Hey fellow travellers.
I'm planning on backpacking in Brazil from mid November through to early January. I want to see as much as possible, especially in the Amazon region. Unfortunately, word has it that most travelers are disappointed due to high cost and poor tour service.
I'm interested in going down the river in a boat, doing some fishing, meeting the natives, seeing all the flora and fauna, tasting the strange tropical fruits and basically having the complete off-the-beaten-track experience. What is the best way to do this without dropping loads of cash? Is Manaus a good starting point?
The plan is to start in the Pantanal, fly to Manaus, then to Belem/Recife Salvador etc down the east to Rio Sao Paulo etc in a combination of planes/busses finishing a spiral than ends in iguacu and possibly montevideo/beunos aires if there is time left. Is this a good and feasible plan? How much might such a trip end up costing? What other itinerary would you recommend to a backpacker interested in seeing everything?
I am going to Brazil as well in June and I arranged a week at the Mamirau Sustainable Eco Reserve, one of only 5 real Eco reserves and the Uakari Lodge where I stay should be nice and pure ecological experience. Looking forward to it. It is near Tefé, flights from Manaus are with Rico or TRIP or you can go by fast boat (14 hours) or slow boat (2 days or so). The thing is, if you want to go off the beaten track, or at least have the best experience, it doesn't come cheap, neither does this place although I thought the price for what you get is not that bad but that's personal I guess. Apart from a week which I plan to do, you can do 3 or 4 nights stays. With a week though, you can spend a night in a treehouse as well, basic but in the hart of the Amazone.
Of course, you can also do trips from Manaus to the Rio Negro which runs northwest towards Venezuela, but also not a cheapy. But at least it is something different than the standard 3 or 4 day trips from Manaus. I also heard good things about Amazone trips in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
In general I would spend your 7 weeks or so in Brazil alone (I am doing Amazone, Pantanal and Iguazu, nothing more, in about just over a month, so the 3 weeks left for you is best spend in the coastal area of brazil and rio etc.).
If you plan on flying, try to get an airpass by TAM, which you can buy abroad when flying to Brazil. The pass is 520 euro for 4 flights which is a lot cheaper than arranging all flights separately.
Thanks for the response, Utrecht.
Miramau reserve looks great! I'm curious, where did you find the information about these reserves and what led you to settle on that particular one? Also, is it true that there is more wildlife (ie monkeys, dolphis, birds) upstream?
About the airpass, do the four flights include stopovers? I heard that it was possible to score really cheap tickets if you're flexible, or does that only apply in the low season..?
Haven't heard where you can actually see the most wildlife, but in general I know the Pantanal should be much easier to view a lot of wildlife compared to the Amazone but looking to the Amazone specifically it seems that the closer to the Andes the more wildlife, probably because the ecosystem is more and more diverse, this is especially true for some tropical rainforest at a slightly higher elevation, mainly in Peru and Bolivia.
As where I found it, actually I don't know exactly, as I arranged things a few months ago, but usually I just google a lot before I make a decision where to go.
The airpass is one a per flight basis, for example I fly from Manaus to Cuiaba but via Brasilia, meaning 2 coupons.
I really don't know what the prices would be when just arranging a ticket the day before, but compared to what I found on the internet it looked ok.
But if you want more flexibility, it is best not to arrange it and just go overland to Porto Velho and take a boat to Manaus, also a possibility and it is more off the beaten track than taking the Belem to Manaus (or vv) boat. It is about 4 days or so from Porto Velho.
[ Edit: Edited on Apr 22, 2008, at 2:46 AM by Utrecht ]
You will be in the Amazon in the low-water season, although with normal rains the river level should start rising around January. The downside is that you will not be able to canoe through a flooded forest. The upside is less rain and some nice beaches (which are under water during the high-wate season) -- popular beaches are on the Rio Negro in Manaus -- north end of the city near the Hotel Tropical Manaus and on the Tapajos at Alter do Chao.
Manaus is more-or-less inevitable as a starting or ending point for an Amazon trip (unless you go to Peru instead). Spend a couple of days there and make use of it as an introduction to the Amazon -- hike a bit of rainforest with labels on some of the trees at the Bosque da Ciencia, go to the musueums (Museu do Homen do Norte and Museu do Indio). The Museu do Homen do Norte is run by the Joaquim Nabuco foundation, when you go to Recife you can visit their Museu do Homen do Nordeste.
You will find wilder places either west of Manaus up the Amazon toward Peru or north up the Rio Negro. However, you can also have a great Amazon experience by taking your time going downriver to Belem. My favorite Amazon town is Santarem (and I've travelled the river from Pucallpa, Peru, to Belem -- not all on the same trip). Two days downriver from Manaus by traditional riverboat. It is a real river city with the riverfront (actually on the Tapajos) a favorite evening walk for townspeople. When I was there in 2004 I arranged a tour with Gil Serique (http://www.gilserique.com/) who I would certainly recommend. Alter do Chao is near Santarem, can be a day trip by local bus, or there are places to stay as well -- on the clear Tapajos river.
Less than a full day downriver and across the river from Santarem is Monte Alegre. A nice smaller river town, but its main attraction is the indigenous rock paintings that have changed the theories about when the Amazon was settled. Nelsi Sedak is the main guide to them.
Between Monte Alegre and Belem the riverboats go through the fairly narrow Breves channel -- good views.
If you plan to bus from Belem to Recife, the busses (Cia . Guanabara) are great but the road is awful (at least it was in 2004) until you get into Paraiba. Juazeiro do Norte is interesting place to break up the trip -- a pilgrimage center and the center of the distinct culture of the Brazilian Sertao.
Thanks for all the info, guys.
After more research, I'm thinking of starting the SA trip in Lima, flying to Iquitos, boating to Tabatinga, then, after spending a few days in Manaus, heading down to Santarem to spend some time in the Alter do Chao. Overall, this seems not only more interesting, but also cheaper.
Do you guys personally know of any good rainforest reserves in Peru? Or would it be better to go to one of the places near Tefe or Tabatinga? There are so many places that it's hard to choose... Seven months seems like barely enough time to plan!
I would recommend the Bradt guidebook, The Amazon. 3rd edition was recently published so it is fairly up-to-date. It has a lot on the jungle lodges, reserves, etc. in Peru and Brazil. But I would still take Lonely Planet for hotels/restaurants etc. in the towns.
If you have more time than money you can avoid flying to Iquitos from Lima by bussing either to Pucallpa or Yurimaguas and catching a boat to Iquitos. Lodges, guides, etc. in Peru will probably be less expensive now than in Brazil. Brazil's strong agricultural exports in the last few years have pushed up its currency -- it has even appreciated against the Euro. When I was last there (2004) the exchange rate was about 3.2 Reais to the US$, now it is less than 1.7.
The cheapest way to get to Manaus from North America is usually to fly in and out of Caracas then bus to Manaus.