I remember when I was 15 and living in France, my host sister went on holiday to the Brazilian Amazon jungle.
I was amazed.
Weren’t there anacondas living there that could suffocate you in your sleep?
Wasn’t the jungle overrun with pumas that could attack you as you walked by?
Weren’t there remote tribes that would throw a spear through your heart if you stepped into their territory?
Fast forward 12 years and thankfully I am no longer so naive.
It is possible to explore the Amazon jungle without getting constricted by an anaconda until you eyeballs pop out of your head.
Pumas won’t pounce on me in the jungle.
Sadly, it’s more likely a remote tribe will get killed by an oil or sugar cane company for ‘being in the way’ than it’s likely I’m going to get speared by them for walking into their territory.
Our recent visit to the Amazon jungle in Ecuador proved wrong all my silly thoughts, and more. Even though I was terrified of exploring the Amazon since the age of 15, I was also secretly in awe of this magical place on earth and was excited for the chance to see it.
And considering that in the time it takes you to read this article, an area of Brazil’s rainforest larger than 150 football fields will have been destroyed, it was clear to me that we might not have all that much time left to see the Amazon.
It certainly lived up to my expectations, minus the attacks from dangerous people and animals; you can see a snippet of what it was like in the video above.
But I realise now that I’m not alone in my questions about the Amazon. Many people, my former self included, probably want to explore the Amazon jungle but are unsure where to begin.
But fear not; I’ve put together a simple list of tips for exploring the Amazon jungle, covering a number of basic questions you might have before your trip.
What vaccinations and medicines are needed?
Before heading to the Amazon jungle, I read conflicted reviews on numerous forums about whether I needed the Yellow Fever Vaccination. With up to 30% of people experiencing headaches, muscle pain, soreness or mild fever as side effects from the vaccination, it’s not a drug I wanted to take lightly.
Some people said you had to take it to go into the Amazon, whilst others said you didn’t. In the end I ended up calling a local Ecuadorian doctor once I got to Ecuador and asked his advice. He knew the region we were travelling to and could confirm that only two people from the area got Yellow Fever last year, and said that getting the jab wasn’t necessary as it was highly unlikely we’d catch the virus.
I would seek a doctor’s advice on whether you need the vaccine – and a doctor who knows the area, like ours did, is even better. In different parts of the Amazon you are more prone to contracting Yellow Fever than in others, so it’s helpful if an expert can tell you specifically whether you need it for the region you’re travelling to or not.
You should also consider taking malaria tablets to prevent yourself from getting the illness.
Dave and I began taking the tablets just before we went and continued taking them for a month after our return. But we were on the trip with people who weren’t taking them, and they didn’t get sick, so once again it’s a precautionary measure and not obligatory.
We took doxycycline and didn’t have any side effects aside from weird dreams.
This is my opinion, and I’m not a medical professional. Please talk to a doctor before going into the Amazon.
What time of year should you visit the Amazon jungle?
Because the jungle is so close to the equator – or on the equator in some points – the weather doesn’t vary in terms of temperature all that much.
The rainy season is November to March. This means some hikes will be difficult to get to or harder to do because of the mud, but it’ll also mean the water level is higher so you can travel further by boat.
However, travelling in the drier season often means the lakes shrink and therefore the wildlife isn’t hiding out in the reeds as there’s no water there any more, so you’ll have a better chance to see caimans and other river species.
We went in April and it still rained a little each day but not so much that it hindered our experience. You have to remember that it’s called the rainforest because it rains a lot, so to go there expecting it to be dry isn’t realistic, even in the ‘dry’ season.
What country should you access the Amazon jungle from?
When people tend to think of the Amazon, most think simply of Brazil but the Amazon actually reaches into a number of other South American countries including Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Bolivia, Suriname and French Guiana.
Because Brazil has the majority of the Amazon jungle on its land, with 60% of the rainforest situated here, it’s no surprise that it’s the most popular country for an Amazon jungle tour. However, this doesn’t mean it’s the best – exploring the Amazon from one of the other countries is often cheaper.
For example, a three day trip from Bolivia into the Amazon can cost as little as US$64 whereas a similar trip in Brazil can set you back US$350 or more.
Something else to consider is what you’d like to see on your Amazon jungle trip. If you want to see the pink river dolphin you’ll have to consider that it’s only found in certain rivers in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.
If you’re interested in interacting with native tribes then perhaps consider an eco tour like the one we did with Sani Lodge where we had the chance to meet the local Quechua people in Ecuador, or go another place where you’ll get a similar opportunity.
What kind of accommodation is there in the middle of the Amazon jungle?
There’s a number of different styles of accommodation in the Amazon but (thankfully) no large resorts. You can do anything from a kayaking and camping tour through to a luxury eco lodge stay.
It’s also possible to go on a river cruise on budget boats or luxury yachts, depending on your budget.
We decided on Sani Lodge which is situated on a large plot of Amazonian land that’s owned by the local Quechua people. The locals run the eco lodge, meaning the money is plugged back into the local community.
And eco tourism is something I would certainly place importance on. Because the Amazon jungle is being destroyed at an alarming rate thanks to deforestation, eco tourism is often the local people’s last opportunity to make money close to home. If we don’t continue to support these people, they often have to be separated from their families as the young men go off to work in the cities – often hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres away.
What should I pack for my visit to the Amazon jungle?
I’d recommend packing long cotton clothing because even though it’s hot and humid hiking in the jungle, it’s also very easy to brush up against biting ants or other insects that nip, so long clothes will protect you.
Take a lightweight raincoat too, because you’ll need something to protect you from the downpours.
Your accommodation should provide you with wellies to hike in, as it’s very muddy, but if not make sure you pack high ankled hiking boots.
Bring a flashlight or a head lamp because you’ll most likely get the opportunity to hike through the jungle at night and you’ll need something to light your way.
Don’t forget the bug spray and sunscreen of course.
And most importantly – pack light! We had to take a canoe to get to our lodge and bulky suitcases wouldn’t have fitted onto the boat that well.
Have you been to the Amazon jungle or are you going? What tips for exploring the Amazon jungle would you add?
Thanks to Sani Lodge for inviting us to visit this beautiful part of the world. As always, our opinions are our own.