The largest river basin the world, the Amazon rain forest is an adventurer's paradise. The Amazon's amazing diversity of plant and animal species makes the region a must for travelers in search of wildlife, and a hike through the rain forest is one of the most intimate ways to discover its riches.
Although a hike in the Amazon can be a challenging experience, with some advance planning travelers can safely enjoy both self- and professionally guided hikes.
1. Pre-Departure Considerations. Before departing for an Amazon adventure, travelers must consider several practical issues. First, they need to choose their destination countries and make arrangements for any visas or other travel documents required for entry. U.S. citizens must obtain a tourist visa in advance in order to enter Brazil, and those traveling by way of many Latin American countries will require proof of yellow fever vaccine. Second, travelers should consult with a travel health professional to determine an appropriate pre-trip treatment regimen. For instance, to combat the threat of malaria, visitors to the Amazon will likely want to begin a malaria-prevention program before their trip.
2. Choosing a Home Base. Because the Amazon rain forest is so massive, travelers will need to choose a base from which to organize their hiking expeditions. Vegetation tends to grow more dense and the jungle more remote as you move inland from the mouth of the Amazon River. Belem, the Amazon city closest to the Atlantic Coast, is a convenient point of departure for hikes on nearby Ilha do Marajo. Farther upriver, trips into the central Amazon depart from Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon basin.
3. Self-Guided Hikes. Travelers looking for a brief hike in the Amazon might wish to plan a short, self-guided day hike. Because the Amazon is challenging territory, such self-guided hikes are safest when conducted on clearly marked trails within the safety of a park or reserve. Two excellent options for self-guided hikes are the Floreta Nacional do Tapajos, a 30,000-hectare reserve just 25 miles south of Santarem, and the Amazon National Research Institute's much smaller Science Forest near Manaus, which offers interpretive trails and exhibits on local ecology.
4. Guided Hikes. Adventurous travelers seeking a more in-depth jungle experience can turn to one of the hundreds of tour operators who lead expeditions into the Amazon. The best of these operators transport travelers from major cities like Manaus to isolated jungle lodges, which then serve as bases for guided day hikes and overnight expeditions into the jungle. With many tour operators to choose from, adventurers should be sure to select an operator with ample experience and positive reviews from past travelers. Both Lonely Planet and Moon have published extensive lists of reputable lodges and guides online.