AMAZON RIVER CRUISES

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO CRUISING THE AMAZON

Welcome to the jungle! Often described as the cradle of evolution, the Amazon eludes an almost mystical quality that is hard to ignore. Most travelers worth their salt have the Amazon on their bucket list. 

Because the Amazon rainforest is famously dangerous, humid, and buggy, many people are put off from ever visiting. However, Amazon river cruises are the perfect way around this. Explore the river and the magical biodiversity from the safety of your air conditioned boat.

Typically, there are three regions of the Amazon you can choose to cruise; Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. To help you decide which region will suit you most, we have put together this awesome guide! 

We discuss boat types, wildlife, places to see, cost and much more! Please use our quicklinks below if you know what section you wish to read, otherwise, just read on. 

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Amazon River Cruises: The Complete Guide

​Overview

Amazon river map

The Amazon is a vast territory that passes through 9 South American countries; Brazil, Peru, Colombia,  Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and all three Guyanas. Containing more water than the Nile, Mississippi, and Tangtze combined, the sheer size of the Amazon is hard to fathom.

In fact, such is its size, that more than 20% of the world's oxygen is produced here. During the flood season an incredible 32 million gallons of river water is discharged into the ocean every second. Not only this, but a third of all the animal species on earth reside in the Amazon. Just one hectare of the rainforest exhibits 1,500 types of plant and almost a 1,000 species of tree! 

Ridiculous facts aside, the Amazon is a truly beautiful destination. Its biodiversity makes it a paradise for wildlife lovers, and photographers will not be disappointed either. Its broad waters are the perfect highway to explore this weird and wonderful rainforest. The vivid colours, the wonderful people and relaxing atmosphere of a cruise is simply unbeatable. 

The 'explorer' feeling is strong in this region as you cruise down tributaries that few other people have seen. You'll visit remote villages and meet the local people who still hunt for their food. Take a canoe ride into the smaller tributaries and search for rare wildlife as your expert leader guides you through the smaller inlets. 

Because the Amazon is 4,000 miles long, there is a lot of river to choose from! As mentioned above, the three main areas are Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. Whilst most Brazil river cruises are conducted as stand-alone trips, many of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian options are are operated in conjunction with other travels.

Below we have answered all of the common questions we get regarding Amazon river cruises.  

Best Time To Cruise The Amazon

best time to cruise the Amazon

The Amazon can actually be cruised all year round. Because the cruise is mainly river-based, rain fall and weather have little effect upon your boat. 

Saying this, when you cruise will still have a great impact on your experience. Essentially there are two season to choose from; the wet season and the dry season. 

Each season has their pros and cons. Below we have given an overview on each.  

Dry Season

The dry season runs from may through to November and is the warmer part of year. Temperatures are generally about 12 degrees warm than the wet season with average temperatures staying 90 degrees. 

Calling it the 'dry' season is slightly misleading. The Amazon is a rainforest after all and rain is still common during this period. 

The real difference comes in the river height. During the dry season the river drops significantly, exposing more land. This means you'll have far more opportunities to go ashore with your guides and take walks through the jungle. This gives you the opportunity to search for wildlife that is not frequently seen along the river banks such as sloths. 

The dry season also has less mosquitos, which is important to some people. You will have to deal with the heat though. 

Wet Season

The wet season runs from December through to April. During this period the water level rises by an average of 22 feet, cutting off many of the walks available. 

If you lie floating, this is the season for you. The cooler temperatures are very nice, but you will get stronger showers. Mosquitos are also out in force which is something to consider. 

Because the river level rises, you can explore far more tributaries than you could in the dry season. This is ideal for canoe trips.

You will also see a lot more wildlife during this period, as the river level rises into the canopy, making it far more easy to spot birds and monkeys.

For flora lovers, this is also the time to go as the all the flowers and plants are in full bloom during this period.  

Types of Boats

types of Amazon cruise ships

Choosing what ship or boat you wish to sail on is a great way of narrowing down your Amazon river cruise itinerary. 

Because of its enormity, the Amazon River can actually handle all types of ships from the massive cruise liners, down to small river boats. 

Saying this, only certain parts of the river can support large shops. Below is an overview of each option and their pros and cons. 

River Boats

River boats are the most common option for Amazon cruises.

Generally holding between 10 and 30 passengers, these boats offer the most authentic experience in our opinion.

Their small design makes them perfect for exploring the smaller tributaries.

The downside of course is that you won't get as much space as you would on a larger boat. You also won't get the same luxuries or food options. Saying this, the food offered is generally more authentically Amazonian than on the larger ships. 

