11 Best Amazon Experiences

  • We've selected 11 of our favourite Amazon moments. 

  • Jaguars, glow worms, piranhas & parrots feature among the wildlife.

  • Activities include market visits, golf, fishing, kayaking ... and eating maggots.

Here at PeruNorth, we have had the very good fortune to have visited the Amazon region a number of times, and at a number of different points. With this background, we have put together the experiences that have stood out in the memory, and make us want to go back for more. 

1. Luminescence in Limoncocha Reserve, Ecuador

Amazonia is bursting with biodiversity, but much of the headline megafauna - such as jaguars, tapirs, manatees - are very elusive. However, there is much unexpected delight to be had in the less attention-grabbing fauna, such as the glow worms that inhabit the shores of Limoncocha Lake.

Best Amazon Experiences - Limoncocha Reserve at Dusk.jpg

Taking an evening excursion from the Manatee cruise, we first watched the movement of animals at dusk, including hoatzin, toucans and howler monkeys. And then, to my surprise, once the sun had set, a ghostly bioluminescence could be seen just below the water surface at the lake's margins.

The glow worm is, in fact, not a worm at all, but the larvae of a beetle. Nonetheless, the effect as we paddled slowly around the lake, with a star-laden sky above us, was spectacular. 

2. Belen Market, Iquitos

When one talks about the Amazon region, it is natural to think of the vast rainforest and the flora and fauna contained within. However, the human population and its interaction with this unique environment is also a fascinating component of any visit.

Medicines & liquors in Belen Market, Iquitos.

Medicines & liquors in Belen Market, Iquitos.

Nowhere is this more the case than at Belen Market, located along the banks of (and floating on!) the Ataya River, in Iquitos. This is where all manner of products from the surrounding jungle are purveyed ... in a setting that would not meet many Health & Safety criteria in Europe and North America! 

Amongst the many stalls, what most stick in my memory are the eye-watering traditional remedies, potent firewaters (which one is encouraged to sample) and a mind-boggling array of fish species. 

Fascinating, but not for the squeamish! 

3. Fishing on Amazon River, Loreto

During almost all Amazon cruises or lodge stays, you will get the chance to fish for piranha, which is great fun. All the equipment that is needed is a homemade bamboo rod, fishing line and a hook baited with some pieces of raw chicken.

Best Amazon Experiences - Fishing at Otorongo Expeditions.jpg

You should soon be hauling in small, but fierce-looking red piranhas - and maybe the odd smaller catfish. The guides will be there to locate the best fishing spots and unhook (and release) the fish. 

For those who enjoy a bit more of a challenge to their angling, there are a number of larger, aggressive fish amongst the Amazon's 2,000 species that demand specialist equipment, skill and patience. Perhaps the best-known of these is the legendary Peacock Bass (Cichla monoculus).

While staying with Otorongo Expeditions, I had the chance to fish with a lure for the first time. After some very brief instruction, I cast into the Amazon river, downstream from Iquitos, and was amazed to reel in a sizable Dorado Catfish (Brachyplatystoma flavicans), within just a few minutes. Not a Peacock Bass, but I was delighted anyway. 

4. Kayaking in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, Loreto

Best Amazon Experiences - Kayaking from Delfin II.jpg

The calm waters of the Pacaya Samiria provide the perfect setting to paddle silently into small creeks and lagoons. With no engine noise to startle wildlife, you are likely to get close to inquisitive river dolphins, and can enjoy all the sights and sounds of remote Amazon tributaries. 

It is also a great opportunity to interact with locals, who are often fishing on the water, in their dugout canoes.

The kayaking experience was offered as part of the Delfin II's 5-day cruise. 

5. Jaguar Sighting, Tambopata Research Center, Madre de Dios

Two jaguars sighted on Tambopata River.

Two jaguars sighted on Tambopata River.

Given the low numbers, large range and nocturnal habits of most Amazon felines, it is rare to spot them. Most visitors feel lucky to see just a footprint. So when one has the good fortune to see not one, but two (relatively) close up, the emotions are high. 

The location was on the bank of the Tambopata River, near to Tambopata Research Center, during a particularly dry August, with river levels low and many smaller tributaries and lagoons having dried up completely. 

6. Football against locals, Tambopata River, Madre de Dios

Best Amazon Experiences - Football in Village.jpg

The Amazon Rainforest covers parts of nine South American countries, nearly all of which are fanatical about 'The Beautiful Game'. Even the tiniest of communities will have some makeshift goalposts on a roughly-cleared patch of grass; and the inhabitants can often be found playing impromptu games, especially around dusk, when the heat of the day has subsided somewhat. Moreover, they enjoy nothing more than pitting their honed skills against a group of ill-prepared visitors.

