The Amazon rainforest is unmatched when you want to share with your children the vastness, richness and importance of this place for the planet. As the rainforest continues to disappear and the impacts of climate change continue to become evident, we believe our kids must know the relationship between the destruction of the rainforests and the future of our earth. And their future as well. On a lighter note, the diverse flora and fauna combined with the local culture and traditions makes for a fun learning adventure.
Keep in mind, traveling to the Amazon rainforest may not be for everyone. Besides the heat and humidity, the region is a bug infested land. The hotels offer some level of comfort, but not the luxury one might find at a beach resort.
This trip to the Amazon rainforest is a flashback from August 2015, when my American family —eight adults and three kids—came to Brazil with me. It was our first time at the rainforest, myself included. Looking for a more authentic visit focusing on educational and entertaining adventures for all ages, we studied possibilities, choosing between staying in the city of Manaus or one of the jungle hotels. We chose the Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge, which turned out to be a great choice!
I grew up in Brazil surrounded by so much natural beauty, yet, the Amazon rainforest still fascinated me. All of us had a great time. Our kids absolutely loved it and didn’t want to leave.
Ready to travel on a fascinating trip to the Amazon rainforest with kids?
The Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge
The Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge is located on the edges of the River Tarumã, a tributary of the Negro River, in the middle of Amazon rainforest. Despite being located in the middle of the rainforest, from our arrival to the end of our stay, we had a very smooth experience. We booked a three-night package, which included pick up and drop off at Manaus airport. Plus meals, drinks, and various excursions. This hotel offered exceptional service. The excursions available included a jungle hike, visit to the Monkey Forest and a ‘caboclo’ house, piranha fishing, an evening canoe crocodile spotting tour, and a full day tour to view the ‘meeting of the waters’ phenomenon.
At the airport in Manaus, someone was waiting for us at the customs exit. We walked to the bus in the garage, and from there we drove to a pier where a boat was waiting to take us straight to the hotel. The whole transfer only took us about one hour.
We arrived late at night and were welcomed with fresh guava juice. We quickly settled in our rooms which had air conditioning, mosquito nets, private bathrooms, screened windows, and a porch.
There is a beautiful, panoramic, open-air restaurant featuring local-style architecture where we enjoyed all our meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were buffet style. For breakfast we could choose from fresh juices, regional fruits, locally made breads and pastries, cheese, pancakes, and eggs. For lunch and dinner, a variety of dishes were available, including fresh local fish, chicken, and meat. Additionally, they served rice, salads, potatoes, pasta, vegetables, and authentic delicacies and fruits for dessert. We found the food to be delicious. The hotel also had a nice chill-out area with hammocks, lounges, a private pier, a river beach, and a bar where we could socialize.
For three days we had a full schedule with the excursions already included on our package. Additionally, we booked a pink dolphin interaction. Our guide for all three days was an indigenous Amazonian who spoke excellent English and was very knowledgeable.
Meeting of the waters phenomenon
At 8:30 am, we left the hotel in a double-decker boat and traveled along the Negro River. We passed the shores of Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon. The city disappeared behind us, and after a 2-hour ride, we arrived at the meeting of the waters, an amazing phenomenon that impressed us all.
About six miles from Manaus, the sandy-colored water of the Amazon River (known to the Brazilians as the Solimões River prior to this point) meets with the black-colored water of the Negro River, and they flow side by side for over three miles without mixing. The explanation for this is based upon the temperature, density, and speed of waters of each river. The water in the Amazon comes down from the Andes Mountains and is rich with sediments, so is denser, cooler, and runs faster. The water in the Negro, which comes from the Colombian hills, is almost free of sediments, and therefore, is slower and warmer. The Negro River (Black River) is named after the dark color of its water due to the decomposed plants and leaves from the jungle trees. The two streams eventually mix and continue as the Amazon River, the second longest (but largest by volume), river in the world.
After witnessing this exceptional natural sight for about 30 minutes, we continued along the river, enjoying the flora and fauna as well as the houses, churches, and shops built on stilts. We stopped at Restaurante Selva, a floating river restaurant, for lunch. Fish, salad, and other delicacies from Amazonian cuisine were served buffet-style. Also at the site were small shops selling all kinds of typical Indian souvenirs. Little monkeys were jumping on the branches in the trees behind the shops keeping us entertained while we waited for the second half of our adventure.
Exploring the jungle
After lunch, we set out on a small motorized boat, travelling through small creeks of the Negro River and flooded forest. We visited the January Ecological Park, a maze of submerged trees, vines, giant water lilies, and many other plant species. It was impressive. Our guide told us that part of the tour can only be done when the water level is higher, typically between February and August. Marks on the trees showed that the water level was already descending.
