One of the least penetrable places on the planet is best penetrated, strangely enough, in more comfort than might be expected. The place is that petri dish of living things, the Amazon rainforest, and the comfort comes in the form of the riverboats and their stately creep into the jungle.
The Amazon is ripe with biodiversity, teeming with more endemic species of plants and animals that have yet to be counted. It's the rainforest's rivers, the world's largest fresh water system that create the corridor for travelling into this lush wilderness, inhabited by plants and animals the likes of which you'd never see anywhere but here or in a nature documentary.
One of the real draws of seeing the rainforest by boat is that as well as provisions to keep you comfortable and safe, most of them come equipped with their own guides or local experts who'll be able not just to answer any questions you have about what you're seeing, but also to tailor your trip to both the time of year and local wildlife sightings, giving you the best chance of seeing as much as possible. The boats themselves become an easily portable camp, movable between wildlife trails and sightings, and local attractions.
As well as animals, the Amazon's birdlife is extraordinary and the lives of the indigenous inhabitants fascinating. You can even find specialist tours that are more tailored to twitchers or towards learning about the Amazon's tribes.
The best expeditions will see passengers setting off in smaller boats towards land of times a day so that there's plenty of opportunities to enter the rainforest in different places - after careful onboard sightings from experienced river guides. These aren’t the big game animals of Africa and it takes a practised eye to spot these smaller creatures, especially amongst the heavy growth of the rainforest.
Trips though Ecuador's Amazon usually explore the tributaries around the Napo and Aguarico Rivers and the Yasuni National Park and Biosphere Reserve. Freshwater dolphins and caimans live on this stretch of the river, and you can expect to see trees laden with monkeys, and tapirs hiding in the jungle and some of the more than 2,500 species of butterfly.
Trips in the Peruvian Amazon usually depart from Iquitos, encountering the wildlife of the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, then cruise on down the Tabatinga River towards Brazil. The dolphins in this section of river are known for being pink! And for dancing in pairs. The vast Pacaya Samiria Reserve is home to around 135 different mammal species, including sloths, 150 species of mammal and more than 450 species of bird. It's also home to 22 different species of jungle orchid.
The Bolivian section of the Amazon is at its most accessible near the Brazilian border along the Mamore River. This river floods regularly which wildlife deals better with than humans, so it's a wild region, home to 20 different kinds of primate alone.
Brazil is the country most commonly associated with the Amazon, and most of the water-borne exploring of the Brazilian Amazon is done on the Negro and Amazon rivers, starting out in Manaus. This is one of the wildest Amazon cruising options, though the basin itself, which is the least explored and most lushly dense sections, and trips here usually include many more opportunities to go out on smaller crafts to get closer to the action. This is the trip Dr. Livingstone would have chosen – hoping to see piranha, electric eels, ibis, parakeets, macaws, and many, many unusual and endemic creatures...and that's before you even consider the verdant tangle of plant life here.
The best way to choose which section to journey on would be to get local advice for the time of year you're planning to travel. The general rule about these sorts of trips is that the better the ratio of guides to travellers is the better the experience you'll have because you'll have better access to expert knowledge and you're more likely to encounter more wildlife if you're out travelling in smaller groups. The standards of vessels varies with the price, from old wooden paddle steamers to luxury ships equipped with all mod-cons and trips vary in length from three days to several weeks.
April through September are the best months for travel, both for wildlife sightings and weather conditions.
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