I wrote a detailed post on the various jungle tour options, but now it’s time to talk about my experience with Iguana Tours and the Amazon jungle itself. If you’re not interested in reading about the whole five days, just skip to the bottom and read my final thoughts.
We arrived at Manaus Airport at noon after an extremely early start in Foz Do Iguaçu and a eight hour flight with two stop overs a day before our tour started and one of the tour organizers was there waiting for us with my very own name on a whiteboard. It was nice not to have to worry about catching a bus or splurging for a taxi to the town center We hadn’t organized a place to stay in advance so he took us back to their office to discuss our options (sleeping wise) and to finalize payment for our tour.
We could either stay at the hotel their office was based in or a hostel a block away (that they are affiliated with), they were also happy for us to stay elsewhere and said we were more than welcome to use a shower and the internet to help us sort it out. After looking at a couple of rooms in the hotel and reading the reviews of the hostels in Manaus online we decided to go with a cheap hotel room (which actually worked out to be a similar price to the hostel). After a little bit of walking around, having something to eat and having the tour explained to us in full it was time to get an early nights rest before the 8AM start the next day.
After scoffing down some delicious (free) french toast for breakfast we made our way upstairs and waited for everybody else to arrive. By 8:30 we were on the road to CEASA port, where we boarded the boat to stop at and then cross the meeting of the rivers (our first official sight seeing stop). Unfortunately it had been raining the night before so the stark contrast between the black Rio Negro and the sandy Rio Solimões (also called the Amazon River) wasn’t as good as it would’ve been on a clear day.
Once we crossed the river we arrived at the small village of Cariero and were quickly loaded into two old VW vans for a sixty minute trip on some truly crappy roads before arriving in Paraná do Mamori where we were given 10-15 minutes to relax and buy some water/beer/refreshments from a local store whilst the guides went and organized the speed boat to Juma Lake Camp House which would be our base camp during out 5 day stay. The speed boat gave us our first glimpse of the rain forest and we even managed to see some beautiful eagles and other birds during the 30 minute trip.
We arrived at our lodge at 11:45AM (45 minutes later than expected due to waiting for a few people at CEASA port) and were quickly shown our beds and the facilities at the lodge before lunch was served at midday.
Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to take any pictures of the food, but it was generally similar. Rice, beans, salad and a protein (either chicken or fish – sometimes both) while simple it was surprisingly good (definitely better than your typical per kilo restaurant) and there was always more than enough to go around.
After lunch was finished there was a bit of free time to get settled and go for a swim in the river, it was exceptionally humid due to the rain so it was nice to get into the water and get refreshed and we saw some dolphins playing around 100 meters from the camp. We then went on a short boat trip to try and catch some piranha’s and do some more dolphin watching. Unfortunately I was unable to catch any piranha’s, although my friend Nigel caught two and a few other people were also able to catch a couple. That said most of our boat was focused on the dolphins playing and trying to get photos of them, despite every-bodies best efforts most of the photos turned out terrible and in the end I just gave up and watched the spectacle.
I think I had unrealistic expectations when it came to the dolphins, I had heard of friends swimming side by side with them and them being extremely playful but that was all in the Bolivian section of the Amazon and apparently the Brazilian government is trying to stamp that type of behaviour out.
Then it was back to the camp site for a little bit of relax time before dinner, which unsurprisingly consisted of rice, beans, salad and fish! The last activity of the day was to go Caiman hunting with our guide, he basically just shone his light into the banks of the river and if he saw a pair of eyes staring back, he knew he had found one. Apparently the bright light disorientates the Caiman’s and then the guide is able to grab them by the back of the neck so they can’t bite the hand (although we did meet one guide who had recently been bite and most of them have small scars on their hands).
The rest of the night was spent playing cards and having a few beers before a relatively early night.
Day 2 started with a very early morning (5:30AM) to go bird watching and watch the sunrise. I was unsure if I was going to go; I’m not really interested in birds and I’m definitely not a morning person. I decided to make the most of my stay and went with everybody else. Because the weather was still overcast the sunrise was underwhelming, we saw a few different birds and a couple more eagles but it wasn’t exactly the most exciting start to the day.
Once we arrived back breakfast was being served, with scrambled eggs, bread, watermelon, some type of fruit paste and coffee on the menu. The breakfast’s were definitely the low light food wise, I was surprised there wasn’t more local fruits on offer.
