How to Vacation in the Amazon and Live to Tell About It

When I say the word “Amazon,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Okay, I figured you’d probably say, the giant online retailer. But believe it or not, there is another Amazon that has nothing to do with next-day delivery of sporting goods, pet food, or wireless headphones.

I’m talking about the Amazon rainforest. This exotic region spans nine South American countries. Did you know that the Amazon River basin contains 20% of the world’s flowing fresh water and one third of all known terrestrial plant, animal, and insect species?  

This OTHER Amazon (the one that is not currently owned by Jeff Bezos) is an incredible place. I know this because my wife and I recently returned from a vacation which included a week in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. We stayed in a lodge overlooking the mighty Amazon River in northeastern Peru, with wild monkeys hanging out, just outside our cabin.

Based on my experience, I now consider myself an expert on what you need to know before you hop on a plane (and then another plane, and then one or two more flights – it’s not easy to get to the Amazon).  

Heed my advice before you head to this untamed tropical paradise, and there’s at least a 50% chance you just might make it out alive. Frankly, that’s better odds than you’ll get anywhere in Vegas. While the Amazon is an amazing region, it’s also full of potential hostile hazards at every turn. Here are a few helpful pointers to ensure your journey into the Amazon wilderness is safe and that your kids will have to wait a few more years before they can receive their inheritance.

The weather can be brutal. The part of the Amazon where we trekked was very close to the equator. The average temperature everyday ranges from 93 to 98 degrees. And no, it’s not a dry heat. Sorry, buddy. The suffocating humidity here will make New Orleans in August feel like Anchorage in January.

If you failed to check the calendar and you arrive during the rainy season (which in this part of the Amazon runs from November through April) it can rain for days or even weeks without a break. Hope you brought a poncho – and a life raft.

Wear lots of sunscreen. Even on a cloudy day, you can get badly sunburned down here. Be sure to cover every exposed area with SPF-40 sunscreen or higher. Otherwise, you probably should just stay indoors. But good luck getting EPSN Sports Center in your room. Because the rooms don’t have TV here, BECAUSE YOU’RE IN THE HEART OF THE FREAKIN’ AMAZON! Seriously, dude. Were you actually hoping to catch the Giants – Packers game on Fox?

Don’t forget your shots. In addition to showing proof you’ve been vaccinated and boosted for Covid, you’ll also need the following vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever. While you’re at it, be sure to get a prescription for anti-malaria pills. Don’t worry. If you forget these vaccinations, there’s still a chance you’ll make it out alive – albeit probably without the ability to use the left side of your body – or swallow. A small price to pay for the joy of exploring the unknown, if you ask me.

Don’t Go in the Water. Trust me on this. The Amazon has all sorts of critters that would love to have you as a main course for dinner. First of all, there are caimans (a relative of the alligator) everywhere in the Amazon River basin. And if you fall into the water, and the caimans don’t get you, their little buddies known as piranhas will be happy to swarm to your location in a feeding frenzy and make quick work of you. But don’t worry. Piranhas won’t attack you – unless they smell you. Did I mention, piranhas have an excellent sense of smell?

Don’t Drink the Water. The Amazon has more fresh water than anywhere else on the planet. Just make sure you don’t drink ANY of it. It is filled with bacteria extremely harmful to humans. And if the bacteria don’t kill you, the contaminated water will.

Watch out for ants. Specifically, army ants. They’re small, so you may not even notice them until you look down and discover that there are literally hundreds of them climbing your leg – INSIDE of your pants. They are carnivorous and aggressive. But they only attack while they’re awake. Fun fact: Army ants never sleep.

There are no doctors for hundreds of miles. If you are one of the unlucky ones who comes down with one of the countless illnesses you could catch in the wilds of the jungle, good luck finding medical help. If you get bit by a poisonous critter, then, if you’re lucky, you might be able to track down a local shaman from one of the indigenous tribes.

The shaman won’t have a clue about any modern medical technology that could heal you, of course. But he just might have an elixir of frog brains and guava juice, mixed with tamarin monkey intestines and palm fronds that will give you a glimmer of hope that you will recover. Trust me. You won’t.

No cell service. No internet. By now you probably figured this out, but in the heart of the Amazon jungle, there is virtually no place with cell service, let alone a reliable internet connection. So, if you discover that you’re about to run out of insect repellant, good luck trying to order some more online. Because while will deliver just about anything imaginable within 24 to 48 hours to destinations all over the world, there is one place where Amazon won’t deliver: The Amazon. Ironic, isn’t it?

On second thought, I’ve changed my mind. I recommend you cancel your plans to trek into the heart of the Amazon wilderness. Don’t go TO the Amazon. Watch it ON Amazon Prime instead. Just rent the National Geographic documentary, Creatures of the Amazon Rainforest, and imagine yourself being there – all from the air-conditioned comfort of your living room recliner – with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Rainforest Crunch ice cream. Safe travels, my friend.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.  

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