Ecotourism The amazing Amazon for nature lovers
Holding the title of the largest tropical rainforest in the world, the Amazon Basin teems with flora and fauna that can be found nowhere else in the world. With Manaus, Brazil at its center, it is home to the second-largest river in the world, which holds nearly a quarter of the world’s river water. Visitors along the Amazon River can witness some of the over 5,500 animal species and thousands of types of butterflies and insects. Often called the “Lungs of the Earth,” here is where 20% of the Earth’s oxygen is produced. For nature lovers and wildlife watchers, the Amazon is endless playground.
A master of camouflage and a skilled hunter with a foot-long tongue, this reptile sports dapple skin that changes with its mood: red to express anger, cyan when he wants to impress the girls, and blue for a feeling of calm and relaxation. Unlike other chameleon species, the Panther lives closer to the rainforest floor, crawling slowly on low-lying branches, increasing the chances of a close-up sighting. In the morning, they are known to yawn, just like humans.
SOUTH AMERICAN TAPIR
There is an incredible rainforest creature in Brazil that looks like a mix between a hog and an anteater, but is more closely related to rhinoceroses and horses. Some indigenous peoples have an ancient belief that the animal was created from leftover pieces of other animals. One of the most ancient species in the world, the tapir is a window into the earth’s primordial past.
A formidable native of the Amazon River, this giant can reach up to 9 feet long and weigh 440 pounds. It is an air-breathing fish, which means it must stay at the surface of the water, coming up for air every 10 to 20 minutes. They eat other fish, but are also known to grab birds out of the air. While near the river, listen for the loud coughing noise the Arapaima makes when it takes a breath.
A VARIETY OF MONKEYS
A variety of small primates inhabit the trees of the Amazon Basin. There are at least seven vastly different species of monkeys to spot, like the social and noisy Tamarins that sport moustaches, and the acrobatic Spider Monkeys swinging by their long tails. Most of these primates are diurnal, which means they are out and about during the day, all the better for an intimate encounter.
BLUE AND GOLD MACAW
One of the largest parrots in the world, the Blue and Gold Macaw is an emblematic symbol of the Amazon. It is also extremely social, sometimes collecting in flocks of more than 100. Curious and extremely intelligent, they are able to imitate many sounds, including human voices. Macaws mate for life, often flying together with wings touching, remaining faithful to their partners for up to 35 years.
BLUE MORPHO BUTTERFLY
One of the largest and brightest butterflies in the world, the wingspan of the Blue Morpho reaches up to 8 inches. The glowing blue color on its wings is the result of tiny scales that reflect light in the same way the blue sky above does, and it seems to disappear and reappear when flying through the jungle. Look for collections of these brilliant butterflies in clearings near the edge of bodies of water.
The word piranha means “tooth fish” in the indigenous Tupí language, thanks to its razor-sharp, replaceable teeth. Yet while these fish travel in large schools and are known to feed on carrion, they aren’t quite the blood thirsty machines as seen in movies. Still, they are highly defensive, and are attracted to noise, erratic motion and blood. So perhaps a swim in the river may not be for the faint of heart.
There are over 30,000 species of orchids in the world—10,000 of which live in the Amazon Basin—and come in almost every imaginable color except black. Contrary to their fragile and delicate appearance, orchids can grow on almost any surface: tree bark, rocks, branches, even underground. And they vary drastically in size, from coin-sized blossoms to 14-foot-long cascades of flowers pouring down the side of a tree.
GIANT CEIBA TREES
A behemoth of the jungle, the Giant Ceiba quite literally holds the jungle together, with its complex root system that can extend up to a kilometer from each tree. Its lifespan can reach 200 years, and indigenous cultures believe it to be the residence of deities or a gateway to the underworld. To be next to one is awe-inspiring. The otherworldly “Home Tree” in the film Avatar was inspired by the Giant Ceiba.