After breakfast we hopped back on the speed boat (well, speed canoe really) and headed to off to the location for a jungle trek. It lasted approximately two and a half hours, unfortunately there was a family in our group that hadn’t brought adequate footwear (crocs for a jungle walk aren’t ideal) so we moved incredibly slowly and noisily thus reducing any chance we had of seeing any animals to next to zero.
The walk (can’t really call it a trek considering the well worn path we went) itself was a little bit of a disappointment. I would’ve liked to go a bit deeper into the jungle and not through the same path that thousands of tourists before me had gone before. That said there is no way we would’ve been able to do that with the fitness level of our group and the lack of proper footwear so the guide can hardly be blamed.
The guide did do a good job of explaining the various plants and animals that we did come across and showed us how to make basic shelters out of what was available.
It was then back in the speed canoe to go back to the Lodge, I had mentioned that I really wanted to see a sloth during the trip so we went slowly along the riverbank (apparently the best time to see sloths is just after heavy rainfall as they will go to the top of the tree to dry off). Unfortunately we didn’t have any luck seeing our entire trip but the trip before us saw 7, so I guess it’s just luck of the draw.
We then had some more rice, beans, salad, chicken and fish for lunch (what a surprise!) before having some more free time which was used cooling off in the river and trying to perfect my back and forward flips. The small boy in our group spent the time fishing and caught a couple of Piranhas before throwing them back in because he was vegetarian.
The night of day two was spent by camping in the jungle, we took the speed canoe around two hours into a little island that had been set up with a small shelter and camp area. It was primitive using the local techniques that were shown in the jungle but more than comfortable (although sleeping was done on hammocks obviously). The journey there was quite enjoyable seeing a number of birds, including some eagles along with a green tree snake (that our guide was terrified off) and some monkeys wayyy off in the distance.
Once we arrived it was a quick set up (hammocks and mosquito nets, along with gathering some wood for the fire). We then explored the small island we were on and then rowed the canoe out into the river to do some more swimming. Whilst doing this we saw some more dolphins and tried to swim after them, unfortunately they stayed the same 50-75 meters away from us the whole time – whenever we got closer they swam away and then eventually had enough of this game of cat and mouse and disappeared all together.
Whilst this was going on our guide was preparing the best chicken I’ve had so far on this 13 month trip. It was covered in different spices and cooked over the hot coals of the fire, of course it was served with some rice and salad (no beans, alas!). We then did a short night walk around our camp to try and spot some animals, which we quickly gave up on and had some caipirinhas instead. I ended up going to bed really early due to the insane heat (especially when you’re wearing long pants and long top to keep away the mosquitoes). We woke up to the same breakfast as the day before and then headed to visit a local family to learn how they process and make manioc flour and tapioca.
This was definitely my least favorite activity, there is something about visiting ‘local’ families that feels exploitative to me. The families see it as a way of making some extra money by selling trinkets (good on them) but it’s definitely not an organic meeting. Whilst we were there we also saw them cooking an armadillo soup, even though it’s a protected area the local people are allowed to hunt these animals. It seems a shame that a lot of people will miss out on seeing these animals because of this and it would be great if the local government or the tour groups were able to help support these families so they didn’t have to resort to this for meat.
We had lunch back at the camp (rice, plain spaghetti, salad and fish stew) and the majority of our group headed back as the most typical stay is two nights and three days. After a bit more time relaxing in the river our guide told us we would be doing some paddle canoeing in the flooded forest.
We made the smart decision to leave our cameras back at camp in case we cap sized and headed off down stream to explore the flooded forest, I have done a bit of canoeing when I was much younger in Sea Scouts so it was nice to be back on the water again. It was hard going, especially when the middle aged women in the front of my canoe decided to only paddle when we were headed for a tree.
It was nice to explore the flooded forest and we managed to spot a few more birds, but still no sloths! After 2 hours we made our way back to the lodge (against the current) but the end of it I was completely wrecked as I was the only one paddling. It probably would have been a good idea to go against the current to begin with – that way on the way back we could’ve relaxed and enjoyed the scenery rather than struggling. I’m also not sure how they would have imagine if me and my friend weren’t on the tour as everybody elses fitness levels (apart from one American woman) were terrible.
That night we slept back at the lodge, because so many people had left that day there was plenty of empty cabins so we got a room to ourselves!
After the same breakfast (eggs, bread, watermelon and coffee) we went to a local family to see how rubber was made. The process itself was kind of interesting (basically sap of the rubber tree is collected and then put over a mould and then smoke is used to temper it, then another layer of sap is added and this process is repeated until thick enough).
