The Amazon: How to travel safely World Nomads style

Brilliant swathes of rainforest, strange topography and vibrantly coloured wildlife mean Brazil is the perfect place to get back to nature.

The continuous stretches of sparkling beaches may tempt you to simply stay close to the coast, but to see Brazil's showiest natural spectacles you'll have to head inland.

Bugs, sweat and tears

Persistent, painful and maddening mosquitoes can make your trip into the Brazilian bush memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Take plenty of high strength insect repellent; (your average stuff just won't work!) and a mosquito net to sleep under. Repellents with high concentrations of DEET will be sure to keep the mozzies off but also strip through plastic and burn the nostrils. If you're worried about glowing or melting, there are plenty of powerful repellents that don't contain DEET.

Higher levels of acidity in the Amazon waters are supposed to mean fewer mosquitoes but don't let your guard down. They're sneaky devils and that's when they're most likely to strike. There may not be as many mozzies buzzing around the river itself but there's no shortage of stagnant pools of rainwater for them to infest.

There are plenty of other things that creep, crawl, slither and stalk in the Brazilian rainforest so keep to the tracks and stay alert for fangs.

Brazil's heat and humidity will cause you to spend a lot of your time sweating. Ensure you don't become dehydrated and keep up your fluid intake, capirinhas don't count!

Although the water in Brazil's cities is quite clean, it's best for tourists to stick to bottled stuff, especially in more remote areas. Coconut water is a tasty alternative, full of calcium and potassium, and a real staple for Brazilians from birth. Seriously, it's prescribed to beef up Brazilian babies. Mineral salts are also good at keeping you hydrated and healthy and they're a great idea when you're hiking in the heat.

High humidity means that despite how much you sweat, very little of it evaporates which interrupts your body's cooling mechanisms, making heatstroke a real danger. Don't over exert yourself, try to keep your head covered and again, stay hydrated.

Iguazu falls travel tips

The magnificent Iguazu Falls (Foz du Iguazu) are one of Brazil's big scenic drawcards and the whole area is set up for tourism.

The site of the falls themselves is split between Brazilian, Argentinian and, to a lesser extent, Paraguayan territory.

(a secret: this is taken from the Argentinian side, don't tell)

Many tourists, having invested the time and money to reach the falls, commit a full day on each of the Brazilian and Argentinian sides and it is relatively simple to move through the borders.

You may require a visa to enter Brazil but the immigration officials at Iguazu have been known to be a little lenient if you're just planning a day trip into the country. Depending on the kindness of strangers could save you some time and money but don't arrive expecting to stroll through with a wave and a smile.

Frequent shuttle buses between each side of the falls and the border make the whole process a little easier but have led to problems for a few travellers. The buses will stop to let you off at the border but generally will continue on while you go through immigration, leaving you to catch the next bus onward. It might seem like a hassle but take all your belongings with you through customs.

Remember to take out some cash before heading to the national park as tickets to the national park are R$60 and you'll need even more if you want to take a boat trip under the falls, which is highly recommended.

Make sure to take a raincoat, poncho or wear quick dry clothing because you will get soaked. Even if you don't take a boat trip, the fine mist thrown up by the churning water will wash over you as soon as you get below the edge of the falls. Try to keep your camera covered as much as possible while taking photos, as the water will seep into every crack and crevice.

Visiting outside the peak tourist season (January and February) might make for a more serene experience but despite what the postcards would have you believe, it can actually get quite cold in Brazil's south. This chill will only be exacerbated by the moistness mentioned above so, if you visit between May and August, remember to take some dry clothes to change into or a warm fleece.

Cute thieves

The high percentage of tourists at Foz du Iguazu, plus the falls' isolation from the main town mean crime isn't a huge issue, although that's not an indication to let your guard down.

(A curious Coati)

The biggest threat you're likely to encounter in the Parque Nacional will be to your lunch. The bands of coati that roam the park's paths will seize upon any sniff of food, their bizarre snouts swivelling this way and that, and will pounce on any opportunity to relieve you of your snacks. They may be cute but unless you want to be overrun by banded bandits, don't feed them. There's a reason for all the signs. They will keep pestering and you'll accustom them to humans, meaning the problem will only get worse for those who visit in the future.

Amazon adventure advice

Manaus is the jumping off point for many people's Amazon adventures. Despite being deeply nestled in impenetrable jungle, this improbably large city thrives on the lifeline of the river.

The oppressive heat and humidity mean things move a little slower here but there are still some very quick fingers. Manaus is notorious for pickpockets and the crowded river ferries brim with light-fingered thieves. Keep your valuables concealed and closely guarded. A decoy wallet with a couple of notes is also a good idea.