It was already mid-afternoon, and we had one more stop before heading back to the hotel. At a raft village, where locals live and sell their crafts, our kids had a blast. We could not only appreciate and buy crafts, but also interact with some animals they had there. We saw some enormous pirarucu (one of the world’s largest freshwater fish), a friendly sloth, a baby crocodile, and an anaconda. Yep, that’s right, an anaconda. With some help from the locals, our kids could even hold and ‘play’ a little with those creatures.
Visit to the Monkey Forest
The Monkey Forest is a secured area under professional supervision, where wild monkeys come and go following a feeding schedule. We stand on one side of the fence, from where we could watch, photograph, and learn about the animals that showed up to grab fruits and eggs. The site was totally safe. The monkeys were all over the tree branches, and sometimes ventured closer to the fence.
Learning local traditions with a “caboclo”
While visiting a ‘caboclo’ (as locals are called) in a small village, we had a chance to see some of the regional costumes and traditions. First, a demonstration of cassava flour being prepared. As the native worked, our guide explained the steps of the process, starting with the peeling of the root, to washing and grating. It is immediately squeezed in a flexible tube and hung, to eliminate the moisture that drips out. When it becomes a single, tight, dry piece, it gets pounded into a powdery flour ready to be baked. The cassava flour is always prepared in large quantities and the full process, from beginning to end, takes days.
Our next lecture was on how indigenous people have been extracting latex from rubber trees for generations. Tappers (as they are called) make a cut halfway around the trunk, just deep enough to get the maximum amount of sap to flow, without damaging the tree. The milky substance drains into a small bucket, then is heated, and transformed into a natural hard rubber sheet. The local communities use the latex to make vessels, waterproof clothing, and storage bags for their tools and goods. In our modern society, common latex products are gloves, balloons, orthodontic elastics, and many other products.
Last but not least, we heard how for centuries, native tribes have been using plants as a natural healing medicine. The Amazon rainforest is filled with more than 5 million different types of plants. People use the bark, flowers, seeds, leaves, roots, sap, and fruits from many of them to cure diseases and relieve pain. They had a small booth with several bottles filled with parts of trees where we could see and learn about the beneficial value of these natural resources.
We started our two-hour nature hike from the hotel along a jungle trail. Despite the heat and humidity, there were no complaints—from kids or adults! It was a great trek as our guide led us through the virgin rainforest where we could be among the giant trees, beautiful flowers, and rich vegetation. We stopped often to climb trees and hear about the flora and fauna. We even learned some jungle survival skills, such as making fire, identifying edible fruits and drinkable water, first aid, and finding the way out, if lost. Throughout the walk, we could hear the songs of many different bird species.
We all were very excited about going fishing. Our family was divided into three small groups, each with their own small boat. After a 30-minute ride, we stopped in a flooded area with our vessels side by side, where we were looking forward to catching some piranhas. During this one-hour adventure, our guide taught us how to catch a fish. Unfortunately, most of us had little or no success. Among the twelve of us, my niece was the only one who showed any skill—or maybe luck.
Evening tour to spot alligators
After sunset, we left the hotel in a small motor canoe with the goal of spotting alligators. Our guide carried a flashlight which she swung rapidly from side to side looking for two tiny bright spots among the foliage—crocodile eyes. Sometimes our pilot would kill the engine, and while the boat was still, the sounds coming from the vegetation around us were fascinating. We didn’t have much luck locating the reptiles until the end of our tour, when a guide with another group of tourists shared their discovery with us. It was a baby alligator. After a brief exhibition, it was safely released to its habitat.
Swimming with the pink dolphins
The pink dolphins (botos cor-de-rosa) in the Amazon River are the largest freshwater dolphins in the world. They are free, wild animals that come close to the platform every day to be fed by the locals.
For an extra fee we booked the tour. After a 2-hour ride, we reached the floating platform. Staff members attracted the animals near us while they explained how to interact with them. Being very friendly, it was a great opportunity for all of us to see and pet them. According to locals, younger animals are a gray color and they turn pinker with age.
The Amazon rainforest is known for its size and diversity. I have heard since I was a kid that it is considered the lungs of the earth because of the amount of oxygen produced by the rich flora. Visiting this region gave me a better understanding of the community, its values, traditions, and costumes. It was a fantastic experience for all of us and I would highly recommend at least a 3-day stay to see this incredible place and learn about the area.
When visiting the Amazon, make sure you get all the vaccines and prescriptions recommended to reduce the risk of infection from malaria, yellow fever, or other diseases. I recommend checking with IAMAT—the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers. Insect repellent is a must.