There are several things to consider when trying to decide which Amazon cruise or tour to do and there are now many options to choose from. What factors should you consider when deciding which is the best option for you?
- Do you want to get an in-depth experience or do you just want to get a “taste” of the jungle?
- How many days do you want to be in the jungle?
- Are you only going to the jungle or are you planning on going to other places? (Machu Picchu, Rio, Galapagos, etc.)
- How active do you want to be?
Do you have specific things you want to do in the jungle, that a package tour might not offer?
Some people just want to get an idea about what the jungle is like. For them, a 3 day lodge stay or cruise might suffice. That will allow them 1 full day in the jungle, since the 1st and last days are normally mostly for travel from the airport and back to the airport. They shouldn’t plan on seeing much wildlife or primary jungle though because they’re just not getting far enough away from the cities and nearby people. For instance, Manaus has about 1.5 million inhabitants, so you have to get pretty far away from the city to feel like you are in a wilderness area.
People who want to really get a feel for the jungle need to stay longer. It usually takes a couple of days for people to wind down to the rhythm of the jungle and you need to get into a variety of ecosystems so that you stand a better chance of seeing more species of plants and animals.
Most people think “Brazil” when thinking about the Amazon Basin, but it is also in Peru, Ecuador, and several other countries. You can have good experiences in those countries, so you don’t have to fly all over South America to see the Amazon, unless you have a special reason. If you want to go to Machu Picchu, then you might as well do an Amazon trip in Peru. If you want to see the Galapagos, then do an Amazon trip in Ecuador.
Don’t just rely on pretty brochures or websites. I was told by a local that one particular lodge in the Iquitos area was probably the prettiest one there – but their guides had all been fired from other lodges. One of the cruise companies shows a variety of boats on their website, but only one is now kept up for regular cruises. Another lodge looks nice on the website, but the service has deteriorated badly and the buildings have gotten run down. Another gives you great interaction with the local Indians, but those Indians also still hunt, so you won’t see much wildlife around there.
Alcoholism is a problem in the Amazon and guides aren’t immune from that problem. I remember reading many trip reports years ago, where the people said that the guide they hired knew a lot about the jungle, but he would get drunk at night and would go after the female clients and wouldn’t bother with cooking dinner, so they had to fend for themselves. I was recently saddened to learn that one of the top guides in the Peruvian Amazon, one who was the subject of several videos about jungle survival, etc., had been fired, because he had become an alcoholic. His father had also been one of the top guides, but he suffered the same fate. Good operators rely on repeat business and word of mouth advertising, so they can’t afford to keep guides that are going to cause public relations problems.
A good guide can make all the difference on a jungle trip. If you walk into the jungle by yourself, all you will see is a sea of green plants and a symphony of sounds. A good guide knows what all of those different plants are and what uses they have. He can tell what is making those sounds, their relationship to the plants in the area and where to look for them. They have an uncanny eye for spotting seemingly invisible things. I remember a night walk where we turned off our flashlights and were in the dark, but our guide somehow spotted a big black spider on a tree trunk. So he can turn a monotone experience into a Technicolor experience. Just like in any business, a good guide can command a better salary than a trainee, so don’t expect to be with a top guide if you go on the cheapest trip you can find. (the climate takes a toll on buildings and boats, so low budget operations are probably not going to have well-maintained facilities either. By the same token, the cheaper lodges are also often close to the city, so they are not in areas that are as pristine or that have as much wildlife.)
Airports at Amazon gateways such as Iquitos and Manaus used to be havens for scam artists. They knew that many people would arrive with no reservations and so would offer exciting trips at great prices, but of course they often would not deliver what they had promised. The governments are working hard to try to eliminate these types, but they can still be a problem for unsuspecting budget travelers.
Most travel agencies will offer some of the most highly marketed cruises or lodge stays that offer the activities that they think most people want to do, but if you want to camp or kayak or do anything out of the ordinary, then you will need to look elsewhere because most travel agencies are more informed about mass market locations, such as Las Vegas, Cancun and Disneyland than they are about specialized Amazon trips. Some of the highly marketed properties are like big resorts in the jungle. If that’s what you’re interested in, then fine. But many people want something more intimate and authentic and less intrusive. So it’s better to communicate with somebody who has more experience in the type of trip that you are looking for.