The largest rainforest on the planet, one sensational adventure: will it be lodge or river cruise for your unforgettable Amazon adventure?
Planning a trip to the Amazon rainforest is one of the most coveted bucket-list adventures for those who travel anywhere in Latin America. Given the sheer size of this jungle haven (almost 7 million square kilometres) access points into the Amazon are numerous, with each offering unique offerings. By and large, however, there are effectively only two ways to enjoy a comprehensive and rewarding experience in the Amazon: either on a superlative river cruise, where your touring and accommodation is an all-in-one package, or on a lodge-based journey, whereby you travel to one of the many lodges perched along the shores of the mighty Amazon River or its tributaries, and take day excursion by boat or on foot, coming back to the same lodge at night.
We should start by affirming that there is no such thing as ‘best’ when it comes to comparing the two options. Both offer unique advantages and disadvantages so your ultimate choice will undoubtedly be based on your general travel preferences, priorities, budget and the kind of comfort level you seek.
One thing is certain, however: no matter which way you choose to experience the magnificent Amazon, it’s guaranteed to be the absolute experience of a lifetime.
Exploring the Amazon on a river cruise
Advantages: Cruises aboard fully decked-out river vessels afford you the kind of luxury that simply doesn’t exist in any of the Amazon lodges. From air-conditioning to gourmet meals, sumptuous cabins with sensational views, superb 5* service, fabulous showers and hey, even an on-deck Jacuzzi on the swankier boats. Cruises deliver a more sanitized Amazon experience, one not marred by a wealth of insects and all manner of creepy-crawlies; a real winning point for many who would otherwise never even consider visiting a virginal rainforest in the first place. For indulgence and supreme comfort, Amazon river-cruises are unbeatable. Considering the extensive cruising time, river cruises can cover much greater areas of the Amazon, however, this doesn’t automatically guarantee more wildlife spotting. That’s an activity that’s best done on day excursions, either by foot or canoe.
Disadvantages: As with all things in life, you get what you pay for and for the kind of benefits mentioned above you will pay higher daily rates. Having said that, early-bird and special deals can heavily mitigate costs and you may be surprised to discover how affordable luxury Amazon cruises can be. But yes, overall, cruising is the more expensive option. The luxury, moreover, comes with a slightly restricted level of independence and intimacy. Cruise dates and inclusions are pre-set and, unless you plan on chartering an entire vessel for yourself, you won’t be able to work cruises around your schedule. It’ll have to be done the other way around. As for the intimacy, we mean this in terms of immersive jungle experience. Cruises allow you to keep a safe distance from the very essence of the Amazon, the wilderness of it all. Again however, and only for some, this can be considered a plus. You will have to get off your beloved boat if you do want a more comprehensive experience, although options for this are tremendous, on every Amazon cruise itinerary.
Exploring the Amazon on a lodge-based tour
Advantages: For immersive jungle experiences, the kind that make you feel at one with nature, lodge-based tours are ideal. Lodge stays offer a more authentic and raw taste of the Amazon and this is especially true of very remote lodges, the kinds no large vessel could ever reach. Even the most luxurious lodges can best be described as offering ‘barefoot luxury’ where you will certainly be comfortable enough – but still not able to find an air-conditioning unit from TMD Marine to save your life! The biggest incentive for lodge-based tours is that your wildlife viewing pleasures will be enhanced, as you will literally be embedded in the luscious wilderness where sloths, monkeys and birds reside. Moreover, you can book your stay in a lodge at any time that best suits you – and for however long you desire – and need not be restricted by schedules or itineraries the way you would be on a cruise. And besides…some of the Amazon lodges we represent are dreamy beyond words, just perfect for the wild adventure seeker.
Disadvantages: At the risk of sounding a tad obvious, we’ll state that the authenticity mentioned above comes with a lack of comfort and luxury…because something’s gotta give! No air-con, restricted electricity supplies, more basic food and a lot more dealing with pesky insects. Unlike river cruises, lodge-based tours really ensure you never, ever forget where you actually are. This is the Amazon, after all! A place where bugophobia has no place to thrive. Most lodges are built with beautiful natural materials, which means that you will be sharing your bungalows with native insects and no, you won’t ever convince them to pay half the room rate. Trust us…we’ve tried.
If you still can’t find a clear winner among the two for your own personal tastes, best we point out what is the most pivotal factor of all. The way we see it, and if you cast aside cost for just a moment, the only real disadvantage of Amazon river-cruises is that they lack, by their very nature, a truly immersive feel. However – and this is the most important part – this can be ever-so easily overcome by choosing to partake in all the daily excursions offered. This really is the way to get the best of both worlds. Be all Amazonian warrior (princess) by day but at night, when the sun sets and the you-know-whats come out to feast (on you) enjoy the air-conditioned comfort of your luxury cabin and vessel, have a blissful night’s sleep, and wake up revitalised to a stupendous Amazonian sunrise. A sumptuous gourmet breakfast will then kick off your day in a glorious fashion.
So, yes, at the end of the day, it may all come down to cost and suitability of cruise dates and itineraries, in accordance with your travel plans. The one aspect both options have in common is that both offer a tremendous array of extra activities, like hiking, kayaking, swimming and fishing. This is what’s going to be the real highlight of your journey, no matter where you choose to lay your head to sleep.
For detailed information on the best Amazon cruises and lodge-based tours, contact us today. We’ve cruised it, lodged it, been there and done that, so if you tell us a little about who you are, what you dream and what you need, we’ll help you plan a truly wicked Amazon adventure.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”