Mosquitos and Bugs During an Amazon River Cruise
Many people assume that mosquitoes, and bugs more generally, are a ubiquitous presence in places like the Amazon. To be sure, they do thrive in the hot, humid and densely vegetated environment of the tropical rainforest. In fact, there are estimated to be around 30 million species of insects residing in the Amazon, encompassing everything from wasps, beetles, dragonflies and ants, to mosquitoes, moths, caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders and plenty more besides.
However, the reality is that you’ll encounter only a very small proportion of these critters on an Amazon River cruise, and an even smaller number pose any real danger or annoyance. There are also significantly fewer bugs around in certain regions of the Amazon or during certain times of the year, something to bear in mind if you’re particularly bug-phobic.
Still, to ensure the most comfortable experience possible, it pays to be informed about the relative prevalence of insects, especially when it comes to mosquitoes, and to read up on the best ways to practice avoidance and to protect yourself when you are exposed.
Should I Be Worried?
An astounding 90% of all animals to be found in the Amazon are actually insects, and only a tiny fraction of these have been identified by scientists. Yet we know that the vast majority of bugs you’ll likely encounter in the rainforest are completely harmless - so feel free to admire their intricacy and vibrant colours without worry. Having said this, there are a few species to keep a watchful eye out for. These include the various types of poisonous spiders, bullet ants, assassin bugs and the Amazonian giant centipede, to name a few, all which can deliver painful and potentially deadly bites. However, you’re pretty unlikely to have a close encounter with any of these critters, and if you do chances are they won’t bother you unless you disturb them directly.
By far the biggest bug risk in the Amazon is posed by the comparatively tiny, harmless-looking and prevalent mosquito. This is because it can carry diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. Not all mosquitoes in the Amazon are disease-carriers - far from it - and even being bitten by one that is infected doesn’t automatically mean you’ll contract the disease.
However, when it comes to inset-borne diseases it’s better to be safe than sorry, so we recommend taking all the necessary precautions to protect yourself (see further below) and to remain alert to the potential signs of malaria. For a comprehensive overview of malaria in the Amazon, including information on prevalence, prevention, symptoms and treatment, head over to our malaria post.
Bug Prevalence & Avoidance
Many people are surprised to hear that the Rio Negro, the Amazon’s largest tributary, is virtually bug free. This is due to the river’s acidic PH which prevents mosquito larvae developing on water surfaces. So if you’re particularly concerned about the prospect of encountering hordes of mosquitoes on your Amazon trip, heading to Brazil’s Rio Negro is one option.
In comparison, so-called white water rivers are veritable havens for bugs due to their mineral-rich waters. In places like the Rio Branco in Brazil you’ll encounter much larger species, more diversity and an all-round greater abundance.
2. Night vs Day
Depending on exactly where you are in the Amazon, there’s a chance you won’t notice many bugs during the day. In most places, though, it’s a very different story at night (including dawn and dusk), when most mosquitoes and other insects are at their most active. There are numerous theories as to why this is, ranging from the lower temperatures and decreased exposure to predators, to the higher levels of UV light and calmer weather conditions that aid scent detection.
The specific type of mosquito that carries malaria – the female Anopheles – typically only bites between 9pm and 5am. So take special care to cover up during the evenings, as well as for any early morning trips or night walks, and to use a net for sleeping.
3. Wet vs Dry Season
If you’re keen to avoid the worst of the bugs, then consider heading to the Amazon during the dry season (June to December), when mosquito numbers plummet as temperatures rise. Of course, it’s still important to exercise caution during drier months, wearing insect repellent and covering up, but this is one way of ensuring a more comfortable experience.
Whilst the wet season is undeniably a popular time for cruising, there are many advantages to dry season travel as well – and not just fewer mosquitoes. You’ll be able to explore on foot areas that are otherwise flooded and inaccessible during the rest of year. It’s also a great opportunity to spot the sorts of wildlife that thrive in low water levels, including piranha, lizards, migratory birds and caiman.
There are numerous resources available providing excellent advice on avoiding insect bites, especially important in the case of mosquitoes and malaria prevention. Here are some of our top tips for keeping yourself protected:
Insect Repellent: The most effective strategy by far is to invest in some good quality spray (with a high percentage of deet) and then remember to use it regularly throughout the day and especially at times when there are more bugs and mosquitoes around than usual (early morning, evening and night).
Cover-Up: Try to avoid exposing too much skin unnecessarily. Opt for trousers, long-sleeve shirts, socks that cover your ankles and sturdy footwear. Wear a couple of layers or choose thicker fabrics such as cotton to help prevent bites. Loose-fitting clothes will also make it harder for mosquitoes to come into contact with your skin.
Treating clothing with permethrin will further help keep the bugs at bay. Just take care not to use permethrin on your skin. Alternatively, you can buy items that have been pre-treated.
Keep in mind that mosquitoes are attracted to darker colours, as well as to strong scents such as perfumes, colognes and other fragrant body products. Meanwhile, there are some things they don’t like, such as Manuka Oil, vinegar, Tamanu and even vitamin B, which you may want to try as natural repellents, preferably in addition to a deet-based spray.
If you get Bitten: Treat the affected area with an antiseptic cream. Try your best to avoid scratching as this will only increase swelling and irritation! Bring hydrocortisone cream to help relieve the itching.
Malaria-specific Advice: Make sure you seek professional advice from your doctor before you start taking any medication. Talk to your local travel doctor for more details about the medication and what regions are affected. For more information, read our Malaria in the Amazon post.
For more advice on protecting yourself from rainforest critters, check out our post How Bad Are Bugs in the Amazon? If you have any further queries or concerns about mosquitoes and other insects prior to heading on your trip, don’t hesitate to contact us.