We are often asked by travelers which is better, an Amazon cruise or jungle lodge? In this post, we make an honest attempt at tackling this common Amazon vacation conundrum, by comparing and contrasting the advantages and disadvantages of choosing one Amazon tour style over the other. To do this, we’ve used the all-important criteria of (i) location in the Amazon Rainforest, (ii) the amount of contact you’ll have with Amazonian wildlife, (iii) travel date flexibility, and (iv) comfort and cost.
Lodges are typically defined by their locations: the remoter the lodge the better. The remoteness of a destination is generally associated with the quality of the wildlife experience. Lodges located near national parks or within large private reserves have advantages over lodges located in areas without protection. As the years pass, populations grow, and deforestation slowly eats away at the forests, older lodges may find themselves in a small patch of fragmented forest, with greatly reduced biodiversity, and therefore a lower-quality ecotourism experience. Some lodges are located in areas with incredible diversity and density of wildlife, and when that is the case, the experience is unrivaled. When choosing a lodge always investigate the location.
River cruises, on the other hand, have the distinct advantage of mobility. Amazon riverboats are designed with very shallow drafts, which means that they can access shallow, narrow tributaries, follow wildlife migrations, and adjust to uncooperative weather better than lodges can. For example, the recent record high water levels in the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon left a number of lower-lying lodges in need of refurbishment, after rivers burst their banks and water entered buildings.
In general, cruising will allow for greater areas of the Amazon to be discovered, including different types of ecosystems. Each night you will sleep in a different area, and experience a different sunset. It is also usually much quicker and easier to embark on an Amazon river cruise versus getting to a lodge, as ports are located closer to populated areas, whereas lodges – especially more remote ones with the better wildlife spotting opportunities – can involve several journeys by various transport means and are generally arduous to get to.
Staying in a lodge puts travelers in close contact with the natural environment, exploring one area in greater depth, often on more land-based excursions, and spending one’s time surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Amazon jungle.
Because you sleep in the forest, in rustic accommodations, you feel the presence of the ecosystem all around you. At night, sleeping under your mosquito net, you hear and feel the sounds of the natural world. The rainforest comes alive at night, and by staying in a lodge, you begin to join the natural cycle of sleeping at dusk and rising at dawn. Some lodges like the Treehouse Lodge in Peru even provide canopy-level accommodation with spectacular views and fantastic opportunities for close encounters with wildlife.
Aboard your adventurous Amazon cruise boat, you will still enjoy great experiences with nature during your excursions which happen several times each day, but at the end of the evening, you will return to your comfortable cabin to sleep. Activities may be more water-based, but you will still get the chance to take a jungle walk. You are sure to sleep well with the air conditioning or fan running, comfortably wrapped in fresh sheets. You can rest comfortably without concern of pesky insects, some quite large and intimidating.
Amazon cruises have limited departures and availability, and so it is not always possible to find the itinerary that fits your vacation time frame. In this way, an Amazon lodge may be preferable as they don’t typically have fixed departures as such, although lodges may get booked up in popular holiday seasons.
One advantage in working with Rainforest Cruises, however, is that we have a large portfolio of boats so can usually find a great boat with a departure date that works, or can even consider a private Amazon riverboat charter for you with a customizable itinerary. If not, then an upscale lodge in a remote location will also provide a great Amazon experience.
Riverboats and jungle lodges come in varying levels of comfort, but in general, you’re more likely to experience a greater level of comfort aboard a luxury cruise vessel than you are in a rustic and remote rainforest lodge. Naturally, this comfort (and exclusivity to an extent) comes at a cost, and river cruises are typically much more expensive than a corresponding category of lodge.
In the end, whether aboard an Amazon River cruise or in staying in a jungle lodge, the best experience is had by travelers with open minds and enthusiasm. Amazon travel, and especially wildlife observation, depends a lot on patience and luck. Traveling with a group of like-minded individuals generally makes a tremendous difference. Travel prepared, be open to sudden changes in your plans, and let the journey develop organically and you will undoubtedly have the experience of a lifetime. Alternatively, you could always combine an Amazon cruise and lodge stay to get the best of both worlds!
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