This is exactly what we experienced on a trip up the Tambopata River to the Research Center, when our speedboat's engine suffered mechanical failure. What could have been a tedious wait for a replacement boat was transformed into a hilarious - and exhausting - game of 4-a-side against the local police

7. Canopy Walkway at ExplorNapo, Loreto

It is calculated that roughly one-third of all Amazon species are to be found in the upper parts of the trees - the canopy. Many of them live and die there without touching terra firme. So, the only way to see them is to go up and visit! 

Canopy Walkway at  Explornapo ,  Loreto .

Canopy Walkway at Explornapo, Loreto.

This is what we did as part of day trip from Ceiba Tops lodge, located downstream from Iquitos on the Amazon River. We took a speedboat, mototaxi, and another speedboat to get to their sister lodge, ExplorNapo, where a 500 m (2,640 ft) long canopy walkway, connected to 14 platforms, has been constructed. 

The view from some 20m (70 ft) above the ground was spectacular and gave some sense of the vastness of the rainforest. 

8. Eating Suri, QuistOcocha, Iquitos

Suri  ready to be barbecued.

Suri ready to be barbecued.

If you can overcome your natural squeamishness about eating an oversized maggot, these jungle delicacies are surprisingly tasty. Usually grilled on the barbecue, these grubs of the palm weevil (Rhynchophorus palmarum) can also be eaten raw (and alive!). 

We opted for the grilled option at a restaurant overlooking the lovely Quistacocha Lake, a 15-minute drive from Iquitos. Our order came on a wooden skewer containing four suri, which were shared around and tentatively bit into. I describe the taste as a crispy, smoky shell containing creamy flesh inside.

There was one left over ... which I ate. 

Grilled  suri  on sale at Bellavista Market, Iquitos.

Grilled suri on sale at Bellavista Market, Iquitos.

9. Amazon Golf Club, Iquitos

If you want to work up an appetite for eating suri, one way might be to play a round of golf at the Amazon Golf Club, just down the road from Quistacocha. It is only a nine-hole, 2,340-yard course, but a combination of the hot Amazon sun - and some brutal rough - mean this is enough for most golfers. 

Best Amazon Experiences - Amazon Golf Course, Iquitos.JPG

It is not advised to follow your ball into water hazards, of which there are many, as they are home to both piranhas and caimans

The greens are challenging to say the least, with plenty of grass - and other flora - on them. As a result, you have to putt the ball hard ... but not too hard, because if you go off the green, you run the real risk of losing your ball in the fringe! 

Clubs and balls are provided as part of the green fee ... along with a machete!

You are unlikely to shoot a low score, but you will have completed a unique golfing experience.  

10. Parrot Clay Lick, Napo River, Ecuador

Red & Blue Macaws in flight, Tambopata.

Red & Blue Macaws in flight, Tambopata.

Dotted throughout Amazonia are collpas - naturally-formed walls of clay on a riverbank exposed by erosion from the river. These attract large numbers of macaws, parrots, parakeets and parrotlets who can be seen feeding on the soil, most commonly at dawn. It is not known exactly what the mineral benefit of doing this is to the birds, but to witness so many close-up is a real treat. 

The Chuncho Clay Lick, in the Tambopata National Reserve, attracts more large macaws than any other. The sight of dozens of these beautifully-coloured birds taking flight is truly unforgettable and attracts naturalists and researchers from around the world.

Parrots at clay lick, Napo River, Ecuador.

Parrots at clay lick, Napo River, Ecuador.

However my most powerful collpa memory is on the Napo River, in Ecuador. We visited as part of the Anakonda cruise itinerary.

It is a smaller clay lick than Chuncho, without the added colour of the macaws, but the highlight was the sudden appearance of a Great Black Hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga), hoping to catch one of the many parrots. There was an explosion of activity and noise as the startled parrots escaped in all directions. And with the hawk still perched on a nearby tree, they did not return that day. 

11. Swimming in the Amazon

Jumping into the Amazon from  Delfin II .

Jumping into the Amazon from Delfin II.

Despite the terror-inducing image of deadly threats lurking in Amazon waters, fomented by such Hollywood films as Piranha (1978) and its various sequels and remakes, one of the great pleasures when spending time in Amazonia, is a refreshing dip in a river or lake, be it jumping off the side of a cruise boat or launch, or wading in from a river beach. 

Your guide will know the best places, with calmest waters, and if you are lucky, you will be sharing the water with river dolphins. 

Swimming in Dorado River, Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.

Swimming in Dorado River, Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.

For those who can't quite get those thoughts of man-eating fish out of their minds, many Amazon lodges have lovely swimming pools, with clear water. 

For more information about any of the above experiences, please don't hesitate to get in touch. And we'd love to hear what were your favourite Amazon moments