Snaking its way elegantly through the rainforests of Peru, Colombia and Brazil with tributaries striking out further still, the mighty Amazon river is one of the world's most inviting natural wonders. Nurturing one of the most complex ecosystems anywhere on earth, this vast waterway presents a prospect that's sometimes challenging, frequently surprising but ultimately, enormously rewarding, to the traveller who wants to leave 'first world problems' at home.
The Amazon covers more than 4,400 miles, so there is no single 'right' way to explore the river. Your experience will depend heavily on where you start and end your visit, and the longer you spend on the water, the greater your appreciation of the Amazon's diverse and ever-changing character will be. It's this diversity that brings many curious travellers to the river year after year, and your eyes and mind are sure to be opened on an Amazonian cruise - whether it's by the astonishing wildlife, or the or the fascinating local customs you'll encounter en route.
Exploring by boat is the only way to get to know the Amazon river intimately, and as well as being an immensely relaxing experience, it offers a unique viewpoint on the world; one where you can see some of the world's most rare and endangered wildlife first hand, without disturbing or otherwise upsetting the balance of nature. As you pass through dense and colourful jungle, you'll gain exposure to some fascinating local customs - from deckside samba dances to natural rainforest remedies - and you'll sleep beneath the stars on hammocks that sway gently with the river's twists and turns. What better way to go back to nature in a world that never seems to slow down?
The months between January and June are best avoided, as this is the Amazon's long Monsoon season when high levels of humidity make currents and general weather conditions unpredictable. The vast majority of tours take place from July to December; the dry season, when waters tend to be calmer and there's a lower chance of rain.
Before you book your Amazon adventure, it's important to consider what type of experience you're looking for, as this will dictate where you choose to check in and out. If you're an experienced adventure sports enthusiast, for example, and want to make the most of the Amazon's wilder features, you might want to look into whitewater rafting in one of the fast-moving tributaries. Ecuador has many such wet and wild locations, while those seeking a more 'comfortable' or luxurious experience may want to consider Brazil as a starting-point, perhaps with a view to striking out to the neighbouring Caribbean Isles on one of the larger cruise ships.
If you're seeking a more wildlife-focussed adventure you could not have picked a better hook for your holiday, as the Amazon river basin is believe to be home to a staggering one third of the world's animal species. You're likely to encounter tamarin monkeys, toucans, scarlet macaws, giant otters, river dolphins and many more exotic species. But not all are friendly: among the many dangers lurking beneath the surface of the Amazon river are piranhas and bull sharks. Go for Peru, Ecuador or Colombia for the most impressive wildlife-based experience.
The Amazon experience will be unforgettable however you choose to approach it, but to cement your visit as a true trip of a lifetime, we recommend spending at least some of your time under guidance of an expert naturalist who can let you in on a few of the river's best-kept secrets. Better still, book yourself a place on a tour that will allow you to immerse yourself in local Amazonian culture, giving you a taste of an environment that could not be more different from life in the West. The Upper Amazon Tour aboard the Delphin II has a particularly impressive itinerary, but there are many more to check out.
While you're exploring the Amazon basin, you'll want to disembark from time to time and strike out into the rainforest, but again, you'll need to ensure you're in the hands of an experienced guide, as the jungle is full of potential dangers! Amazon Eco Adventures is one to consider, as on one of their tours you'll get to try your hand at a range of rainforest activities - from survival skills workshops to paragliding over the forest canopy.
Whether you want to drift gently down the world's most famous river with a book in hand and a hammock for a bed or take on some of its most treacherous rapids on a raft or kayak, the Amazon river cannot be beaten as a destination of a lifetime. Add the Amazon to your list, and prepare to witness the wonder of wildlife at whatever pace you choose.