8 Ways to Explore the Mighty Amazon River

By: Susie Stauffer

The diversity and unrivaled size of the Amazon basin is a wonder adventure travelers flock to for experiencing the incredible ecosystem and boundless opportunity for exploration. Larger than India, the basin stretches over eight countries, offering more subtle joys than grandiose expectations: quiet, riverside villages, haunting cries of howler monkeys, and the silent but mighty movement of the river itself. This springboard to almost 30% of the word’s species provides a look at astounding bio-diversity and though unexpected surprises are possible, it’s the sheer breadth of the backdrop that’s most impressive.


8. White Water Rafting

The largest section of the Amazon River flows through Brazil just below the equator: the river runs east to west, crosses into Peru, and features tributaries throughout Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia. Immense amounts of water cascade from the Andes into flourishing Amazon canyons, crating exhilarating white water rafting experiences. The Amazon delivers exciting journeys spanning a day or two to three weeks and more with options for different ability levels. A four-day journey along the Rio Apurímac starts near Lima, Peru: the river carves through 9,000-foot deep canyons then unwaveringly descends into broad, bucolic valleys and lush Amazon rainforests. Adrenaline junkies might prefer a 12-day jaunt along the Tambopata River beginning north on the Lake Titicaca shoreline in Puno in Peru’s high plains. Riverside camping, and wildlife viewing (parrots, monkeys, alligators, tapirs, and more) are part of this intoxicating adventure.

Photo by: Ecuador and More
Photo by: Ecuador and More

7. Canopy Tours

Where primates effortlessly glide through forest canopies, navigating the trees has become a long lost skill among people today. Thankfully some innovative and ambitious entrepreneurs have allowed us to reclaim some of that lush domain and take the trees via zip-line and canopy tours, and what better place to experience the joy of careening over the jungle than in the Amazon basin. This incredible perspective offers a close look at wildlife whose habitats would otherwise be completely shrouded. These tours are also environmentally friendly, eliminating the need for disrupting habitats while trekking through undisturbed forest areas. This eco-friendly activity involves gliding nimbly amid treetops from platform to platform, gaining speeds of around 30 kilometers, hitting both penchants for raising adrenaline and exploring the Amazon’s ecosystem without disturbing animals and plant life. There are opportunities in each country in the basin to arrange zip-lining and canopy tours.

Zipline jungle

6. Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteer Work

Volunteering at one of the many wildlife sanctuaries in the Amazon is an eye-opening, and rewarding experience. Volunteers needn’t have special knowledge of animals but are required to have passion and stamina as well as a team-building attitude. Volunteers help to rehabilitate some of the most exotic wildlife found in the Amazon basin–animals injured by other animals, suffering from unfortunate accidents, rescued from animal trafficking, or situations of mistreatment and/or illegal situations. In Ecuador, there is ample opportunity to participate in wildlife rehabilitation and release programs, many which work together with local indigenous communities. Volunteers work on feeding and care, helping to maintain the sanctuary, and constructing animal enclosures with professionals among other specified duties. These programs are great for anyone in a wildlife field or program though you truly only have to be an animal lover to participate.

baby monkey

5. Jungle Trekking

Wildlife reserves and national parks throughout the Amazon River basin are plentiful and ideal for observing wildlife in natural habitats. Guided hikes (especially through Brazil’s Jaú National Park and Peru’s Manú National Park) are the most popular ways to explore–a professional, well-versed expert treks where you’re almost guaranteed a look at a host of native animals including pink river dolphins, manatees, caimans, massive river turtles, a wealth of primate species and maybe even a jaguar, not to mention some incredible trees and plants. Treks span anywhere from a day to several days to weeks with accommodation in a lodge or camp in the jungle. To reach the deepest parts of the Amazon, treks usually involve a lot of canoeing or kayaking which requires a healthy level of physical fitness. The packages are diverse, including anything from piranha fishing to bird watching and anaconda hunting (just to look at of course).

Amazon jungle trekking


4. Amazon River Jungle Beaches

The beaches of the Amazon River are scattered around Manuas in Brazil. Ponta Negra Beach is 12 kilometers long, running along a Brazilian neighborhood ripe with restaurants and bars. The beach is far from the deepest reaches of the Amazon rainforest but sits on a tributary and is perhaps one of the most relaxing and convenient aspects of the basin. Tupe Beach is 32 kilometers from Manuas, a white sand beach on the dark Rio Negro busiest on weekends but sublimely empty during the week. When the river recedes, 260 feet of sand is available–a popular place for sunbathing. On the Rio Negro’s left bank is Moon Beach, shaped like a crescent moon and backed by lush vegetation. The water is cold, clean, and clear and fringed by white sand–an ideal Amazon river beach to enjoy the Brazilian sun and relax or a day or two.

Ponta Negra Beach

3. Go Eco-Chic

For some, the Amazon jungle is extremely enticing but roughing it in a tent or rustic lodge just isn’t in the cards. Staying in an eco-chic cabin, or glamping, is a great solution–a way to revel in rainforest beauty without worrying about insects, snakes, or other possibly undesirable creatures. Staying in a comfortable, and often chic little cabin, rather than taking a machete through a week-long jungle trek, is an ideal solution. In fact, you can skip the trek altogether, pick up a few nice bottles of wine, and spend some time basking in the rainforest backdrop while wiling away your time in a breezy hammock. Eco-lodges built from reclaimed materials, are a great way to stay protected in the thick of the jungle and often feature flush toilets, screened restaurants, and hot showers in sustainable accommodations with little to no environmental impact.

eco lodge amazon

2. River Cruising

From budget to luxury, there are hundreds of options for navigating tributaries of the Amazon River and Rio Negro to explore the forest depths. Cruises offer a different perspective than jungle trekking, showcasing marine species such as piranha, river dolphins, and giant otters along with wildlife along the riverbanks: kingfishers, herons, squirrel monkeys, parrots, and more. As budget and time allow, river cruise activities can also include fishing, viewing colossal water lilies, and visiting riverside villages. Hammock-rigged boats afford a look at passing scenery with ease–some boats are fully equipped with professional guides (and air conditioned cabins) ready and able to cruise the whole stretch of the Amazon, stopping at points of interest along the way. Pontoon boats, big barges, and simple, traditional boats make this journey all the time. Villages use the river as a main transportation source so there’s always many options for different tastes.

Amazon Discovery Cruise

1. Anavilhanas Archipelago

The unforgettable scenic journey throughout the scenic Anavilanas Archipelago is one of the most impressive adventures available in the Amazon. This group of river islands is the largest in a freshwater archipelago and located in Brazilian Amazon on the Rio Negro–just over 95 kilometers from Manaus upstream where the river broadens 26 kilometers wider. Extreme biodiversity is the main attractions here, where the preserved area encompasses more than 390 islands spanning almost 100 kilometers and blanketed by native rainforest. This natural, incredible labyrinth teems with wildlife and diverse landscapes. Many say the best way to see the archipelago is on a live-aboard cruiser or by staying overnight at one of the area’s lodges. This spot is especially good for birders–hummingbirds, parrots, and owls are just a few bird species to spot. Pink dolphins and caimans also make appearances in this flourishing Amazon region.

Anavilhanas Amazon