The Amazon is home to some of the world’s most incredible travel experiences – whether it be cruising through majestic jungle waterways, swimming with pink river dolphins, fishing for piranhas off the side of the boat, visiting friendly indigenous tribes or staying at a unique tree house lodge. The energy of these experiences is unlike anything else in the world.
While most travelers have a vague wish to visit the Amazon ‘one day’, many visitors to South America actually skip this rainforest and settle for popular places like Buenos Aires, Machu Picchu, Salar de Uyuni and Rio de Janeiro.
Coming all the way to Latin America and not visiting the Amazon is a tragedy (in our opinion) as this ecosystem has more animal and plant species than any other on the planet. The variety of life and adventure here is unmatched. Yet, the size and scope of the Amazon can scare people away as it can be difficult to know where to start. For example, many travelers don’t know which country is best to experience the Amazon.
They might know that more than three-fifths of the Amazon is in Brazil but do they know that the Amazon is spread out over eight countries? It’s not just Brazil that can offer Amazonian vacations! Countries like Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela all boast some small portion of this rainforest. Of course, not all parts of the Amazon are accessible to tourists but some are certainly more suitable and enthralling than others.
So, in this article, we will be giving you an overview of the top 4 countries to experience the Amazon – those countries being Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. Each of these countries offers a unique glimpse into the 6.7 million km² of emerald green landscapes that make up the Amazon. Each one of these countries offers Amazonian adventures more unique than the next.
4 Best Countries to Experience the Amazon Rainforest
1. Ecuador – For Yasuni National Park
Ecuador is regarded as “Four Worlds in One Country” – meaning there are four distinct worlds to discover: the Galapagos Islands and its rich wildlife, the beautiful coastline, the epic Andes mountains and the lush Amazon. No other country in the world can offer such diversity yet, again, Ecuador largely flies under the radar for travelers to South America.
But that is beginning to change. Backpackers are heading to Ecuador in their droves and bloggers, influencers and the like are starting to shine a light on this magical country that straddles the equator. One of the biggest advantages of a trip through Ecuador is the relatively compact size. It’s much smaller than countries like Argentina and Brazil and those dreaded long haul bus rides – which last for as long as 24 hours – can be avoided.
Located in the east of Ecuador is the Amazon. Here you will find around a third of the landmass of the country, endless colorful birds and wildlife, and 10 different indigenous nationalities. The gateway city to the rainforest is a place called Coca, only a 30-minute flight from Quito. From here there are some amazing Amazon river cruises in Ecuador that you can join.
Booking a cruise is a wonderful way to experience the Napo River system, Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and Yasuni National Park – three highlights of the Ecuadorian Amazon. For example, Rainforest Cruises are leaders in South American cruises and they offer two boutique, luxurious ships for the Ecuadorian Amazon: the Anakonda and the Manatee Amazon Explorer.
With no more than 40 guests, these ships offer an intimate experience that pairs comfort with world-class wildlife viewing opportunities. In fact, did you know that Yasuni National Park in Ecuador is regarded as the most biodiverse place on earth? There are thousands of species to see here such as pygmy marmosets (the world’s smallest monkey), colorful macaw birds, tree frogs, payara fish, sloths and perhaps even a rare jaguar or two!
2. Peru – For Pink River Dolphins
The Land of the Inca is almost as diverse as its northern neighbor. Peru not only charms with its Inca ruins and delicious cuisine but it also offers visitors the chance to explore the second largest section of the Amazon after Brazil. Indeed, the Amazon makes up 60% of Peruvian territory.
With this size comes a vast array of things to see and do. Sailing along the Amazon River (the second largest river on earth) is one of the coolest travel experiences in the world, especially when you come across pods of playful pink river dolphins! These unique creatures can be spotted on Amazon River tours normally based out of the Northern Peruvian city of Iquitos.
From Iquitos travelers typically head into the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve where pink river dolphins can be found. This precious national reserve is also where you can locate humongous Lupuna trees which produce these amazing tree vines that you can swing from, just like Tarzan!
Then travel to the southeastern regions of the Peruvian Amazon and find the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Manu National Park. This national treasure is incredibly special because it hasn’t been exploited by oil, rubber or logging production. The jungles here are so remote and hard to get to that economic development has been almost unthinkable – and thank god because it remains one of the most well preserved parks in the world.
