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From swimming with dolphins to fishing for piranhas – seven of the best things to do on an Amazon cruise

Joanna Booth
For a bird's eye view of the canopy, climb high up in the trees - iStock

Daily life on an Amazon cruise is exciting in itself. Paddling kayaks among three metre-wide water lily leaves while spotting sloths in the foliage is considered standard stuff. But for the ultimate rainforest experience, some voyages offer yet more unusual and thrilling activities so you really have something to boast about when you get home. Meet a shaman, fish for piranhas, or even swim with the encantados – the pink river dolphins which legend has it are shape-shifting humans in fishy form.

Receive a shaman blessing

A cross between a spiritual leader and a doctor, a shaman is central to the indigenous communities in the Amazon. Although knowledge is often handed down across generations, shaman must learn through experience, often going into isolation in the jungle and following a strict diet. Meet one, then participate in a healing ritual, learning about the centuries-old medicinal uses of plants and herbs.

  • From £3,940 for a nine-day itinerary including a night in a hotel in Lima, flights from Lima to Iquitos, and an eight-day cruise on the Zafiro along the Peruvian Amazon, featuring a shaman encounter. (exodus.co.uk)

Swim with pink dolphins

Ranging in hue from a subtle, pink-tinged grey like something from a Farrow & Ball catalogue up to a vivid salmon, the Amazon’s pink river dolphins are sociable, curious creatures. With their bulbous foreheads, long snouts and large flippers, they’re built for agile manoeuvres rather than speed, and their natural sonar allows them to avoid areas with caiman and alligators. That’s why you can be sure it’s safe to jump into the water alongside them. For a more ethical, less contrived experience, choose to do this as part of your experience on board on a small river ship, rather than at one of the submerged platforms near Manaus, where staff have been seen grabbing the dolphins to allow tourists time for selfies.

Pink river dolphins are only found in the Amazon Credit: iStock
  • From £2,489 for a four-day cruise on the Peruvian Amazon on the Delfin II, with the opportunity to swim alongside dolphins. (latinroutes.co.uk

Glamp in the rainforest

Swap the air-conditioned comfort of a luxury cruise cabin for a night deep in the jungle and you’ll drift off to sleep to a chorus of toucans and toads. Leaving the sleek cruiser the Anakonda and your fellow passengers behind, you’ll be canoed down narrow, lily-fringed channels to a remote spot where a swish temporary camp has been set up. With your own chef to whip up dinner, camp beds and bathroom facilities, this is a hardship-free immersion in the natural world.

  • From £499 for one night’s glamping as part of a five-day cruise on the Anakonda, sailing on Amazon tributary the Napo in Ecuador, starting from £1,994. (journeylatinamerica.co.uk)

Visit baby manatees

Hunting, habitat destruction and injuries from outboard motors leave many baby Amazonian manatees orphaned. Visit the Amazon Rescue Centre, outside Iquitos, Peru, at feeding time, and you can see these cute little balls of blubber being bottle fed until they are old enough to be released back into the wild. The centre also rescues other creatures from the exotic wildlife trade, so you might also spot ocelots, anteaters, sloths and spider monkeys.

Sloths are looked after in the Amazon Rescue Centre Credit: iStock

Climb up to the canopy

It’s all very well trekking under the trees, or gliding alongside them, but to really appreciate the burgeoning life of the rainforest, you need to get up into the sunlit canopy, where the majority of the action takes place. Canopy towers give you the chance to climb slowly through the different levels of the rainforest before emerging through the leaves more than 35m from the ground. This is a birder’s delight – a great way to spot toucans, macaws, parrots, or even a Harpy Eagle, scouting for prey.

  • From £1,495 for a four-day cruise on the Manatee, sailing from Coca through the Ecuadorian Amazon and featuring a canopy climb. (coxandkings.co.uk)

Go piranha fishing

Their razor sharp teeth may be the stuff of legend, but piranhas’ greed, aggression and small-size means they’re actually very easy to catch. Almost every Amazon cruise will give you the chance to bait a line – fresh meat works fastest – and cast it into the water. This isn’t fly-fishing, so you don’t need much skill, and if you waggle the rod around a little you’ll attract one of the greedy critters in no time. Once you feel a bite, pull up sharply. Always a let a guide remove the piranha from the hook, however – those teeth can hurt.

Make a catch of the day a piranha Credit: iStock
  • From £5,790 for a 22-day From the Caribbean to the Amazon itinerary on Viking Star sailing round trip from San Juan, departing November 29, 2020 and featuring piranha fishing on the Brazilian Amazon. (vikingcruises.co.uk)

Take a night safari

Keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife during the day is exciting enough, but darkness brings an extra thrill. Sit on a skiff and let a guide armed with a powerful torch point out the nocturnal highlights of the Amazon, from porcupines and sloths to caiman, the region’s crocodile, or the potoo, a large night bird with bulging eyes and wide mouth that’s known for its guttural, haunting call.

  • From £1,295 for a five-day cruise on the Tucano, sailing from Manaus on the Brazilian Amazon and featuring night safaris. (2by2holidays.co.uk)