Expedition Ships

Expedition ships find a nice balance between the two and carry between 50-100 passengers.

If you ant space, but don't want to miss out on shore landings, or canoe trips, this is probably the option for you. 

Expedition ships will have more guides and there will be a strong focus on knowledge enrichment and wildlife watching. 

These ships will often have more equipment such as zodiacs and kayaks which will often allow you to closer to the wildlife. 

 

Cruise Liners

Although it's hard to believe, most of the massive cruise line company also offer Amazon itineraries. 

P&O, Princess, Holland America, Crystal Cruises, Viking and Silversea all offer certain options. 

It's quite a sight to see a 3,000 passenger ship cruising down the Amazon! Because of their size though, they are restricted to the Brazilian region around Manaus and Parintins. For Ecuador or Peru, you will need to take a smaller ship. 

Obviously the large cruise liners offer excellent facilities, dining options and space. 

Amazon River Cruise Cost

Amazon cruise cost

Given the difference in ships and regions, cost prices for Amazon cruises can differ considerably depending on itinerary. 

Although it sounds odd, the smaller vessels tend to be the more expensive due to their ability to offer extra activities and guidance. The length of your cruise also has a profound effect on price. 

For a short 4-5 day itinerary in either of the 3 regions, prices start at around $1,000 and go up to about $4,000 depending on the cabin you choose and how luxurious the river boat is. 

For longer 8/9 day itineraries, prices start at just under $3,000 and can reach at least $7,000 for luxury options. For 2 week trips, you should expect to pay in excess of $6,000 for a basic cabin and boat. It's important to note here that most boats operating in the Amazon offer a fairly luxurious atmosphere. 

8 day itineraries are probably the most popular and will set you back around $4,500 for a nice cabin aboard a fairly luxurious river boat. 

As mentioned above, some of the larger cruise lines also offer Amazon itineraries. However, these are generally part of a much longer itineraries. Therefore, the prices of these cruises are not reflective of Amazon-focused itineraries.  

​Other Cost Considerations

​Beside the main cruise cost, there are also a number of other cost factors to consider. 

​Solo Travelers

​Flights

​Visa and other Misc. Expenses

Cruise Guides

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Amazon Wildlife

The wildlife of the Amazonia Basin is quite simply unsurpassed. No where else on earth offers this kind of biodiversity. Although not as tame as the wildlife of the Galapagos or Antarctica, the immense diversity of species more than makes up for this.  

Sheltering more than 300 mammals, 1,300 bird species, 1,800 fish, 165 types of amphibian, and 30,000 plant species, the Amazon won't leave you short in terms of spotting things! Wildlife lovers tend to opt for Peru or Ecuador itineraries, thanks to the deforestation that has plagued Brazil. However, Brazilian itineraries push much further into the Amazon than other itineraries, which often means some amazing wildlife encounters!

One of the best options is to canoe down small watercourse. You'll have the chance to spot capybara, caiman, snakes, monkeys and much more! Below is a list of the star species and where to see them. 

​Types of Wildlife

Piranha

Amazon cruise wildlife - piranha

Although the piranha has a fearsome reputation, most all of the 20 species are vegetarian. Quite safe to swim with unless water levels are very low.  

WHERE

Dolphins

Amazon cruise wildlife - pink dolphin

Both the Amazon and pink river dolphin can be spotted on a cruise. Seeing the large pink outline of the dolphin coming towards your boat is fantastic

WHERE

Caiman

Amazon cruise wildlife - caiman

These creatures are best seen at night when their gleaming eyes give them away. Often seen feeding on birds, and snakes. Crocodiles are also present. 

WHERE

Capybara

Amazon cruise wildlife - capybara

Weighing up to 50kg, capybara are the largest rodents on earth! They have slightly webbed feet which allows them to propel across rivers and inlets with ease.

WHERE

Jaguar

Amazon cruise wildlife - jaguar

The most elusive and spectacular creature on offer in the Amazon. You'll be lucky to spot one, but it does happen, especially around prey hotspots! 

WHERE

Ocelot

Amazon cruise wildlife - ocelot

Very rarely seen, the ocelot is even more elusive than its larger cousin. The best bet is to take a land-based tour especially to see these beautiful cats.

WHERE

Monkeys

Amazon cruise wildlife - monkey

Monkeys are a favourite of most cruise goers. Capuchin are the most commonly seen, but you can also spot Howler, Tamarin Spider, Squirrel, and the Marmoset.

