Nine countries share the Amazon Basin but access is easiest from Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia – which have the best choice of jungle lodges and cruises.
The most spectacular landscapes are where the Amazon meets the Andes in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and in the lowland centre – around the Negro and Tapajos rivers in Brazil, where the river is oceanic and the horizons endless. The remotest locations – Alta Floresta in Brazil or Manu in Peru – offer the best wildlife-watching.
This big city in the middle of the Amazon is reachable only by plane or boat. The landscapes of the adjacent Negro and Amazon rivers are spectacular. There are many lodges nearby and cruise options. The farther you are from the city the more wildlife there is to see, with Mamirauá reserve – a short flight away – the best of them all.
Alta Floresta, Brazil
On the edge of cattle-ranching territory in remote Mato Grosso state, Alta Floresta is the access point for Cristalino lodge – the best location in the lowland Amazon for serious birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. Visits to Cristalino are easily combined with visits to the Pantanal wetlands – another wildlife hotspot.
An isolated town in the Amazon lowlands which became wealthy in the early 20th-century rubber boom, Iquitos offers access to jungle lodges in well-protected reserves with good wildlife-watching. Tour operators offer a range of river cruises, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the scenery is not as spectacular as Manaus or Peru’s Manu National park.
The ancient Inca capital and jump-off for Machu Picchu is not in the Amazon but it’s the access point for the spectacular Manu National Park. The most pristine, unspoilt and protected area in the Peruvian Amazon that’s still relatively accessible to travellers, there are wonderful mountain and rainforest landscapes and great wildlife.
Puerto Maldonado (Peru)
This small lowland village on the Madre de Dios river (a tributary of the Amazon) is the jump-off point for the Tambopata National Reserve – a large protected area with exceptional biodiversity in the lowland Amazon. There are many jungle lodge options here.
Ecuador’s Amazon is less spectacular than in Brazil or Peru – with smaller rivers and less dramatic scenery, but the infrastructure is excellent – with comfortable jungle lodges and good bird-watching. Most lodges are around the Napo river, an Amazon tributary. Trips leave from Quito, the country’s Andean capital.
Alter do Chao (Brazil)
This small village on the blue Tapajos river close to the city of Santarem has beautiful white-sand beaches in the dry season and is the access point for the FLONA forest reserve – where you can visit rubber-tapping villages and pristine forests. Boat trips and cruises leave from Alter.