We also tried a few local fruits that the rubber farmer had on his property and then went back to the Lodge for some lunch (more rice, beans and fish!). After a nice long siesta and some swimming we hopped back into our speed canoe and went to another local family.
As I mentioned previously I’m not a huge fan of these type of forced interactions, but this family sees foreigners MUCH less often so were excited to have visitors (although I am sure some of that is due to the fact that the kids knew we would bring them a couple of little treats). We also had a much smaller group (our guide, somebody from the north of Brazil, my friend and I) which made it easier to talk to the family and interact with the kids (9 in total with another 4 living in Manaus…).
The eldest son joined us in the speed canoe to go fishing to get some food for dinner, I had a lot more success this time catching 5-6 piranha’s and in total we easily caught 30 of them. We helped clean these up and got ready for dinner.
Piranha’s are DELICIOUS so make sure your guide cooks some up for you when you catch them, they have a lot of little bones but there are a few tricks to eating them that make things much easier. Dinner was delicious with a nice fish stew, some chicken, rice, beans, spaghetti and of course the Piranha’s.
I had been pestering the guide to go spear fishing and let me catch a caiman for the last couple of days so when he starting making us some caipirinhas I was a little bit disappointed. After drinking three or four he said “Ok, now you have some courage, let’s go catch a caiman!”. If you’ve ever had caipirinhas before, you’ll know they are mostly hard liquor so I was a little bit hesitant but hopped on the boat.
The caiman hunting proceeded much like it had on the first night, when we finally spotted a pair of eyes staring back at us he told me to come to the front of the boat. When he had caught his, he had stayed on the boat but for some reason this time he hopped in the water and told me to follow him.
After searching for a couple of minutes (moving leaves out of way so we could see the water) he finally found the caiman again and I quickly grabbed it’s head before I could think about it too much. Even though it was only a baby caiman I was elated, we grabbed a couple of photos (which unfortunately the Northern Brazilian guy has and hasn’t emailed them to me) and put him back into the water.
I thought the adventure was over but my guide thought this was a good starting point to try and find some black caimans (the largest species of caiman which can grow to over 5 m or 16 ft), after getting off the boat several more times and wading in water that was obviously filled with piranha’s and caimans he finally found a black one. He quickly (and thankfully) decided this one was a little bit too big for me and caught it himself.
We also tried to do a little bit of spear fishing without any success, after a solid hour and half exploring the alcohol and adrenaline had well and truly worn off so we headed back to the family and hopped into the hammocks for a well deserved rest.
After the typical egg, bread and fruit breakfast we said goodbye to our local family and headed back to the lodge for the last time.
We took it nice and slow in the speed canoe, hoping against hope to see a sloth – which didn’t happen. Although we did see a few more hawks and a couple more monkeys way off in the distance.
By the time we arrived back there was enough time for one last swim, some lunch (rice, beans and chicken!) before heading back to Manaus. We followed the same route and saw the meeting of the waters again, the weather was terrible so unfortunately we never got to see it at it’s best. I was glad to be back to civilization, to have a proper shower and to relax without any organized activities for a few days.
Final thoughts: I had a great time during my jungle trip. I met a lot of great people, ticked off something from my bucket list (catching a Piranha) and did something I never thought I’d do (catch a crocodile with my bare hands). That said it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for, I would’ve liked to do more jungle walks (and not through such well worn paths).
Getting to Manaus is not easy or cheap and I can’t help but think that my money (and time) would’ve been better spent going to Bonito for the crystal clear waters and the Pantanal for the wildlife.
Iguana tours did everything they promised and the guides were first class (along with the food) – so if you find yourself in Manaus wanting to do a jungle tour give them a go.
Could be improved by: More nature walks, overnight in jungle in an area that isn’t constantly camped at, grouping people of similar age and fitness together.
Iguana Tours Information
Official website: http://www.amazonbrasil.com.br/
Address: Rua Dez de Julho, nº 679 sala-1, located inside of Hotel 10 de Julho.
Telephone numbers: +55 92 3633-6507 / +55 92 9136-4325 / +55 92 9105-5659
Other posts from Manaus:
- Bosque da Ciência (Science Forest) Manaus – Review
- Teatro Amazonas (Amazon Theatre)
- Five Day, Four Nights In The Amazon Jungle With Iguana Tours
- How To Choose A Jungle Tour In Manaus
Did you go to the Brazilian Amazon? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!