WHERE

Frogs

Amazon cruise wildlife - frog

Poison dart frogs, large cane toad and red frogs are just some of the species on offer. Your guide will help you spot these lovely creatures during your walks.

WHERE

Macaws

Amazon cruise wildlife - macaw

Everyone's favourite is the macaw! Beautiful and bright, these social animals can be seen gathering in huge number, especially around clay licks. 

WHERE

Toucan

Amazon cruise wildlife - toucan

A ubiquitous symbol of the Amazon, the toucan's beak is almost as long as its body! Although often heard, they are rarely seen as they stay up high. 

WHERE

Tapir

Amazon cruise wildlife - tapir

Most active at night, adult tapir's can reach up to 230kg in weight! They are also very good swimmers which allows them to eat many of the aquatic plants. 

WHERE

Giant Otter

Amazon cruise wildlife - otter

The largest otter species on earth, the giant otter can reach up to 1.5 meters in length! Usually found in groups, the giant otter feeds on fish, birds, and mammals. 

WHERE

Harpy Eagle

Amazon cruise wildlife - harpy eagle

With a wingspan of 2 meters, the harpy eagle is one of the region's most impressive birds. The eagle will eat large animals including smith and monkeys. 

WHERE

Sloth

Amazon cruise wildlife - sloth

A favourite among passengers, the two-toed sloth is a marvel to watch moving slowly from branch to branch. You will certainly have time to photograph it!

WHERE

Turtles

Amazon cruise wildlife - turtles

The 20 species of turtle found in the Amazon are counted among the oldest on earth. They belong to the side-necked family that tuck their necks sideways.

WHERE

Boas

Amazon cruise wildlife - boa

Without doubt the most famous snakes on  earth, the boas of the Amazon will eat pretty much anything, including large capybara whole!

WHERE

Things To Do On Your River Cruise

During your cruise you'll want to make the most of what the river has to offer. Most cruises offer several activities Below we have listed the top activities. 

Kayaking

Amazon cruise activities - kayaking

Kayaking is offered on almost every Amazon cruise itinerary free charge. You'll only kayak in still water and your guides will make sure of your safety. Kayaking is a great way to get up close to the wildlife and explore the smaller waterways in detail. 

Wildlife Watching

Amazon cruise activites - wildlife watching

Get your binoculars ready because the sheer amount of wildlife is quite extraordinary! Grab a glass of something chilled, take your seat on deck and watch the wildlife come down to the river to hunt, drink and feed. Clay licks are especially great to watch! 

Hiking

Amazon cruise activities - hiking

During your cruise your guide will take you on expert guided walks to explore the jungle and it's inhabitants. This will allow you to search for creatures that are rarely seen by the river such as frogs, snakes, and sloths. No great fitness is required, but it will be hot and humid. 

Camping

Amazon cruise activites - camping

On some social itineraries you will have the chance to go on a camping or 'glamping' trip. Camp out under the stars, take a night walk and then kayak back to your boat in the morning. Definitely worth doing!

Fishing

Amazon cruise activites - fishing

Although not available on all itineraries, select cruises give passengers the chance to go fishing for piranha! This is not as easy as it sounds and you'll love the challenge of it! Great photo opportunity for the folks back home. 

Night Safari

Amazon cruise activites - night safari

Because much of the Amazonian wildlife comes to life at night, taking a night safari is an amazing experience. Your guide will search out popular spots for caiman, tapir and nocturnal birds. 

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Amazon Cruise Highlights

Encontro das Aquas

Amazon cruise highlights - Encontro das Aquas

Econtro Das Aquas literally means the 'Meeting of the Waters' and is the highlight of all cruises departing from Manaus. The strange phenomenon is caused by the black waters of the Rio Negro meeting the tan waters of the Amazon. 

Yasuni National Park

Amazon cruise highlights - Yasuni National Park

The Yasuni National Park is found within the Napo moist forests ecoregion of Ecuador. The park is arguably the most biodiverse region on earth and has broken multiple records for species found within a certain range. 

Picaya Samaria

Amazon cruise highlights - Picaya Samaria

Like Yasuni, Picaya Samaria is a hugely diverse region  that boats thousands of species. Located southwest of Iquitos, the region is ideal for canoeing, kayaking, relaxing and, of course, wildlife watching!  

Manaus

Amazon cruise highlights - Manaus

Located a 1,000 miles inland from the ocean, Manaus is known as the 'Jungle City'. Take a city tour, visit the amazing market or take a short trip to Terra Nova Island to witness the collection of humongous water lilies! 