As soon as you arrive in Manaus you're likely to be approached by all sorts of hawkers promising life-changing tours. These guys collect a finder's fee from the agency they deliver you to so they'll just dump you into whichever place pays the most. The good tour companies have well-earned reputations and will come recommended by locals and travellers, so there's no reason to rely on these touts.

If you're not wild about any of the standard package tours on offer, don't be afraid to ask for a different format, especially if you're with a group. Not everyone will be accommodating but you should be able to find a decent guide who'll adapt to your desire, whether you want to just float on the river for a few days or build your own raft and hut in a Spartan survival challenge.

Wildlife watching

Whatever the format of your trip, don't expect to see leopards leaping after toucans in every tree while anacondas wrestle alligators below. The Amazon jungle is very thick and most animals will hear you crashing through the undergrowth from miles off, giving them plenty of time to scurry away.

Even if you're drifting silently in a canoe you'll have to be content with whatever life gathers at the riverbank, although that can be quite impressive. The best way to appreciate the teeming life of the Amazon is not to see it but to spend a night just listening as the sound of the jungle envelops you.

Amazon river boats

One increasingly popular journey is to hop onto one of the big, crowded riverboats that chug up and down the Amazon and Rio Negro either towards the coast or the meeting point with Colombia and Peru at Tabatinga.

This is an excellent way to really understand the societal scope of the Amazon but isn't the romantic adventure many people expect. It's long, cramped and can be mind-numbingly tedious. For many people the novelty of being on the mighty Amazon wears off before a day's worth of murky brown water passes under the bow.

Despite the conditions and slow going it's also an expensive exercise: Manaus is horrendously difficult to reach by road and Tabatinga is completely cut off, so flights or another long boat ride are your only real options in or out. On the other hand it's a great way to improve your Spanish or Portuguese, immerse yourself in South American culture and to experience the day to day life of the Amazon.

River trip tips

Here are a few tips if you do decide to string up a hammock and settle in for the ride. Firstly, you'll need to purchase aforementioned hammock; the vast majority of tickets don't include a bed or private cabin. These are available but are significantly more expensive and in the end will serve mainly as safe place to leave your belongings.

The boats are almost always overloaded with passengers and cargo so try to get on board early to claim a good spot.

The vessel may sit in dock for a day or so while its cargo's loaded, but your ticket is good from the moment you buy it, so there's no need to fork out other accommodation while you wait to depart.

Try to make friends early on. You're going to be spending a lot of time at close quarters and as well as making your trip more enjoyable, a boat buddy will be able to watch your gear while you're away. The huge majority of your fellow travellers are harmless, but sticky fingers are hard to spot in such a tight crowd.

Your passage includes food but the obligatory rice, beans and chicken are less than reliable. If you thought food poisoning was bad by itself, imagine salmonella punctuated by the unerring pump of Latin pop songs. Take a good supply of food and water and restock whenever the boat stops to let people ashore.

Breakdowns, docking and loading delays can completely upend the boat's schedule. Make sure you have a few days leeway if you decide to take this trip.

Brazils quiet diamond

One of Brazil's most impressive national parks, Chapada Diamantina, is often left off the tourists' lists. Countless waterfalls spill through unusual rock formations into crystal clear swimming holes that in turn lead to inviting underwater caves. With views over vibrant valleys and a wealth of stunning wildlife it is like a lost world, perfect for hikers, cavers and divers alike.

The spectacular Cachoeira da Fumaca (Smoke Falls) are so high that the water vaporises and twists away on the wind before reaching the ground. Plus there's always the hope of finding one of the diamonds that brought this place to prominence.

There are many sights accessible by car or a short hike from the central town of Lencois, or you can arrange to go by bike, canoe, mule or horse. But if you'd like to venture a little further afield a local guide is recommended. Maps of the park and some of the signage can be a little confusing and unreliable. A local will not only reveal the most impressive spots, they'll make sure you don't stumble into one of the park's many crevices or cave systems. If you do want to go a little deeper and explore these caverns an expert guide is a must. They'll provide the necessary equipment but more importantly they'll make sure you find your way back to the brilliant Brazilian sun.

The Amazon is not for amateurs! Find out what immunizations you need, things to take and more for this amazing natural wonder before you go by reading our guide to Amazon preparation.

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1 Comment

  • Marília said

    Text leads to mistake: Amazonas is FAR from Iguaçu. Pictures seems a lot like Iguaçu falls. Vegetation there is what WE call the Athantic Forest.

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