Amazon Jungle Excursions Near Manaus
As already noted, most jungle lodges and floating hotels will offer packages that include everything, including your jungle excursions. However, if you stay in town and end up planning your own excursions, you should be careful when shopping for a tour agency. Remember that the best ones are certified by EMBRATUR or the city’s own Manaustur or some other governmental agency. The EMBRATUR site is www.turismo.gov.br in case you want to check anybody’s credentials. There may be times when you want a simple boat taxi to some beach or jungle lodge and you may end up using an unofficial, local guide. The best advice is to ask other travelers for their recommendations or ask at any tourist agency for a reputable barceiro. Do not try to economize by going with an unknown or un-authorized guide as you can end up putting yourself at great risk. You can call or email Manaustur (92/622-4886, email@example.com) with questions about guides and excursions.
Swimming with the Piranha and Dolphins
Generally, visitors are reluctant to jump into the Rio Negro or Amazon River and splash around, although it’s perfectly safe to do so away from the Igarapés (shallow, swampy areas). Locals are known to swim with the Pink River Dolphins at the Meeting of the Waters and there are popular swimming holes all over the area–in the lakes and tributaries along Rio Negro mostly. In spite of this abundance of opportunity, most foreigners are timid about swimming, except when at the beaches on the margins of Rio Negro. Still, if your guide dives in, you can probably dive-in too. There are numerous swimming holes around Manaus and along the excursion routs that are regularly used for cooling off.
Despite their fierce reputation, the Piranha do not generally nibble on human flesh. The Black Piranha is mostly a fruit eater and the smaller Red Piranha prefers insects and pieces of other fish. Attacks on humans swimming in the river are almost unheard of and you’ll see locals jumping into the river without a single thought of peril.
Jungle Hikes and Canopy Walks
Most jungle lodges have their own jungle hikes–some even take guests out for overnight stays. The most interesting of the jungle walks are the ones that reach up into the high canopy, either using observation towers or suspended walkways. These are almost always associated with jungle lodges, who build their own structures in their piece of the jungle. Some of the best walkways are at the Ariaú Jungle Towers, the Juma Jungle Hotel, and the Guanavenas Jungle Lodge. The Amazon Resort also has suspended trails along with their extensive facilities for leisure activities. They accept day-use visitations. finally, the Mindú Park also has suspended walkways that are open to visitation.
Hikes along the jungle floor should probably be guided, unless they are on the grounds of a jungle lodge or in one of the smaller city parks. These hikes are excellent for photo safaris and bird watching. An interesting excursion is a hike out to one of the old seringais, or rubber tree groves, still producing rubber for a specialized market. Night walks are usually not recommended; the best nocturnal excursions are by canoe or floating hotel. That being said, there are tours that take you out to sleep in the jungle. Generally, you bring a hammock and sleep between two trees. This special excursion can be an eerie experience for most city folk and you’ll need to bring some special items for the occasion.
The best way to see tropical birds is in one of the national parks. You can see plenty of species in the Mindú Park and the small INPA grove, as they are sanctuaries for birds and other animals. Catching rare birds out in the jungle can be difficult and you will probably be more successful on a bird-watching excursion, with a guide that is experienced in finding the flocks. Often, just waiting around your jungle lodge is a great way to catch birds coming and going. When successful, you’ll be able to spot Egrets, Toucans, various species of Hummingbirds, Red Macaws, Blue and Yellow Macaws, Parrots, and more.
Fishing for Piranha
One of the more popular jungle excursions involves throwing a piece of meat into the water on a hook and waiting for that unmistakable tug of the Red or Black Piranha. The Black Piranha is the largest, but the Red Piranha is the most aggressive. Most jungle lodges offer some type of Piranha fishing excursion, the floating hotels always have such activities, and you can find individual excursions at the agencies in town. For serious fishing pleasure, there are multi-day fishing trips that take you way up the river to designated fishing areas (the areas rotate during the year to allow species to replenish themselves). You can even fish for the great Piraruca at certain times of the year. Check with the tour agencies for specific trips being offered.
Caiman Night Focusing
At night, the canoes take off from the lodge or floating hotel to pass along the river near the Igarapés, the shallow, swampy margins of the rivers, where the Caiman hang out. These large crocodilians can reach up to six meters in length here in the Amazon and are capable eating any large animal. Thankfully, they are rather timid and dislike humans, who make a lot of noise and splash around a lot in the water. The Caiman prefers to sit motionless, like a stone in the water, waiting for its prey to pass close enough to grab with a quick turn of the head. Most common meals are fish and birds. They’re easy to spot as you pass along in the small canoe (just about the size of a big Caiman), as their eyes glow in the dark when you shine a light on them. Caiman Focusing is an old hunting technique for capturing the animals, where a light is shone into the Igarapé to see the many pairs of red orbs just above the surface of the water. The Caiman is abundant in the Amazon and is found in Peru, Columbia, and Ecuador. Smaller Caiman are found in great quantities all the way down in the southern Pantanal in Brazil and Paraguay.
The best time to head out onto the river is at sunrise, when birds are active and the jungle is buzzing with life at the dawn of a new day. Typical day journeys go out into the tributaries and smaller waterways off Rio Negro and even into the Igarapés to see the many plants and animals. There are great canoe trips around the Parque de Janeiro that pass the Lagoa da Vitória Regia (Water Lily Lake) and most jungle lodges and floating hotels have specific canoe trips and interesting areas to explore for their guests. Besides the sunrise excursion, the most interesting is at sunset and into the evening–combined with a Caiman Focusing ritual–giving you an intriguing sensation of night falling upon the jungle.
Indian Village Encounters
Most of the jungle lodges have connections with Indian villages and bring small groups of visitors around to visit and observe their ways of life. There are numerous villages around Manaus and they range from well-produced demonstrations for the tourists to authentic aboriginal villages. Generally, the farther out into the jungle you go, the more authentic your experience will be. Of course, there are tribes that are protected and visitations are heavily restricted. Until around 2000, there were even some tribes untouched and unseen by westerners.
Some towns outside of Manaus are surrounded by native villages, such as São Gabriel das Cachoeiras, and Silves (in opposite directions). Jungle lodges in the large jungle preservation areas, such as Mamirauá and Jaú are also more likely to bring you in touch with the jungle’s human inhabitants. Lodges that specialize in Indian encounters include Juma Jungle Lodge, King’s Island Lodge, and Guanavenas Lodge.
Jungle Lodge Visits
Some of the larger and more structured jungle lodges are attractions in themselves. You can arrange day trips to visit the lodges, partake of their suspended trails and observation decks, and experience their slant on the local cuisine. Trips usually leave in small groups from the docks and cost around R$120 per person. The most sought after lodges for day trips include the Amazon Eco-Resort and the Ariaú Jungle Towers. Contact the hotel directly for more information or check with a tour agency in Manaus.