How to Prepare for Your Adventure in the Brazilian Amazon

Before you go, find out what to pack, how to stay healthy, the types of wildlife you will encounter and weather expectations for your trip to the Amazon.

Photo © Getty Images/felipefrazao

Covering more than 2.1 million square miles of tropical terrain, the Amazon rainforest's biodiversity is mind-boggling. Eight of the world’s twenty longest rivers are located in the Amazon basin, where a fifth of Earth's fresh water is found.

More than 20% of the planet's oxygen is produced by the Amazon, but the Amazon floor is a dark place due to the incredibly dense canopy. Regardless of how you experience the legendary rivers, always travel in a group, preferably with a knowledgeable and reputable tour guide.

To visit the rainforest you have two options, you can go thought Belêm (Pará State) or Manaus (Amazônia State). The best place to start is Manaus, with a good range of accommodation options and easy access from major Brazilian airports.

Here are some tips to stay safe and healthy while exploring the 'lungs of the earth'. 

How to Stay Healthy in the Amazon

Even if you have a steel like immune system, the Amazon is definitely no picnic when it comes to matters of health and hygiene. The Amazon’s waters teem with parasites and amoebas that can seriously mess with your delicate Western immune system and lead, at best, to that vexing trilogy of vomit, fever and diarrhea, at worst to dysentery, typhoid and cholera. provoke acute and, at times, fatal diseases like Chagas Disease.

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The cone-nose (or kissing bug) carries a parasite which transmits the disease. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, skin rash, body aches and more. Chagas Disease is present in 21 Latin American countries and results in about 12,500 deaths a year worldwide.

Of these pesky parasites, it’s the dreaded trematodes that strike fear into the hearts of travelers keen to penetrate the jungle. Also known as flukes, and named for their massive suckers, they are generally found in pools and other contaminated waters. Trematodes burrow their way directly into your body, if you choose, for example to wade through a swamp. Be sure to wear long pants and boots if your journey involves passing through a swamp.

They can also pass into your system through consuming contaminated water. Always treat your water before consuming it.

Take the customary precautions and make sure your food is fresh and properly washed to reduce your chances of getting sick. Carry a travel first aid kit including medicine that will treat diarrhoea and fevers. Where possible also have access to a local pharmacy in case you require stronger medication. For travelers to the Amazon, the biggest (and often life-threatening) threat comes from mosquitoes carrying malaria and yellow fever. Always make sure you are up to date on the recommended vaccinations before you travel and consult the Center for Disease Control for latest advisories concerning your risks of being exposed to malaria.

What to Wear in the Amazon

Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, sturdy hiking boots, a wide-brimmed hat and a waterproof jacket are essential gear for jungle trekking.

Apply DEET strength insect repellent and keep your skin covered as much as possible to avoid insect bites (they are rapacious). For a good night’s sleep a mosquito net and ear plugs (to muffle to sound of gnats buzzing in your ear) might help.

Treat any wounds as soon as possible to avoid infection. Always shake out your boots or shoes before you put them on, in case any creatures have made them home for the night.

What Wildlife Will I See in the Amazon?

This is one of the most species-rich places on earth – to give you a sense of the magnitude, the Negro River has more species than all the rivers in Europe combined.

With frogs the size of rabbits, 30ft long green anacondas, and the black caiman (the largest alligator in the world), there’s no shortage of superlatives to describe the roughly 16,000 species that populate the Amazon. According to scientists, a new species of animal is discovered in the Amazon rainforest every three days.

While, reassuringly, animals will not go out of their way to hunt down humans, the Amazon is full of creatures that will make no bones about attacking you if you display threatening behavior towards them. Aspiring David Attenboroughs should keep their distance.

One of the most beautiful and brightly colored creatures you’ll see in the rainforest, the poison dart frog can emit a deadly poison through their skin capable of causing heart failure within minutes. One impressive subspecies, the golden dart poison frog possesses enough poison to kill up to twenty humans. Then there are the aptly named Assassin bugs which inject poisonous saliva into their prey; it literally broils its victim’s organs. The Amazon River harbors electric eels that can generate five times more electricity than the standard wall socket, as well as blood-sucking leeches and vicious mosquitos that can infect you with a medley of fatal ailments.

Always listen for clues about what is around you, watch where you step and (in the absence of a machete-wielding tour guide) carry a long stick ahead of you to clear your path and help avoid contact with spider webs. Be cautious when touching or handling plants as many have thorns and can be poisonous. 

Weather in the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest is characterized by heavy rain (up to nine feet per year), intense humidity and heat. Weather can produce dangerous conditions, especially during the height of the rainy season from October to May. Torrential rains during March and April washed out roads and water levels rise dramatically in the Amazon River and its network of tributaries. It is not uncommon for flooding and potent river currents to capsize boats. While the rainier season is prime time for wildlife watching, traveling to the Amazon between June and September generally yields more amenable conditions.

How to Stay Safe in the Amazon

If you were to ever get lost or separated from your group, there are a few survival essentials that are handy to know. Here are a few basic survival tips: 

  • Don’t freak out. This will waste energy and increase your need for food; move slowly and cautiously
  • Walking downhill in the jungle will lead to water, and usually water leads to civilization
  • Break down whatever challenge you are faced with into small, manageable tasks 
  • Obtain water. Hoards of insects often imply that there is a water source nearby. Animals will often leave trails that meet near water. If you are really prepared (or paranoid), carry a plastic trowel for digging for water beneath the surface. Ideally, boil any water you find, filter it or add purification tablets to it. 
  • Never wear wet socks. Over time, persistent moisture can provoke tissue breakdown which would leave your feet at risk from fungal infections 
  • Leave a trail made from torn clothing or any objects you find (the brighter the better)
  • Don’t head in a straight line; weave your way through clearings in the forest  
  • This is a tough one but try to gather materials to build a shelter on high ground (if possible) to protect yourself from inclement weather, veracious insects and venomous spiders and snakes. A fire will frighten away your predators and attract attention from other travelers 
  • It’s counter to the plan to accidentally poison yourself; only eat fruits, vegetables and nuts that you are familiar with; cashews, peanuts, starchy root vegetables and citrus fruits are abundant in the Amazon. Always consume fresh fruit or fish (if you are a dab hand at fishing) straight away as it will quickly rot in the heat and humidity.

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