South America´s rainforest is, for many, a real vacation highlight. Most people associate South America´s rainforest with Brazil´s tropical Amazon rainforest, which is the largest expanse of rainforest in the continent. However, excellent rainforest tours are also possible in a range of other Latin American countries including Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Belize. If taking a rainforest tour, utmost consideration should be given to the fragile natural environment that you are visiting. If at all possible, try to book a jungle lodge that has a clear responsible tourism policy. Ideally, your visit to the rainforest should actively contribute towards it´s conservation.
The main hub for rainforest tours in Brazil is the region of Manaus, which is a large town on the Amazon river in the middle of the rainforest. Rainforest deforestation proceeds at alarming rates in Brazil, and much of the area surrounding Manaus is deforested. Sadly, genuine responsible tourism lodges (genuine ecolodges) are lacking in Brazil. There are a host of jungle lodges with 3 to hours boat ride from Manaus. For the most undisturbed rainforest and the best animal viewing opportunities, it is best to catch a short flight west to Tefe, and visit the Mamiraua area of the Amazon.
Amazon Rainforest Tribes.
Many other countries have Amazon rainforest other than Brazil (note “Amazon” is a geographical concept with regards to the Amazon river basin, which is the tropical area lying to the East of the Andes). Ecuador has a range of excellent first class jungle lodges such as La Selva Jungle Lodge, and many of them are genuine conservation orientated projects. See the guide to amazon lodges in Ecuador for more information. There are also opportunities for rainforest tours in Ecuador in the Mindo area, and the area of Piedra Blanca.
Peru also has good rainforest tours and jungle lodges. Most easily accessible is the rainforest around the Puerto Maldonado area, which is a short flight from Cuzco. Note that this isn´t the Amazon region proper, though to visit you wouldn´t realise unless you were told so. Peru´s Amazon rainforest lies further north in the area around Iquitos, to where you can fly from Lima. There are numerous excellent jungle lodges in both regions. See this section on Peru’s Amazon for some useful further advice.
Guyana is probably the best place in South America for wildlife viewing in the rainforest, however very few tourists visit. Lack of tourist numbers mean that it is the best spot - vaste swathes of rainforest in the remain untouched. Almost the entire country, with the exception of the narrow coastal belt, is undisturbed Amazonian rainforest.
Colombia also offers rainforest tours in the Leticia area. Leticia is far to the South of the country, on the border with Brazil and Peru. The area is safe to visit - it is far away from any guerilla or paramilitary activity, and tucked away in a corner of Colombia. Those with a spirit of adventure can travel by boat from Leticia to Manaus along the Amazon river in about 4 days.
Central America also offers excellent tropical rainforest tours. Panama´s Darien National Park offers large swathes of undisturbed tropical rainforest ,though venturing too close to the Colombian border is not safe (the area, known as the Darien Gap, is rife with smugglers and bandits). Much safer is Costa Rica, which successfully markets itself as one of the top destinations in the world for rainforest tours. Tortuguero and the Monteverde cloudforest are two of the best options, though there are jungle lodges throughut the country. Belize also has easily accessible rainforest lodges in the Cayo (San Ignacio) area just two hours west of Belize City. Belize is the perfect Latin American destination for those seeking a beach and rainforest combination vacation.
The Amazon rainforest - this is a rather silly pic demonstrating completely inappropriate behaviour. The Amazon / rainforest is not about a “relaxing vacation” as a small minority of people imagine it to be so. It’s about adventure, wildlife watching, appreciating nature and being astounded by the vast scope of the rainforest and understanding it’s importance to our world. It’s also important to dress appropriately - behave like these two in the above photo and you’ll be bitten to shreds by mosquitoes, as well as offend the local community, who’ve likely only recently had contact with the “outside world” .