The Heart of Adventure: The World's Top Jungles

Amazonia: The Ultimate Jungle

The Amazon Basin is the world's largest river system, surpassing the flow of the next eight-largest rivers combined. Its delta drains an area equivalent to the face of the moon, accounting for a full 20 percent of all the fresh water that reaches the world's oceans. The surrounding rainforest—the largest in the world—seems to be an impenetrable and hostile environment. In reality, the Amazon is a quiet place where a person could spend a lifetime studying the variety of life in one acre.
Except for short hikes, tourist travel is by way of the rivers and creeks. The Amazon itself is so large that cruise ships regularly call at Manaus in Brazil, 1,000 miles up river. The best way to explore the upper Amazon and its tributaries is aboard a flat-bottomed delta cruiser, a smaller version of the Mississippi riverboats.

One of the best options is to explore the upper Amazon and nearby Tahuayo and Ucayali Rivers aboard a wooden river boat. Spend over a week on a research expedition to observe and swim with Peru's unique pink freshwater dolphins in their natural habitat, Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. This vast reserve, Peru's largest nature preserve, also harbors hundreds of bird species, as well as monkeys and other large mammals.
For a true expedition, one must penetrate to the true heart of the jungle. But the method of that travel can still reign in comfort: travel in an air-conditioned boat with private cabins, or by foot, camping in tents. Most guided tours follow the same general itinerary: two to three hours of exploration on foot or by launch in the morning and afternoon, with a night walk or an informal talk by the guide on flora and fauna in the evening. Fishing, swimming, visits to local villages are some activities.
Practically Speaking
For the first-time visitor, the heat, humidity, and insects in the Amazon can be overwhelming. Everywhere but the highland tributaries, you should expect steamy weather in the 90s. Rain falls year-round, but the winter brings the heaviest storms in most regions. Mosquitos are a major problem. If you are on a big jungle cruiser, keep your bug spray within arm's reach. The smaller motorized canoes move fast enough to keep insects at bay—until you reach your destination. Swimming is safe in much of the Amazon, though you should not drink river water at any point. The more popular lodges offer a fair degree of comfort, though nothing on a par with the best of East Africa. Though most tours utilize English-speaking guides, you should try to learn some of the local language before you go.
To study the jungle's amazingly complex ecosystem, its cultures, and their relationships to the jungle, you need a tour company that knows the rivers and is sensitive to your comfort level.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 30 Jan 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »