Following on from last week’s post all about The Amazon, here are five more incredible things you can do in the world’s largest ecosystem. The six million square kilometre rainforest, which takes up over a third of South America, is worth a visit in it’s own right as a place to see an abundance of wildlife and incredible scenery, but here are some alternative activities to really make the most of your time in nature’s biggest showroom…
Cruise the Amazon River
Since most towns in the Amazon aren’t connected by road to the outside world, the only way to get in is often by plane. The overland alternative is by boat, best suited to the more adventurous travellers or those favouring slow travel. There are a number of places from where you can cruise the Amazon river, including Leticia in Colombia, Manaus in Bolivia and Iquitos in Peru.
A river cruise in the Amazon could be one of many different options. There are the basic, public-transport style “fast” boats, or rapidos, which are essentially water busses. Or you can hitch a ride on a cargo-ship, which will leave whenever it feels like it, potentially become stuck, and take around 3-5 days on the river. Perhaps the nicest sounding option is a luxury cruise with a tour company, which can vary in length depending on what the package includes, but which will be clean, comfortable and reliable, as well as much more expensive than the alternatives. If you’re considering taking the trip, check out my guide on sailing from Colombia to Peru.
When you think of the Amazon, you probably picture impenetrable jungle and occasionally stilted wooden huts. But it’s very easy to forget that there are actually some fairly big cities in the rainforest, like Manaus in Brazil (population 1.7 million) and Iquitos in Peru (population over 370,000).
Big, once-glamorous cities left over from the age of the rubber boom, both Manaus and Iquitos are great places to spend a few days either side of a jungle tour and both are great cities in their own right. Thanks to increasing tourism, the towns boast a vibrant nightlife and some amazing restaurants serving up traditional Amazonian food, with golden catfish, fried plantain, freshwater crab and even piranha on the menu.
Swim with dolphins
Swimming with pink river dolphins might sound a little like a bizarre dream, but it really is a possibility in the Amazon. Actually, there are two kinds of river dolphin; the long-snouted grey river dolphin and the more elusive, and much more striking, pink dolphin.
Many tour companies can arrange a trip to swim with the dolphins, which are naturally friendly and playful and can be great fun to meet. Be warned, though, they like to nibble! If you’re worried about another Amazonian inhabitant nibbling, too, there’s no need; the dolphins don’t swim in the same water as piranhas, which apparently will only bite if they smell fresh blood, anyway.
A swim with dolphins can be a real highlight of any jungle trip, but make sure you go with a friendly and ecologically friendly tour company, that the trips don’t have any negative environmental impact, and that the animals aren’t being mistreated.
What could be more interesting and spooky than an abandoned prefabricated industrial town? An abandoned prefabricated industrial town in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon, of course. Built in 1928 by Henry Ford (of Ford cars) as a way to provide his company with a source of rubber, the narcissistically named Fordlândia was doomed from the start by infertile land, inexperienced managers and unhappy indigenous workers who eventually revolted – not to mention the eventual development of synthetic rubber putting an end to the natural rubber industry.
The town still exists in eerie ruins of glassless windows and abandoned buildings, and makes an interesting place to visit. Visitors can even look inside the old houses and see old beds and bathtubs from the 1930s.
Both images taken by Guido D´Elia Otero.
Swim in Waterfalls
The Amazon rainforest hides huge numbers of waterfalls, some secret and hidden away, others well-known and popular swimming spots for tourists. The best known spots include Terra de Cachoeiras (Land of Waterfalls) in Brazil, where visitors can also explore several caves home to bats, lizards and cave insects, as well as plenty of waterfalls, including the stunning Iracema Waterfalls where visitors can swim or take a natural shower under the fall. In Peru’s Amazon basin, you’ll find several waterfalls around the town of Tarapoto, or there’s the 895.5m tall Yumbilla which is the fifth tallest in the world. Bolivia’s Las Cuevas is a series of three beautiful waterfalls on the edge of the Amazon, which are popular with tourists thanks to the abundant birdlife and the hiking trails through the surrounding forests.
Most jungle tours and hikes can be tailored to include a trip to a waterfall or swimming hole, which is a great way to cool off from the humidity and heavy heat of the Amazon.