If the first two posts in this series already had you hungering for a trip to The Amazon, read on for even more reasons to visit the world’s largest ecosystem. The Amazon rainforest is six million square kilometres in size, takes up about a third of South America, and is home to an abundance of wildlife – so it really shouldn’t be missed if you’re visiting the continent. Here are five more amazing things you can do while you’re there…
Somehow, the idea of piranha fishing sounds a whole lot cooler than regular fishing. And it is – but mainly because it’s done from a canoe or wooden motorboat on a river surrounded by the Amazon rainforest. Real life piranhas are actually disappointingly tame compared with their ferociously ravenous on-screen counterparts: although a hungry shoal can strip the flesh from a large animal in a few minutes, they almost definitely won’t be interested in eating you, even if you do fall into the river.
These glittering red fish do have razor sharp teeth and strong jaws, and if they smell blood, or discover helpless mammal which has fallen into the river and drowned (so, not a kicking, flailing human), a shoal of piranhas will devour the flesh happily. On the whole, though, piranhas are actually pretty timid, omnivorous scavengers that are actually much more likely to feed on other fish, insects, invertebrates and plants.
So, you can fish in comfort. And even if, like me, you don’t actually catch anything (our guide blamed the raised river level), sitting in a canoe on the incredible Amazon river or one of it’s tributaries, listening to the quiet of the forest and the occasional birds, is really relaxing and an amazing experience.
Hunt for Snakes
No, I’m not encouraging you to grab a shotgun (not sure what good that would do you, anyway) and head into the jungle to hunt down some endangered species and blow it’s slithery head off. But many jungle lodges and tours offer the chance to go on a snake hunt, which might just as easily, but less enticingly, be called a snake-spotting walk, as that’s all it is.
But how amazing does that sound? Walking through the forest, or the swamps of Bolivia’s Rurrenabaque region, with an experienced guide helping you search for serpents in the undergrowth. No need to be afraid as the tour guides are on hand for protection if necessary, and besides – most snakes won’t attack you unless provoked. Snakes are among my favourite animals, so the chance to spot them in the wild is really appealing – but this tour option is not for the faint hearted!
Get some top tips for photographing snakes in the wild here!
Many snakes, like large numbers of the Amazon’s more exciting residents, can only spotted at night, so it’s lucky that most tour companies and jungle lodges in the Amazon can arrange night walks for more adventurous tourists. You’ll head out after dark with a guide in search of tarantulas, serpents, bats, frogs, and possibly even the elusive, beautiful jaguar.
Don’t head out after dark without an experienced guide – and make sure that they work for a reputable company. The Amazon is a very dangerous place, so you don’t want to find yourself lost there at night. Also – please make sure you book with a responsible, eco-friendly tour company or lodge; The Amazon is a delicate eco-system in constant danger, so we don’t want to support companies which are exploiting or damaging it.
INPA Science Centre
I’ve already mentioned Quistococha zoo in Iquitos, Peru, but another chance to visit the Amazon without forking out on a tour can also be found at the Brazilian National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA) centre in Manaus. The centre is just a short taxi ride from Manaus city centre, where you’ll find grounds covering 13 hectares, including a botanical garden and park with labelled trees and plants. You can view the most iconic Amazonian plantlife – such as ceiba (kapok) trees, ficus and various medicinal shrubs – and spot wildlife like macaws, sakis, tamarins and squirrel monkeys, or even sloths and agoutis (a large rodent) roaming freely through the grounds. Glass-walled tanks house manatees, otters, turtles, caiman, electric eels, freshwater rays, and a variety of fish including armoured catfish.
The highlight has to be an elevated walkway which allows visitors access to the lower canopy, home to small reptiles, frogs and epiphytes such as orchids and bromeliads. In the Casa da Ciência you’ll find the scientific background to Amazon ecology, so INPA is a fantastic place to learn about the Amazon and it’s wildlife – as well as see it up close.
Want to see more of the Amazon and get hands-on experience with some exciting wildlife? Want to help protect endangered species or aid conservation? Think you can tough out the mosquitoes for more than a few days?
Why not volunteer? I met a guy on the road in Bolivia whose girlfriend was volunteering with the Inti Wara Yassi community in the rainforest, where her jobs included taking a puma for a walk every morning and evening, playing with the monkeys, and feeding the other big cats. Ever since I heard about her experiences, I’ve been insanely jealous and seriously regretting not adding another few weeks onto my trip to do the same. Not only is this a fantastic chance to get hands on experience with Amazon wildlife and see some of the rarer animals up close, but it’s also the opportunity to give something back to the communities you’ve been visiting, and help the environment and some endangered species, to boot. What’s not to love about that idea?
Both images courtesy of intiwarayassi.org.