Manaus is the best starting point for Brazilian Amazon tours. There are multiple tour groups operating out of Manaus, and the inland city is easy to travel to with daily flights from multiple Brazilian cities. The city has hotels and hostels that cover all budgets, and has supermarkets and other amenities for stocking up supplies before you head into the jungle.
What Amazon tour should you take?
We went with Gero Amazon Tours. They are well reviewed and are recommended by Lonely Planet. They are also one of the more budget friendly tour operators and they offer dorm room accommodation as well as hammocks and private rooms.
Now that the tour is complete we can report that there were some logistical issues during the trip (it was overbooked and the return bus ride was scary at times), but the guided day trips were amazing and you could tell that the tour guides really loved what they did. Overall we had a positive experience.
There are other operators that are well reviewed including the more upscale Uakari Lodge which is based at Tefe, 600km upstream of Manaus. If you have the money this operator has excellent reviews and will provide a more comfortable stay.
If you are interested in doing an Amazon Survival Tour then our Gero tour guide Kenrick Lacruz runs his own tours which can be organised directly with him (firstname.lastname@example.org). He was a fantastic guide for us in the Amazon and he speaks excellent English so send him an email if you are interested in a quote.
What should you expect on a 3 day/2 night tour?
You will get picked up from your accommodation and taken to the port to take a boat across the river. You will pause momentarily to see the meeting of the waters where you can clearly see the different colours of the Rio Solimoes and Rio Negro Rivers.
After about an hour you will stop for a buffet lunch at a restaurant run by the local community. You will then be taken on a short walk from the restaurant along a wooden boardwalk over the water. Look for animals including monkeys, tropical birds and lizards sitting on giant lily pads. You will then go back to the boat and carry on another 30 minutes up the river. Make sure you go to the bathroom before leaving the restaurant area as this is the only bathroom on the 4 hour journey.
Once you reach the next port you will disembark the boat and board a bus which will drive along a dirt road for about 30 minutes until you reach another port. You will then board a final boat that takes another 30 minutes to take you to the lodge.
When you arrive at the lodge you will drop off your things and be served lunch before heading out on your first guided activity. You will travel by boat up tributaries of the Amazon River looking for wildlife. It can vary each time what animals you will see but there are many living in the area. These include sloths, several species of monkey, pink dolphins, caiman, tropical birds, birds of prey, snakes, butterflies and lizards.
Once you come back to the lodge you can wash up (as you will probably be sweaty and covered in repellent) and then have dinner before setting up your bed for the night. Make sure you have a mosquito net as the mosquitos are ruthless!
After breakfast you will head out in the boat with your guide for a hike in the jungle. You will learn about the plants and animals that live there and you will see plenty of living examples as you explore the thick vegetation.
There are rubber trees, vines that look suitable for Tarzan and leaves being chopped up and carried off by strings of leaf cutter ants. You will also see monkeys, butterflies as big as dinner plates and if you are (un)lucky you may find a tarantula! Make sure that you have a thick layer of repellent and that all your skin is covered (long trousers and shirt) as the mosquitos are relentless.
After the hike you will take the boat back to the lodge to have lunch and a break before the next activity. There are drinks available for purchase at the waterfront bar if you are missing your beer or coco cola.
After lunch you will take the boat out to a quiet spot to go fishing for piranhas. The bait is raw chicken as they are carnivores. They can be a little difficult to catch as the piranhas are talented at stealing your bait, but once you catch one it gets easier. The trick is to yank the rod up the moment you feel a bite.
Keep an eye out for pink river dolphins while on the river. They live in the area so you can sometimes see them as you are boating along the river.
Your group may catch one or thirty, but if the group is struggling then the guide will try to find a better spot where the fish are biting. The guide will help you take them off the hook and put them away to take back to the lodge to cook up for dinner or lunch the next day. They are a tasty fish but they can be quite fiddly with all the bones.
The evening activity is a boat trip along the river to look for caiman. Caiman are a member of the crocodile family and can grow to several metres long. You can see them from a distance as their red eyes brightly reflect the torch light. The boat will quietly approach and you will see their heads floating above the water.
Afterwards as the boat motors back to the lodge look over to the banks of the river where you will see fireflies zipping in and out of the trees along the edge of the river and out over the surface of the water. Occasionally a fish will jump from the water to catch one. Its magical.
The final morning is spent visiting indigenous communities. You will visit a local acai farmer and an indigenous family who sell handmade crafts to tourists. They show you around their village and explain their way of life with your guide acting as a translator. They have necklaces and bracelets you can buy to help support them so don’t forget to bring a little local currency.
After lunch you will pack your things and start the journey back to Manaus. The boat, bus and boat journey takes about 3 hours with 30-60 mins to take you back to your accommodation from there. Enjoy the shower when you get back. It will probably feel like the best you’ve ever had!
What to Pack
- Mosquito repellent (and lots of it)
- Rain jacket and poncho
- Long trousers
- Long sleeve shirts
- Hand sanitiser
- Toilet paper
- Sturdy hiking shoes
- Flip flops
- A light jumper to sleep in (it can get cool late at night)
- Camera (preferably with waterproof case or cover)
- Swimsuit (you can swim in the river if you like)
- Money for drinks and indigenous crafts
- An open mind
1. Wear long sleeves and trousers. The more covered you are the harder it will be for the mosquitos to bite you. Loose fitting clothing is preferred as they can bite through thin skin-tight clothing.
2. Take a plastic poncho in addition to your proper rain jacket. After a few hours of heavy rain even gortex will leak.
3. Wear your seat belt on the bus at all times. The driving standards are different out there and crashes are more likely (our bus ran off the road after heavy rain). You are less likely to be hurt if you are wearing your seat belt. We were wearing ours and were unhurt.
4. Bring some drinking water. They will provide drinking water but the water supplies can be intermittent.
5. Expect to get wet, especially in wet season. Bring enough clothes so that one set can dry.
6. Shake out and check your clothes and shoes before putting them on. Spiders like to hide in them. Always zip your bag closed when you aren’t using it so they can’t get in.
7. There are no lockers at the lodge. Lock up your bag when you aren’t with it. Preferably leave valuables at your accommodation in Manaus.
8. Arrive in Manaus the day before your trip starts. You will need to pay at the Gero Tour office in town (or the tour operator you choose) and check in with them and organise your pick up for the following day. If you organise it in advance they will pick you up from the airport.
9. This is not an ‘easy’ trip but it is an incredibly rewarding one. Try to take the small problems in your stride. You may not get a shower, the bed you wanted or maybe there was a big spider living in your room, but these are all minor compared to the once-in-a-lifetime experiences you will have on your guided trips. It is an adventure so enjoy it!