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A few people contact me to ask for advice on how to do an independent river trip in the Amazon. Not many, and in a way I'm surprised more don't do it.


It's a wonderful adventure that can be tailored to suit, by the type of river you choose. It can be an easy float on calm currents meeting ribeirinhos  - the Brazilian term for the homesteaders who live on the banks of many tributaries. My first trip was on a river like that. Sometimes camping in the jungle, sometimes staying with the people, who showed us how to fish, or how to collect jungle produce, and teaching us what was dangerous and what wasn't.

You might not see the rarer animals - jaguars, tapirs, giant otters, but there's a good chance of seeing monkeys, iguanas, prolific birdlife. A lot of the fun of rainforest travel is in discovering the myriad bugs, butterflies, huge caterpillars, beetles, frogs. So much life is there, and a lot is bizarre and colourful.

For those with more white water and survival skills there are more challenging rivers with little or no population, where wildlife will be more abundant. But I wouldn't recommend doing this as a first trip.


Getting sick. Malaria is common and it's essential to get advice on the best preventive medicine. Other tropical nasties are dengue fever, leishmaniasis and burrowing bugs etc. Covering up and using mosquito repellents reduces the risk greatly.

Obviously any accident or medical crisis will be made more acute by being many days from the nearest doctor. A comprehensive first aid kit is essential. I'll talk about that later.

Snakes, alligators, piranhas, jaguars, aren't nearly as dangerous a threat as you might think, but always play safe and keep alert and watchful.


For a quiet tributary a local dugout canoe is fine. These can usually be found for sale in communities along the river, and shouldn't cost too much. River passenger boats will carry them, or tow them behind, if you want to transport them to a different section of river. Local paddles, carved from chunks of hardwood are for sale in the larger towns. Heavy, but they do the job.

Dugouts are leaky, and too heavy for two people to carry anywhere, so not suitable for rivers with rapids where portages are necessary to get past dangerous sections.

My first Amazon canoe trip was down the Branco river from Boa Vista. Apart from one rapid at Caracarai it was an easy paddle to the Negro. We had intended going to Manaus but we got a bit lost in the maze of islands at Anavilhanas, and accepted a ride on a cargo boat.

But nearly all the large Amazon tributaries could be travelled by dugout. Be careful of being caught out by storms when far from shore. They swamp in large waves.

For wilder rivers.  As I said before don't choose a wild river until you've had experience on easier ones, and without expedition experience. Not only will you have the dangers of white water to contend with, but also long stretches without habitation and difficult evacuation if things go wrong.

I use a folding Ally Canoe which makes it easy to fly it from home. Mine's an 18ft DR model, but the 16 ft model would be equally good. Pakboats are highly-rated too. Any other rigid canoes would have to be purchased locally in the larger cities, and probably have to be sold cheap or given away at the end of your trip.

Kayaks don't have the carrying capacity for an extended trip, and are only necessary for the rivers that tumble down from the Andes.


We rely on eating a lot of fish, which are easily caught, and often tasty, so carry a selection of fishing tackle. The rest of our food is cheap and comes from the market.
Beans, rice, pasta, lentils. and porage oats are the staples of our diet, which we then try to make exciting and varied by carrying lots of garlic, oil, onions, sugar, spices, ketchup, tabasco, chillis, jam, honey, coffee and tea.    It's not a wonderful diet, but with the addition of grilled or fried fish, is not bad at all.
Being old soaks we load up with rum and limes too to produce some deadly caipirinhas at the end of the day.


Tarpaulin, and thin rope to support a shelter.

Cigarette lighters, and a litre of diesel to help when all the wood is wet. Machete, knives, waterproof sacks, flashlights. Spare paddle. 

Fishing rod and big selection of lures, hooks, wire traces (as many fish will bite through nylon), line of 20lb breaking strain minimum.

Local hammock with mosquito net that fits around it (sold in markets of Brazil).

Large frying pan and cooking pots. Grill.


This is important, as you will be a long way from medical help. 

Prevention is better than cure, so take anti-malarials and the strongest that experts recommend at the time. Loads of strong insect repellent, and treat clothing and mosquito nets with knock-down insecticide. Malaria isn't the only unpleasant and potentially deadly disease spread by insects. Wear clothing in the evening that has a close weave, and thick enough to bend a mosquito's lance!

Powerful antibiotics to cover the widest range of infections. Ant-histamines.

Painkillers. Over the counter and prescription.

Sutures, sterile dressings, bandages, plasters, antiseptic lotion, tweezers, thermometer, scissors. Consider plaster of Paris to immobilise broken bones.

Small first-aid manual which shows you where to make the incision to remove an appendix. Only kidding. I always worried about getting appendicitis and once asked a doctor to take it out as a precaution, but he refused.


It might be hard to imagine a few weeks without phones and internet, but it's actually quite liberating. I'm sure you could find a way to take a laptop and use it out there, if you want, but I'm not the one to tell you how.

Take a couple of big, worthy and probably dull books each. They will last, aid self-improvement and send you to sleep. Any exciting books will be devoured in a few days. All books end their lives as toilet paper, so you have to keep ahead of that need, and assess the quality of the paper when you buy the book. An e-reader might be good to take more reading material, and solar chargers might work well enough to keep it charged.

Games like cards, Travel Scrabble, small chess set.

Conversation. A return to simple pleasures.

LEARN SOME PORTUGESE OR SPANISH! (Depending on where your river is.)

On the Amazon rivers noone will speak English, and you'll miss out on so much. You don't have to be fluent, just have an idea of the grammar and some vocabulary.  Practice will do the rest.