be discovered. Cruises here give you an up-close sampling of this untamed jungle, acquainting you with its wildlife, communities, and how people are working to conserve this fragile yet vital natural sanctuary.
River cruising has become the preferred option among other approaches to explore and discover the richness of the Amazon Jungle in terms of Wildlife, Primary Forest hiking, canoeing, swimming and more. There is quite a respectful variety of cruise options to choose from: from small cozy yachts like the Acacia (Per) or the Desafio (Brazil) to medium-size vessels like the Anakonda (Ecuador) or the Aria (Peru) to wonderfully sculpted large motor-vessels like the Iberostar (Brazil). Also, cruises can be distinguished by category by their level of comfort, social areas, and types of cabins, amenities, and overall service on board. All this surely gives you best cruise option based on your preferences and level of commodities required to have a true-Amazon experience with just the right level of comfort to enjoy a complete experience.
There is no best time to visit the Amazon – the rainforest really is a year-round destination. Wildlife viewing and weather patterns are not especially different from one season to the next. Expect heat, humidity, and rain year round. The lodges that are further south (i.e. in Bolivia and Peru) tend to have a slightly wetter season from December to April and a slightly drier season for the opposite months. These lodges will likely be a bit less crowded during the wetter season. Overall, the subtle weather differences from one season to the next in the Amazon do not need to dictate your plans. Instead, plan your Amazon tour around the dates that best fit your own schedule and that coordinate best with the weather considerations at other destinations that you are visiting on the same trip (i.e., Machu Picchu, Galapagos, etc.).
The Amazon River wind its way through nine countries, but not all stretches are navigable well to tourism. There are many cruise itineraries featuring the Amazon River, ranging in duration from three nights to more than 70 but discerning travelers seeking an Amazon Cruise expedition should consider three countries: Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil. The number and range of cruising options varies by country, and each destination has its own unique appeal.
Amazon River cruises are most commonly taken from Peru and generally depart from Iquitos, the main jungle port city of Peru. Most of the cruises here range from 4 days up to a comprehensive 8-day river cruise. Besides exploring different tributaries, these cruises include a tour of the Yacapana Isles, famed for their population of iguanas, and take passengers to see the Yarapa River’s freshwater dolphins, to visit Madgalena village (home to gigantic water lilies) and to meet the Cocama Indians of Puerto Prado. Enjoy rainforest hikes, canoe rides, and witness the “Jungle of Mirrors” as you navigate the still waters of the protected Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Spanning more than 5 million acres, the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is the largest protected flooded forest in the world, a haven for pink river dolphins, slow-moving sloths, playful capuchin monkeys and a wealth of incredible flora.
Brazil is home to 60% of the Amazon Rainforest and the widest selection of Amazon River Cruise vessels, ranging from deluxe cruise ships to charming traditional wooden riverboats. Most of the Amazon-specific itineraries originate in Manaus or Rio de Janeiro, sailing up the Amazon to the port of Macapa. Manaus is the Amazon’s farthest navigable port famous for its grandiose Teatro Amazonas opera house. The city, which takes his name from the local Manaos tribe, is a good base for riverboat excursions to witness the Meeting of the Waters and visit nearby Terra Nova Island, home to a spectacular collection of gigantic water lilies and to small rural community, which supplements its living by showing its simple lifestyle to tourists. Multi-day itineraries into the Brazilian Amazon allow you to spend plenty of time on the water—whether canoeing the small tributaries of the Rio Negro or speed boating through the jungle—with the option to spend the night on a small cruise vessel or in one of many area jungle lodges or campsites. No matter where you choose to sleep at night, these trips often include rain forest hikes, visits to local indigenous villages, and plenty opportunity to spot wildlife, including alligators, piranha, and nocturnal wildlife.
As one of the world’s 17 mega-diverse countries, Ecuador is an excellent choice for an Amazon River Cruise, a wildlife hotspot home to a wide variety of species, many of them endemic. Discover the natural wonders of Yasuni National Park in Ecuador’s mystical “Oriente” region, as you follow in the footsteps of the original Amazon explorer himself, Francisco de Orellana. You can also visit the Galapagos Islands. It is feasible to combine the 2 cruises to make for the perfect Ecuador experience.