One of our most interesting travel destinations of 2016 was our time spent in the Amazon Rainforest. We decided to take a trip to the Peruvian Amazon during our 3 weeks exploring the country and whilst it wasn’t entirely a success (sadly we were robbed while we were there), spending a couple of days in an eco lodge in the middle of the jungle was certainly an experience!
Visiting the Amazon appears on bucket lists the world over and rightly so, it’s an incredible place to visit. At over 5.5 million square kilometres it’s the largest Rainforest on the planet and hosts the most extensive collection of plants and animal life in the world. If you’re a nature fan, you can be sure that you’re going to have an unparalleled experience here. Not to mention that it’s one of the most visually impressive places to visit – from the soaring trees, morning mists and colourful tropical birds to winding tributaries of the Amazon river and beautiful naturally formed lakes packed with wildlife.
The scale of the Amazon is hard to comprehend – it’s estimated that 2.5 million insect species inhabit the Rainforest, as well as at least 40,000 tree and plant species and many thousands of birds and mammals.
It’s also an endangered part of our planet. The problems with deforestation are well known, and illegal mining and oil extraction are also big problems in many areas. Studies also demonstrate that global warming could bring crisis to the area and destroy its plant and animal life. Sustainable tourism to this area is critical so do be sure to use a reputable tour operator.
If you’re planning to visit the Amazon Rainforest this year, here’s how to prepare:
Where to Visit the Amazon
The Amazon Rainforest is shared between 9 countries in South America, with the majority located in Brazil. We chose to visit the Amazon in Peru as we’d heard great things from other travellers and were spending more time in Peru than other countries in the area.
The most common places to visit the rainforest if you’re in Peru are Puerto Maldonado and Iquitos. Puerto Maldonado is local to the Manu and Tambopata national parks and is just an hour’s flight from Cusco. Iquitos is a much larger city, and is accessible only by air or water.
It’s also possible to visit the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Bolivia, Suriname, French Guyana.
It’s a relatively cheap destination – especially if you book via a local tour operator in any of the countries detailed above. Be prepared in most cases though for very basic facilities and not many of your usual creature comforts! Most of the accommodation is in the form of eco lodges to help protect the local ecosystems, where electricity is often limited and there’s certainly no wifi. This isn’t the case in all resorts but if you’re travelling on a budget it’s pretty typical.
When to Visit the Amazon
We’re focusing on Peru in this guide as it’s where we and many of our fellow travellers chose to visit the Amazon and where we know the most about. Whilst humidity can vary from 80% – 100% it’s going to be extremely humid whatever time of year you choose to visit so be prepared for this!
In terms of temperature and rainfall, there’s a great article with lots of information here and in summary:
Puerto Maldonado – May to September is dry season whilst October to April is wet season
Iquitos – relatively consistent although more rain tends to fall in March, April and May.
We visited in early October and whilst we didn’t have a lot of rain, humidity was around 100% and it was about 38 degrees Celsius.
What to Pack for a trip to the Amazon Rainforest
Whatever you do, be sure to prepare yourself for intense heat and serious humidity at most times of the year. We’ve travelled to a lot of hot countries but this was like nothing else we’ve ever experienced! I was almost passing out by day 2 as the sheer humidity made it hard to function – it’s not an easy environment to spend time in.
We recommend packing the following:
- Water bottles & filters / purification tablets: you’ll need to drink plenty of water, at least 2 litres per day for most people if not more so be sure to have plenty available at all times.
- Sugary snacks / sweets: we found that the heat and humidity had a big impact on our energy levels so having a sweet snack from time to time was a big help.
- A hat: pretty obvious but a decent hat that covers your neck and shoulders as much as possible is going to be a useful defence against the heat.
- Malaria tablets: have mentioned this below in the safety section but malaria tablets are recommended for most areas of the Amazon as well as other relevant vaccinations so don’t forget them if you’re planning on taking a course with you!
- Factor 50+ suncream: normally I’d never wear sun cream with a factor of 50 or more but it was definitely needed in this heat – it’s not exactly a place for sunbathing so you’re not missing out by using such a high factor.
- Bug spray (loads): it’s rare that i get bitten by mozzies, normally it’s rob that suffers more but we both got bitten to bits here even with bug spray so pack plenty with at least 50% DEET. We found this hard to find in Peru so may be worth buying before you travel.
- Thin cotton clothing: ideally long sleeved and full length trousers if you can bear them, it’s hard in the heat but with all the bugs you’ll be glad to be covered up, especially in the evenings.
- A good camera: you will see amazing animals, birds and wildlife as you explore the Amazon, it’s pretty much guaranteed so take a good camera for all those snaps!
- Sturdy walking shoes: ideally ones that cover your ankles to protect you from getting even more insect bites. There’s often a lot of walking in the tours so decent walking shoes will help.
- First aid kit: often any medical facilities will be a decent way away (normally via boat) so it doesn’t hurt to have the basics with you, e.g. Plasters, dressings, antiseptic cream, painkillers etc
- Baby wipes: oftentimes the water is not going to be the cleanest and even if you do brave a shower you’ll be glad of travel wipes in between to help you freshen up.
- Waterproof jacket and rucksack: clue’s in the name really, it’s the Rainforest so expect to get wet and take some waterproofs so it doesn’t spoil your fun!
I’m sure there’s lots more you can take but this is our essential packing list for the Amazon – if I had to choose I’d definitely put bug spray at the top of the list but we found all of the above pretty helpful on our trip.
Safety in the Amazon Rainforest
As mentioned above, the Rainforest isn’t the most hospitable environment to travel in, as amazing as the sights may be. It’s likely that you’ll be pretty far off the beaten track and in a country where safety standards aren’t necessarily what you’re used to back home. We have no wish to scaremonger at all – the Amazon is an incredible place to visit and we’d recommend it to anyone, but you’re in a jungle so it’s just worth being aware of a couple of the following points:
Boat Safety – you’ll often be travelling down the river or its tributaries by boat, so be sure that there are enough life jackets on board.
Bugs & Bites – Malaria tablets are recommended for pretty much everywhere in the Amazon so it’s definitely worth consulting a travel doctor before you visit to make sure you have everything you need health wise. It’s also possible to contract other diseases like yellow fever, hepatitis and rabies amongst others so you may need several vaccinations before your trip. Try to stay covered up as much as possible and use plenty of insect repellent.
Water – purified water is going to be hard to come by and you’ll notice the water in showers and from taps etc is often a murky brown colour. Be sure not to drink the water unless you know it’s safe and also be aware that water pollution due to mining is an issue in some areas.
Above all though, just pay attention to your surroundings, listen to instructions and you’re likely to have no problems at all. The landscapes, animals and nature that you’ll see are amazing and often you’ll see things that just can’t be experienced anywhere else. Make sure you’re prepared for the heat, the bugs and the basic conditions (assuming you’re not on a luxury trip!) and enjoy the Amazon!