Amazon Overview

Amazon River Cruises and Tours

Amazon

Why Visit

Grab your binoculars and experience Amazon adventures by boat or on land. Amazon River cruises offer the mystery and enchantment of the world’s largest river—including a glimpse into the lives of the caboclos, the people who live along its banks. Alternately, a stay at a remote rainforest eco-lodge offers nature enthusiasts ample bird-watching opportunities and the thrill of searching for wildlife on foot.

Nowhere else on earth offers you the staggering variety of flora and fauna that’s found in the Amazon. Look—and listen—for a pink river dolphin as it “pops” to the surface. Fish for the famous man-eating piranha. Shine your flashlight at night to discover glowing eyes of caiman. In the skies, you’ll find parrots, macaws and clumsy-looking toucans with their colorful heavy beaks. A keen eye will spot slumbering three-toed sloths, stealthy jaguars or the iridescent flash of a blue morpho butterfly. All these animals live within a rainforest that boasts 40,000 plant species and 2.5 million insect species.

The people of the Amazon are as remarkable as its natural wonders. Journey deep into the rainforest to visit a remote local village, speak with their chief and learn firsthand about their way of life, rituals and daily routines—including how the indigenous people use and rely on the plants in their rainforest home. Visit in June for a chance to participate in the Parintins Boi Boom Ba carnival parties.

Fly above the jungle and marvel at the blanket of green. See wildlife and indigenous cultures so spectacular they seem right out of a storybook. The sounds of the jungle at night will surprise and delight you. Feel at peace in the warm, fascinating rainforest as you taste delicious fresh fish and fruits with names you’ll puzzle over. An Amazon jungle tour is the quintessential adventure trip for even the most seasoned sojourners.

History

The immense Amazon region includes areas of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil—encompassing the Amazon River and the numerous streams and tributaries that feed into it, as well as the largest tropical rainforest on Earth (about the size of the contiguous United States). This area makes up the most diverse biome on the planet—so rich, so dense, and so vast that scientists speculate there are at least 9 million more species yet to be discovered there.

Sometimes called “The River Sea,” the Amazon River is so wide in places that you can’t see the opposite shore. The waters are home to caiman, manatee, pink dolphin and over 2,000 species of fish—the infamous piranha among them. Remarkable land animals include jaguar, sloth, tapir and capybara. The towering rainforest canopy is home to several types of monkeys as well as exotic-looking birds like toucan, macaw, parrot and hoatzin. Insects far outnumber all other life forms in the Amazon with 2.5 million unique species.

Over 40,000 plant species exist here, including the Brazil nut and rosewood trees, myrtle, laurel, palm and acacia. The plant life of the Amazon has been the subject of much study—due in large part to its medicinal potential. Since ancient times, the cinchona tree was used by the Inca to treat malaria (the bark contains quinine). Other plants have been used in modern medicine to combat viruses, fight cancer, lower cholesterol and treat depression. Indigenous inhabitants rely on rainforest plants as their primary pharmacy.

The first European to explore the Amazon was Francisco de Orellana in 1541. He gave the river its name, returning home with tales of fierce women warriors who reminded him of the Amazons in Greek mythology. The area continued to confound and amaze explorers for centuries with its dense jungles, ferocious insects and mysterious natives.

Europeans arrived in droves during the “rubber boom” of the late 1800s in search of the rubber tree. They settled in Manaus, Brazil, where they proceeded to build a lavish (some would say gaudy) European-style city—complete with an opera house. Unfortunately, half the members of a visiting opera troupe were struck dead by yellow fever during this time. The rubber boom quickly ended when seeds of the rubber tree were smuggled out of the Amazon and cultivated in Europe. Manaus fell into poverty, and the opera house was vacant for nearly 90 years. Over the last several decades, Manus has begun to thrive, thanks in part to the establishment of a free trade zone. Interestingly, more televisions are made in Manaus today than in any other location in Brazil.

Since the late 20th century, the Amazon has been in the world spotlight due to the rapid rate at which its rainforest is being depleted by humankind. Scientists estimate that one species goes extinct in the Amazon rainforest every four hours. The impact of this devastation is not certain, but experts speculate disastrous effects on the global climate and biodiversity. Additionally, indigenous people who have inhabited the lands for at least 11,000 years risk losing their homeland and their traditional ways of life. Amazon rainforest tours are part of a new movement of responsible eco-tourism that helps preserve the rainforest by raising awareness and stimulating local economies with little impact on the land.