Brazil: Discovering the Amazon
Brazil is home to 80 percent of the Amazon's river system and tropical rainforest. The jumping-off point for Amazon explorations is the capital of the Amazonas state, Manaus. Riverboat trips on the Negro and Amazon rivers are popular ways to explore, and most trips include activities like canoeing, swimming, hiking, wildlife viewing (including monkeys, river dolphins, river otters, piranhas, and sloths). Other highlights include visits to the massive Janauari Ecological Reserve, and viewing the meeting of the waters where the murky Negro and sandy Solimoes rivers meet but do not mix before joining to form the Amazon River.
In 2004, Dan Pridgen, a traveler from South Carolina, spent a spring vacation on an Amazon riverboat trip. Adventures on his voyage included "a night spotting of wildlife by canoe, piranha fishing in a small Amazon tributary, a visit to a [rainforest] tribe in a pouring rain, and an overnight sleepover in hammocks under a thatched structure in the jungle," as well as a "non-sanctioned (by the outfitter) hike following a small stream perhaps a mile into the deeply verdant growth of the jungle—no path—just an astounding labyrinth of vines, canopy, and understory."
Most Amazon Clipper trips offer similar activities. Trips are two-, three-, or five-night voyages, and both luxury- and tourist-class boats are available. Amazon Clipper cruises are available through a handful of providers, including Amazonas, Brol.com, and Latin Trails. Visit at the end of June, and witness the Processão de Sao Pedro, a parade of hundreds of watercraft. Prices start at $385.
Chile: White-water rafting on the Futaleufu River
Located in remote northern Patagonia near the border of Argentina, the Futaleufu River boasts some of the best waters in the world for white-water rafting. Its Class III, IV, and V rapids provide a wild ride for rafters as they wind through temperate rainforest and glacier-capped mountains. While the Futaleufu draws many experienced rafters, adventurous beginners can also enjoy a rafting trip. But, as Mitch Sasser, co-founder and expedition leader of H2O Patagonia notes, "Futaleufu is not a river for the faint of heart. You need to have a 'go get it' attitude."
"[The Futaleufu is] a large-volume river with Grand Canyon-size waves and obstacles, but pitched into a much smaller and steeper river canyon," says Sasser. "The water of the Futaleufu is a translucent turquoise blue that will blow you away ... Expect to be pounded with enormous amounts of whitewater, paddle blind into the next wave and come out loving it (hopefully inside the raft)." Most trips hit the Bridge-to-Bridge section of the river for Class III and Class IV-plus rapids.
Seven-night trips with H2O Patagonia start at $3,800 per person.