The Amazon Rainforest is a mystical place, with more species of wildlife, than anywhere else on the planet. Many of them are still undiscovered and undocumented. The biodiversity is incredible. One of the ways to help protect the rainforest from development is to visit as a tourist. Tourism to the Amazon Rainforest brings in much needed jobs and money to the local communities and has been instrumental in stopping deforestation of this amazing biosphere.
It is remote and difficult to reach. Once you arrive, getting around is also a challenge and really you need a guide to explore- you can’t go wondering around the jungle on your own! A great way to explore the diversity of the amazing Amazon Rainforest is on a cruise. You can cover a greater distance, don’t have to pack and unpack, and all your meals and activities are provided.
Should you Visit the Amazon Rainforest in Wet or Dry Season?
When I asked the question should we visit the Amazon Jungle during wet or dry season the answer was, “if you want to see wildlife, go in wet season.” (This was also what we were told by our host in Costa Rica.) We had previously been to the Amazon Rainforest in Peru during dry season staying at a lodge. It was an incredible experience, including a sighting of a jaguar, which is rare, so we decided to go during wet season.
I am not a fan of heat and humidity, so I was prepared for the worst! I was pleasantly surprised. I am sure we were a bit lucky with the weather, but it was quite manageable- the odd rain shower, pleasant morning and evening temperatures when most excursions and activities were scheduled.
The boat was air-conditioned. During the hottest part of the day we were having lunch and relaxing on the boat, and sleeping at night was quite comfortable. The weather was cooler and less humid than during our previous visit to the Amazon Rainforest during dry season. And I think being on the water rather than land also made it much cooler.
And did I mention the sunsets on the Amazon River?
The Wildlife and Excursions
In my opinion the unique flora and fauna in the Amazon Rainforest is the reason you go. The villagers and their way of life rely heavily on their natural surroundings. Their diet and traditional medicine, Ayahuasca, all derive from the rich natural bounty surrounding their home.
The Floating Forest
During the rainy season, the land that floods is known as the “floating forest” This differentiates it from those parts of the forest that do not flood. The heavy rains mean the waters can rise quite rapidly. One village near the water’s edge had been flooded, our guide said he had just been there the week before! This increases the size of the Amazon Rainforest substantially during wet season.
Most of the houses are either temporary shelters, built for a specific purpose, i.e. tending crops or animals, during dry season, or more permanent structures built on stilts high enough to be above the water when it rises.
We did not see large mammals, as we did during dry season as they would be much further inland this time of year. Most of the wildlife we did see lives high in the canopy safe from the rising waters. (Note: If you have a zoom lens, bring it.)
Porcupine Hoatzin Sloth
The Traditional Medicine of Peru, Ayahuasca
We had two opportunities to learn about traditional medicine in Peru, a practice known as Ayahuasca medicine, the first was a trip to the local market in Iquitos and then from the boat an excursion to a local village on the Amazon river to meet the shaman, or medicine man.
A shaman is the local doctor, treating a variety of ailments using traditional plants and herbs. He or she studies for a number of years, usually as an apprenticeship of sorts to a practicing shaman, often a relative. The shaman we visited had learned from his father and was teaching his son. As village in the Amazon Rainforest can be quite isolated, this is the primary care for most aliments.
Our excursion included an overview of the plants and herbs used to treat ailments, the opportunity to ask questions and a small ceremony from the shaman. The most common aliments he treated were snake bites and stomach issues.
The Local Villages, Markets, Fruits and Vegetables
One of the highlights which was accomplished through several different stops over the course of our journey was the opportunity to see how the locals live, what they eat and try many of the fruits and vegetables that grow in the Amazon Rainforest.
We stopped at a local market, a roadside fruit stand, visited villages, and the meals on the boat featured many local ingredients.
We discovered new fruits, including camu camu, Amazon tomatoes (which are a bit sour until cooked), local fish, and of course had several Pisco Sours.
The Amazing Wildlife in The Amazon Rainforest
Birds, monkeys and sloths were the most common sightings. But we also saw a jungle porcupine (which lives in a tree), a rather rare sighting. We were fortunate to see a sloth move! As the name implies they are not full of energy, and most often are spotted high in the treetops. As you can see in this short video, which is NOT in slow motion, they do not move very fast.
Pink dolphins were common in the river, but were very difficult to get a picture of as they surface quite quickly usually some distance from where they last appeared.
The plants and birds were fascinating. The large lily pads are the largest in the world! The birds colorful and adapted to their environment often in very unique ways.
Our guide, Hulbert, was definitely an important part of our trip. Both he and the other naturalist, Jorge, were just amazing at spotting wildlife. Both were from the local area. Jorge originally from Iquitos and Hulbert from a remote village about 3 days’ travel time from Iquitos. Their knowledge and relationships with the local villagers along the Amazon River are fantastic.
A local family stopped us as we passed by one morning to show us a huge anaconda snagged in their fishing net overnight. They knew we were coming by that day. After our visit, they released the snake back into the wild.
Getting to Iquitos
Cruises along the Amazon River depart from Iquitos, which is an internal flight in Peru most likely from Lima or Cusco. We traveled with Jungle Experiences, a locally Peruvian-owned and operated company. It is a family business that also operates a hotel in Iquitos.
Jungle Experiences offers a variety of cruises on the Amazon River of various lengths. They operate three boats: the Amatista, La Perla and the Zafiro, the luxury cruise boat. The friendly and well trained staff were all fantastic and work across all of their boats. They also seemed very happy and got along well together which is great to see.
The excursions and guides were all fantastic. During our Amazon River cruise we were off the boat at least twice a day and excursions included wildlife spotting, a morning breakfast picnic, a night and a sunrise excursion to spot wildlife, an afternoon kayak, a hike through the rainforest, a visit to a local village and a visit to see the local shaman, or medicine man. Wet season in the Amazon Rainforest was cooler than dry season and I think being on the water may have helped as well.
It was an incredible trip and one we will always remember.
Packing Tips if You Go
Jungle Experiences send you a guide about the trip and some packing suggestions. Based on our trip a few things are essential:
- Hat and sunscreen (don’t be fooled by the cloud cover, it is easy to get sunburned)
- Loose-fitting long sleeved shirts preferably in light colors (mosquitos are attracted to dark colors)
- Lightweight long pants (made of something that dries quickly)
- Insect repellent- pyrethrin is preferred to DEET
- Bathing suit
- A zoom lens if you have one
- Binoculars if you have them
Excellent rain ponchos and waterproof boots were provided when required.
We traveled as a guest of Jungle Experiences. As always, all opinions expressed on Compass & Fork are our own.