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What Not to Do in the Amazon: The Top Five Tourist Mistakes

Where: Brazil
February 26, 2014 at 11:24 AM | by | ()

Fun fact: Brazil is nearly the same size as the entire United States. Fun idea: go there! All this week, we'll be sharing our best Brazil tips for a primer on this diverse and spectacular country, in partnership with LATAM Airlines' Only in South America project. Enter the contest (by March 5) to win this trip!

Making the decision to the head to Brazil's Amazonas? Great idea. Referring to our ultimate Brazil packing list while preparing? Brilliant. Flying into Manaus' International Airport and hopping a boat to enter the real Amazon? Excellent decision. So far, so good, but as we learned from our recent trip to the "Lungs of the Planet," a region of over 2 million square miles, the Amazon requires special tips and cautions to make for the best possible experience.

Without further ado, here is the Jaunted guide of What Not To Do In The Amazon: The Top 5 Tourist Mistakes:

Do NOT wear black clothing

Before you assume that this rule is due to the heat and sun absorbed by black clothing, remember that the Amazon is home to lots of flying insects and you’ll especially want mosquitos to stay away. Black clothing attracts both the sun’s rays and the mosquitos. We actually made the mistake of wearing more black clothing than we should’ve, so learn from our mistakes.

In a similar vein, avoid wearing tight clothing as you’re only making it easier for mosquitos to tap your yummy blood. It’s not that the Amazon is full of dense swarms of vampire mosquitos, but they exist as in other moist, wooded environments and malaria isn’t the coolest souvenir.

Do NOT be afraid to go "off the grid"

"Airplane Mode" is your best friend in the Amazon. Not only will it preserve your smartphone battery for so much more photo snapping throughout the day, but it's a necessity in an area without WiFi or cell service.

Manaus Airport is working on its WiFi situation in time for the World Cup, but your last contact with civilization can happen as late as boarding your boat to journey away from Manaus' Rio Negro and into the Rio Solimões (upper Amazon River). Once you're beyond the "Meeting of the Waters" (pictured above), however, the texts and app notifications go silent. Please let your friends and family know beforehand that you will be off the grid, lest they raise the bat signal.

We're a perfect specimen of internet dependence and if we can survive four days and three nights without instant communication with the rest of the world, then practically anyone can. Who knew there were so many hours in a day? Why has nature never seemed as musical as this? When can we go "off the grid" again?

Do NOT come with a picky palate

You haven't truly tasted coconut until you've used a machete to open a tiny coconut shell and chew the cream-colored palm beetle larvae living inside. Your teeth puncture the skin and immediately your tongue tastes what we can only describe as coconut oil from heaven. Of course, this experience won't happen if you turn your nose up at every delicacy and locally grown food of the Amazon. Where else can you have cooked-to-order tapioca-and-cheese omelets for breakfast, fresh-caught piranha for lunch, Arapaima (a 10' long freshwater fish) for dinner, and giant ants atop Brazil nut puree for dessert?

In the end, we did suffer one day of food poisoning, but it wasn't the larvae or piranha that did it; instead the culprit was something as seemingly innocuous as pico de gallo. Stick with the local specialties, as it's often in "tourist food" that the dangers lie.

Do NOT skimp on the camera equipment

The Amazon is a bucketlist destination for good reason. All these foods, lodgings, flora, fauna, and experiences found absolutely nowhere else are incredibly photogenic. Relying on a smartphone or point-and-shoot camera will be your downfall when your friends and family expect to see jealousy-inducing snapshots of toucans, rippling Amazonian waters under a blazing sunset, and monkeys swinging in the trees. With a basic camera, these will instead be "too far away," "too dark," and "too fast" to shoot.

Even now we regret forgoing a last-minute, pre-trip stop into the camera shop for better lenses; we suppose we'll just have to return to the Amazon for better photos in the future.

Do NOT let the monkeys fool you with their innocent eyes

If you thought you needed to be vigilant about your belongings in Times Square, mind the monkeys of the Amazon. The macaques are a curious bunch and anything loose which you're holding or wearing could, with a deft swipe, become the property of the forest. DSLR cameras are a bit too heavy for their liking, but don't underestimate the wiliness of the primates; keep an eye and a tight grip on sunglasses, point-and-shoot cameras, smartphones, easily removable jewelry, hats, etc. One hairy little thing even attempted to make off with our caipirinha, only succeeding in thieving the lime wedge.

Pro tip: our hotel, Juma Amazon Lodge cautioned us to ask, "who's there" before opening our room door after a knock. The knocks could be the local monkeys and, one morning, this was the case! Luckily they just wanted to play and not ransack our room.

We traveled to Brazil on a Brazil Nuts Tours itinerary as a guest of TAM Airlines, but all photos, strong stomachs, and opinions are completely our own

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher]

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