by Jackie Holland, The Telegraph, March 6, 2019
Flowing 4,000 miles from its source in the Andes, the Amazon river travels through the world’s largest remaining tropical rainforest, which is home to around 15,000 animal species.
Whether you choose a traditional big-ship cruise that includes calls along the river in Brazil or a more intimate adventure on a smaller vessel in Chile or Ecuador, here are just a few examples of the many creatures you may encounter…
Up to 9ft in length, pink dolphins are the largest species of river dolphin on earth. They have 40 per cent more brain capacity than humans and are incredibly curious and outgoing. Mostly found in the slow-moving river basin and lakes, their flexible bodies weigh up to 400 pounds.
There’s the chance to feed or swim with pink dolphins on a speedboat trip in Brazil to a village on the shore of Lake Acajatuba during Viking’s Caribbean to the Amazon voyage.
Viking's 22-day Caribbean to the Amazon cruise sails from San Juan aboard Viking Star. From £5,790pp, including flights and 10 guided tours, departs November 29, 2020 (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).
There are so many monkey species in the Amazon rainforest that zoologists believe that they have not yet discovered them all. In 2009, a new species, Mura’s tamarin, was found in a remote part of Brazil. More common types that you may spot include tamarins, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys and marmosets. Most tamarins are small – about the size of a squirrel – and some are distinctive in appearance such as the emperor tamarind which sports an elegant handlebar moustache. The nine species of howler monkeys are the largest and have the distinction of being the world’s loudest land animal – their territorial calls can be heard up to three miles away. See monkeys and other creatures on an eight-day cruise aboard the 148-passenger Iberostar Grand Amazon.
From $1,928pp (£1,484), departing Manaus, Brazil, on various dates from March to December 2019 (001 888 215 3555; rainforestcruises.com).
On a jungle safari at night, looking up at the stars is like peering through a window into outer space. This is your chance to spot caimans – a carnivorous semi-aquatic member of the alligator family – and other nocturnal creatures. There are six species of caiman, the smallest being Cuvier’s dwarf at roughly 3ft long, while the black caiman, the largest, grows up to 15ft. Caimans are among the nocturnal creatures you may spot with a naturalist guide during a four-night Amazon cruise starting in Iquitos, Peru and sailing aboard a 43-passenger river vessel with Delfin Amazon Cruises.
From $3,700pp (£2,833), including all excursions, four-night sailings depart throughout 2019 (0051 1 7190998; delfinamazoncruises.com)
Six species of sloth come in two varieties: two-toed and three-toed. These slow-moving, tree-dwelling animals are great at hanging out, spending most of their lives dangling upside down in trees. Sloths may be slow climbers but they are speedy swimmers and can do the breaststroke with ease.
Because they inhabit rainforests prone to seasonal flooding, the ability to swim is essential to survival and also offers a means of moving more quickly when searching for a mate. You may see sloths at Boca dos Botas in Brazil on a visit to a “flooded forest” offered by Seabourn on its Brazil and the Amazon itinerary.
Seabourn's 21-day Brazil and Amazon itinerary sails from Buenos Aires on board Seaborn Quest. From £6,500pp, departs March 15, 2020 (0344 338 8615; seabourn.com).
The Brazilian rainforest is a birder’s paradise with more than 1,800 species and counting, because many new types being discovered every year. On a guided jungle trek with an experienced guide you will hear the screeching of parrots and see a riot of colour as they take to the air. Species you may spot include brilliantly coloured scarlet macaws, toucans, and powerful harpy eagles.
Amazon Clipper Cruises six-day Premium Amazon and River Negro Clipper Cruise sails on the 16-cabin MV Premium. From $1,875pp (£1,407), departing Manaus, Brazil on various dates from August to November 2019 (0055 92 36561246; amazonclipper.com.br).
One of the most famous Amazon creatures is the piranha – a small fish with very sharp teeth which indigenous people use as a cutting tool. Piranhas also play an important part of the river’s ecosystem as they eat dead fish and animals that would otherwise pollute the water. The number of species is estimated to be between 30 and 60 but only five pose danger to humans. A good place to fish for them is on a boat trip from Santarém in Brazil, where the Tapajós and Amazon River meet. Go fishing during Oceania Cruises’ 21-day Edens & the Amazon cruise.
Oceania Cruises 21-day Edens and Amazon sails aboard Marina. From £4,459pp, departs Miami on January 22, 2020 (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).
Although only a relatively small portion of the Amazon basin lies within Ecuador, roughly one-third of its biodiversity is found there. The region boasts an astonishing repertoire of wildlife and among the mammal species is the tapir, a 6ft relative of the rhinoceros that is a capable swimmer and diver. Its splayed toes, four on each front foot and three on each hind foot, help the tapir successfully navigate soggy ground. And a long snout helps them to grasp leaves, shoots, buds, fruit and small branches to eat. Look out for the tapir on the 12-night Natural Wonders of the Amazon and Galapagos itinerary offered by Noble Caledonia aboard the 40-passenger MV Anakonda – the only deluxe ship in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest.
Noble Caledonia's 12-night Natural Wonders of the Amazon and Galapagos cruise sails on MV Anakonda. From £7,495pp, including flights from London, departing Quito, Ecuador on February 24, 2020 (020 7752 0000; noble-caledonia.co.uk).