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6 Best things to see & do in The Amazon

  • Amazon, Peru

Last updated: 30 May, 2023
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson
  • Iquitos, Loreto Region, Peru

Cruise the River Amazon

Bucket List Experience

Cruise the River Amazon

Travel deep into the humid rainforest on a small expedition boat to explore the headwaters of the Peruvian Amazon, one of the most inaccessible areas on the planet.

Most expeditions start in Iquitos and take you to the wildlife-rich Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, sailing along broad, muddy rivers, the bottle-green forest stretching in every direction, scarlet macaws flying overhead and occasionally, pink river dolphins swimming alongside the ship.

Expert guides lead forays ashore in search of three-toed sloths, howler and capuchin monkeys, while flat-bottomed skiffs take you along the skinny, snaking waterways of this flooded landscape to look for caiman, turtles and piranhas.

There are frequent encounters with indigenous tribes, offering a fascinating cultural insight. Kayaking, piranha fishing and swimming in freshwater river pools are all on offer.

An intrepid spirit is essential for these adventurous expeditions, which tend to attract a well-travelled crowd.

Adult price: £Varies

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 4 days +

  • Amazon, Multiple countries

Tourists on a boat travelling up the amazon

Bucket List Experience

Boat tours on the Amazon River

Taking a boat tour on the Amazon or one of its larger tributaries – either on a day trip in fast launches or an overnight cruise on a classic double-decker wooden Amazonian river boat – is an unforgettable experience.

There are spectacular landscapes around the Amazon itself, with the most beautiful landscapes where it meets the Rio Negro in Manaus and the black and coffee-coloured waters flow side by side without mixing for kilometres. There are breathtaking sunsets over the river, and the extraordinary sight of thousands of birds returning to the forest to roost.

Smaller launches offer far greater access to the wild than large boats and cruise boats – as they can navigate the igapo (tributaries) and varzea (flooded forest), the oxbow lakes and the igarape creeks.

For the best experience book a jungle lodge as far away as possible from an Amazonian town or city and take boat trips from there. Day trips leaving from large settlements like Manaus, Iquitos or Puerto Maldonado don’t take visitors far enough into the forest to give a true sense of the wild.

Adult price: £60

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 4-7 hours

  • Amazon, Multiple countries

Kayaking between the treetops in the flooded jungle

Bucket List Experience

Kayaking in the flooded forest

There is more to the Amazon than the Amazon River itself. While the main river and its large tributaries offer spectacular scenery, the smaller tributaries and creeks (igarapes) are where you stand the best chance of seeing wildlife and local life.

In the wet season, the river rises up to eight metres – creating unique, flooded forest landscapes known as varzea (on brown rivers) or igapó (on black rivers), which link together in vast labyrinths – extending through lakes tributaries and swamps covered with huge Victoria waterlilies.

Paddling on a kayak or dugout canoe through the flooded forest is magical, particularly at the beginning and end of the day when the wildlife is most active. Motorboats are also available for the less energetic.

Adult price: £30

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 2-3 hours

  • Amazon, Multiple countries

Visit an Amazon village

Bucket List Experience

Visit an Amazon village

Forest-covered islands with monkeys and macaws calling from the trees, black and coffee-with-milk rivers so wide you can’t see the far bank, floating villages… the landscapes alone make a boat tour in the Brazilian Amazon a must-do. But the best tours show you much more than the lovely landscapes, they offer a window on the lives of people who live in harmony with the forest.

Through hands-on interaction, these tours show how indigenous and caboclo riverine people have hunted and harvested the Amazon without harming its biodiversity; cultivating manioc, brazil nuts, açai and cocoa fruits.

They tell the story of rubber – invented by the Omagua people and briefly during the rubber boom, making Manaus City one of the world’s wealthiest metropolises. And they show you basic survival skills, from how to find water in the forest (from hanging vines) to how to make a natural SOS call.

Adult price: £60

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 3-6 hours

  • Anavilhanas National Park, Amazonas, Brazil

Aerial view of Anavilhanas National Park Islands, Rio Negro, Brazilian Amazon

Bucket List Experience

The Anavilhanas Islands

The Brazilian Anavilhanas is the largest river archipelago in the world – a beautiful labyrinth of forested islands, some fringed with white-sand beaches lapped by the jet-black waters of the Rio Negro.

Bubble-gum pink river dolphins play in the waters, caiman-crocodiles bask on the beaches and at sunset, when the light is a deep, rich gold, thousands of Amazon swifts descend to roost in the rainforest trees.

Good for age: 8+

  • Tupinambarana, Amazonas, Brazil

Male dancers in very exotic jaguar animal costumes and headdresses perform in the colourful Boi Bumba folklore Festival in Parintins, Amazonas State

Bucket List Experience

Boi Bumba Festival

Imagine Rio Carnival in the middle of the Amazon rainforest: that’s the Boi Bumba festival. This three-night dance and music festival takes place on remote Tupinamba island in the middle of the Brazilian stretch of the Amazon river.

It’s a spectacular night-time pageant – with giant floats, hundreds of costumed dancers and thousands of revellers. Through music and dance, two rival performance troupes take it in turns to tell the story of Pai Francisco and his wife Mae Catarina – who steal and kill a prize bull from a rich landowner.

The landowner discovers this and threatens to retaliate unless they resurrect his animal by midnight; which they do, with help of a shaman, a priest and an Afro-Brazilian Pai Santo, all of whom invoke the spirit of Amazon fertility – the Cunhã-poranga, played by a beautiful young dancer.

Keep an eye out for Carimbo dancing – a sultry, dress-swirling, Afro-Amazonian swing that makes tango look tired and tame.

Adult price: £400

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 3 days

When: End June

Freq: annually