Where the Wild Things Are
From the unique biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest to the world’s largest tropical wetland, South America is home to a plethora of fascinating wildlife. So, where should you go?
The Amazon rainforest is crawling with wild creatures and creepy critters! Crossing nine countries with a staggeringly long river, it’s home to roughly 10 million species of animals, insects and plants. Known as ‘the lungs of the planet’, the trees of the rainforest produce more than 20% of our world’s oxygen… talk about a breath of fresh air!
The best way to explore this wildlife haven is by small-ship cruising or with a stay at one of the many eco-lodges on offer.
Our top pick is the famous Sacha Lodge, nestled deep in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Here, you can walk across a bridge suspended 94 feet over the rainforest canopy, paddle through the creeks in search of giant river otters, and be enchanted by rainbow-coloured toucans and several species of monkeys. But, perhaps most interesting of all, you can explore the forest at night when a completely different set of insects and wildlife emerge.
In the Peruvian or Brazilian Amazon, take an expedition cruise aboard an intimate and exclusive small-ship along the rivers of the rainforest. Enjoy fine cuisine and Amazonian delicacies complete with stunning scenery and an array of incredible wildlife. Peru’s Delfin cruises offer the choice of three luxury vessels on a 3 or 4 night itinerary, and Brazil’s M/V Desafio treats travellers to a fully renovated classical schooner boat with original old world features.
Off the coast of Ecuador lie the Galapagos Islands, one of the world’s most prolific wildlife destinations! With a lack of predators in the area, travellers can experience close encounters with the islands wildlife without disturbing them. The blue-footed booby, flightless cormorant, Galapagos flamingo, and a range of reptiles and marine life make the islands a true wildlife mecca. History buffs will also be delighted by the islands past, renowned for the resounding impact they had on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Best explored by specifically designed small expedition ships to discover each island’s wonderful differences, we recommend a cruise aboard the Santa Cruz II. This state of the art vessel is home to 90 guests in 50 air conditioned cabins. Superb on board service, friendly crew and the best naturalist guides available share their knowledge of flora, fauna and the geology of this incredible destination.
Brazil is more than just the Amazon rainforest and incredible cultural experiences, it’s also home to the largest tropical wetland on the planet! The Pantanal is a mecca for all things wild and the open marshes make wildlife spotting a complete breeze. Here you can find everything from giant river otters to the maned wolf, capybaras and tapirs.
Jaguars can be found prowling the water’s edge in search of caiman, and the wetland is also home to the iconic hyacinth macaw, the jabiru stork, giant anteaters and ocelots. The best time to visit is in the dry season, which runs from May through to September.
ECUADOR’S CLOUD FOREST
These mossy forested mountainsides are home to outstanding birdlife, reptiles, colourful butterflies and the rare Andean spectacled bear. Travellers will take delight in the misty forest’s hidden waterfalls, while the more adventurous can enjoy a vast range of activities including ziplines running through the tree canopy, mountain biking, nature trails, and cable car rides above the forest canopy.
With incredibly rich biodiversity, the area is internationally renowned as one of the best places on earth for bird watching, with the likes of the black-chinned mountain tanager, plate-billed mountain toucan, violet-tailed sylph, and the crested quetzal all frequenting the area.
For an incredible experience here, head to Mashpi Lodge. This cocoon in the cloud forest is situated on its own private 1,100 hectares of the endangered Choco forest and surrounded by another 18,400 hectares of natural protected area. Travellers can encounter 500 species of birds, trees and frogs found nowhere else in the world, complete with cascading waterfalls and incredible flora.
Patagonia, which encompasses roughly the bottom third of the South American continent, is extremely rich in flora and fauna. For wildlife lovers, perhaps the best way to visit this region is on a very comfortable 4-night cruise operated by Australis, through fiords between Punta Arenas in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina. An enormous range of marine birdlife is one of the best features of this cruise, but whales, dolphins, several species of penguin, sea lions and a wide selection of land birds also make it ideal for those keen on viewing sub-Antarctic wildlife.