Pañayacu River

Amazon cruise highlights - Pañayacu River

The Panayacu River is a lovely blackwater river home to many animals including 9 species of primates. It's also a great spot to see pink dolphins. Take a canoe ride down the still river or swim in 'piranha lake'! 

Anavilhanas Islands

Amazon cruise highlights - Anavilhanas Islands

With over 400 islands, the Anavilhanas archipelago is the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. These white sand islands are a haven for wildlife, in particular amphibians, reptiles, and monkeys. During the dry season tapirs and jaguars are occasionally seen.  

Choosing The Right Itinerary

So where should you travel within the Amazon? Although there are seemingly hundreds of itineraries, all with names like 'Classic Amazon', 'Amazon Exploration Cruise', or 'Amazon Odyssey', most take very similar routes.

What you really need to decide is what country you want to cruise in. Essentially there are three options; Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador. Occasionally people also take Amazon cruises in Bolivia, but these are not as popular.

Often, the question of where to cruise will be obvious because of your other travel plans. For example, people exploring the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu will need to take a Peruvian Amazon cruise,  whilst people visiting Rio De Janeiro will need to take a Brazilian option. 

Below we have given a little more information on each region. 

Peruvian Cruises

Amazon cruise itineraries - peru

Peruvian river cruises range from just 2 days up to 9 days and operate in Northern Peru on the lower Napo River. Pretty much every itinerary starts near the bustling city of Iquitos, before heading upstream into more quite waters. The main highlight is Picaya Samaria National Reserve which is teeming with wildlife. Many people choose these itineraries as add-ons to their Peruvian trip. 

Ecuadorian Cruises

Amazon cruise itineraries - ecuador

The Ecuadorian rainforest is exceptionally beautiful and well worth considering. Saying this, there are only two main boat options; the 30-guest Manatee Amazon Explorer and the 40-guest Anakonda. Both boats are fairly upmarket and you'll get amazing food and excellent cabin space. The true highlight of these cruises is the Yasuni National Park - one of the worlds most biodiverse regions. We suggest 5-9 day itineraries, any shorter and you should probably consider a Peru itinerary. 

Brazilian Cruises

Amazon cruise itineraries - Brazil

Brazilian river cruises tend to be stand-alone trips, instead of add-ons like in Peru or Ecuador. Here the contrast between civilisation and jungle is much clearer. You'll penetrate further than any other region, exploring the larger river sections where the opposite bank is often out of sight! Although wildlife will be slightly more scarce, you'll travel right into the heart of the Amazon rainforest. The meeting of the rivers also occurs here. Manuas is the main starting point and many large cruise lines visit this port as part of a longer Antarctica, South America or world itinerary.

Other Options

Amazon cruise itinerary - other

Another option to consider is a Bolivian rainforest cruise. Although you'll be more than a 1,000km from the main river, these cruises explore regions far less developed than others, meaning that you'll get pristine jungle and great wildlife encounters. These cruises are rare, so options are very limited. Another option as mentioned in the Brazil section, is to take a longer cruise aboard a cruise liner. If you do this, you'll have to make do with visiting Manaus as this is the only section of the river capable of dealing with large ships.  

 Amazon Cruise Packing List

Deciding what to pack can be quite a stressful time, particularly if you have not been to the region previously. 

The Amazon Basin is wet, humid and hot. This means you'll need to consider items that you might not normally. 

Below we have given a quick overview of each, but for a more detailed packing list, please hit the button. 

Items To Consider

Clothing: The weather will be warm and humid, this means wearing clothes that are breathable. Sports shirts are a good option. You'll also want long trekking trousers to protect your legs. 

Headgear: You'll be sitting in the sun a fair amount. So you'll want a good wide-brimmed hat that also protects your neck. 

Sunglasses: Searching for wildlife can make your eyes very tired, especially when the sun is out! Bring a good pair of sunglasses.  

Footwear: You'll want a good pair hiking boots for your shore excursions. You may also want some water boots if you plan on swimming.

Bags and Daypacks: Take a good backpack with you. This will allow to carry items like your phone, camera, snack etc. during walks. 

Important Accessories: Remember to bring earplugs, water bottle, suncream, bug, spray, binoculars, kindle, plug adaptor. 

Amazon Cruise Insurance

Make sure you are safe and covered as rescue costs in the Amazon can be very expensive. Please use the quick calculator below to get a quote with our recommended specialist. For a detailed page on cruise insurance, click here

Amazon River Cruise Video

Below is a short video by Rainforest Cruises, demonstrating some of the delights to be seen in on an Amazon cruise. 

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