No matter how you choose to experience the Amazon in Peru, whether you want to swim with pink river dolphins up north or listen to the sound of thousands of birds chirping in the south, there is something for everyone. And what better way to tick this experience off your bucket list than by booking one of the fantastic Peru Amazon tours with Rainforest Cruises. They have over 20 different Peru tours that include the Amazon!
3. Brazil – For the Meeting of Waters
When you think of the Amazon you automatically think of Brazil. The Brazilian Amazon is a massive labyrinth of jungle landscapes, winding waterways, tribes and indigenous communities, and incredible natural phenomena such as the Meeting of Waters – the meeting point of the Rio Negroa and Amazon River where black water meets sandy-colored water.
The Meeting of Waters in Manaus (Amazonian city) is one of the highlights of Brazil. Here you can arrive at the meeting points by boat and put your hand in the water to feel the different temperatures. The waters meet but they don’t converge straight away. This stretches for 6km and makes for quite the photo op, especially from above. Many of the Brazilian Amazon cruises offered by Rainforest Cruises stop at the Meeting of Waters.
If you prefer to explore the Brazilian Amazon independently you can always do so. There are jungle lodges in the area that provide pick-up services from Manaus (only three or four hours away). Once you arrive at your lodge you can immerse yourself in your bungalow and join a few tours organized by the hotel like wildlife expeditions, canoeing adventures and jungle hikes.
How you choose to experience the Amazon in Brazil is totally up to you. The options are endless for not only the rainforest but for the country as a whole. For this reason, we suggest setting aside more time for Brazil than other countries because of the sheer size of the place. While you might be able to travel through Ecuador in a month and Peru in six weeks, Brazil probably needs two or three months! It’s a continent in its own right.
There are many hidden gems to discover and the country offers so much more than just popular cities like Rio. You have the world’s largest tropical wetland area in the Pantanal, the extraordinary sight of Lencois Maranhenses with its dunes and lagoons, the mystical paradise of Chapada dos Veadeiros, the rugged volcanic archipelago of Fernando de Noronha and did we mention Ilha Grande?! Brazil is just endlessly beautiful!
4. Bolivia – For Budget Friendly Adventures
Bolivia is one of the most budget friendly countries. It provides backpackers with an affordable way to enter the Amazon without the crowds of tourists like in Brazil or Peru. The gateway to the Bolivian Amazon is a town called Rurrenabaque. You can get here from La Paz via a 35-minute flight.
Once in Rurrenabaque you will have plenty of options to find places to stay and choose the right tour agency to explore the rainforest. Just make sure you bring plenty of cash as there are no ATM’s here. Also, don’t just pick the cheapest tour option you find as it might be unethical, poor quality or dangerous. As a general rule, don’t pay less than $100 USD for your tour.
The very best tours take you into the depths of Madidi National Park where rare animals like pink river dolphins and jaguars abound. This national park is one of the most diverse regions in the world and what’s even better – it’s pretty much unspoiled by resource extraction and mass tourism.
If you are traveling to Bolivia in a group and have more of a budget to splurge on you can book a private charter with Rainforest Cruises on their Reina De Enin. This 24 guest catamaran takes you floating down the headwaters of the Bolivian Amazon on a unique trip. Your days will be spent relaxing onboard and taking safaris to find pink river dolphins, turtles and caimans. You will go hiking to see sloths, monkeys and macaws too.
This trip with Rainforest Cruises begins in Trinidad, the capital of the Beni department, rather than Rurrenabaque. One amazing thing about Beni is that it lies 2,000 miles from the Amazon River’s source and therefore large ocean-going ships can’t venture all the way upriver to Bolivia. This incredible isolation only adds to the sense of adventure that you will feel.
Tips for Visiting the Amazon Rainforest
- Book your Amazon tours well in advance, especially during the months of July through to December when it becomes much busier.
- Get your visas, vaccines, insurance, etc. all sorted well in advance too.
- Pack mosquito repellent, insect repellent and lightweight breathable long sleeve tops and pants to protect yourself from biting insects.
- Pack all that sun protecting gear like a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses.
- A rain jacket and some warm clothes for the cool nights is a good idea.
- Hiking boots are a must and rubber gumboots are ideal for the mud.
- If you get the chance to make sure you visit an indigenous community and give back in some small way whether it be gifts or donations.
- Don’t get too close to the animals and certainly don’t touch them. It’s so important to respect the wildlife and their natural environment.
- Never leave rubbish on the trails or throw trash into the river. Pack in what you pack out and leave the places better than you found them.
- Bring a positive attitude and a desire for adventure. No matter how you experience the Amazon, you will have the adventure of a lifetime!