Covering eight South American countries ―Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana and Suriname, as well as the region of French Guiana―, the Amazon rainforest is the biggest biodiversity reserve on Earth. More than 30% of the world’s animals live there. In some cases, Amazon wildlife is completely endemic: that means it can only be found there.
Setting off on an Amazon adventure might be the ultimate option for you if you are heading for a long South American voyage or you already hit the usual highlights on previous trips (if not, you can take a look at our tours here)
With many starting points in different countries, venturing into the wild Amazon rainforest usually includes riverboats on the Amazon river or one of its thousands tributaries (from luxury cruises to budget options), jungle tours, nocturnal hikes and sleeping at a jungle lodge. Spotting wildlife on its unique environment is by far the most precious objective.
Ready to go? Grab a pair of binoculars and sharpen your senses, here are the top 10 animals you can spot as you wind your way through the Amazon basin:
Golden lion tamarin
This little monkey ― one of the several monkey species that live in the Amazon rainforest ― is endemic from Brazil, though it’s seriously endangered. It has a small head crowned with abundant soft golden-orange fur, which resembles the main of a lion, hence its name. They are omnivorous and use their long claws to grab insects, fruits, eggs and lizards.
Shhhh, low your voice so you don’t awake the most sleepy inhabitant of the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon jungle. Laziness is the main feature of this tropical creature ―the slowest-moving mammal in the world― that spends most of its life hanging upside-down from a tree branch. There are two types of sloths: two-toed and three-toed, depending on how many claws they have. They eat leaves and fruit, but since they have a slow digestion, it can take them up to a month to process one meal.
Poison dart frog
With striking colors and unique patterns, the poison dart frog is one of the most attractive species you can spot. While they are originally from Iquitos (in Peru), they can be seen widely in Brazil, Colombia and Guyana.
Their bright colors area a defense mechanism: they avoid potential predators by alerting them they can be poisonous. Poison dart frogs are among the most toxic species on Earth. Centuries ago, Colombian indigenous people have used this frog poison on the tip of their darts before hunting, giving these amphibians their popular name.
Amazon river pink dolphin
Also known as bufeo or boto, the Amazon pink river dolphin is a fascinating creature, surrounded by mythological legends. When they are born, river dolphins are usually grey and they turn of a pale pink color as they get older. The Amazon pink river dolphin is the largest species of river dolphins, reaching up to eight feet long. They are elusive and usually live in small groups.
Different species of river dolphins can be found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru. Unfortunately, they are on danger as fishermen kill them to use them as fish bait.
This semiaquatic snake of the boa family is one of the largest snake species in the world, and a specimen as feared as desired among Amazon wildlife. It can be over 20 feet long and weight as much as 550 lbs (while the average weight is 150 lbs).
Anaconda’s preys include fish, large rodents, turtles, birds and even jaguars and caimans. They can hunt under water and also climb trees to reach bird nests. They are not poisonous at all: they use constriction to kill their preys. After a good meal, they can spend months without feeding, as they have a slow digestion.
Jaguars are the biggest feline in America and also one of the top predators in the Amazon jungle. Being one of the fastest runners in the animal kingdom ―and good swimmers, unlike most other cats―, jaguars are excellent hunters.
Spotting one of them in the wild is a rare event, but not impossible if you are lucky! The southern Peruvian Amazon is one of the recommended spots, where nearly 10% of visitors are able to catch a sight of a jaguar, according to reports of Manu National Park.
Native to South America and specially to the Amazon basin, Piranhas are a sharp-teeth fish with a ferocious reputation. The truth is they mostly eat fish, crustaceans, birds, insects and lizards. Occasionally, they eat larger preys but only once they are dead in the water. Like sharks, they are sensitive to the presence of blood in the water. However, it’s not like in the movies: piranha bites to human are not a common thing.
This large semi-aquatic crocodile is the largest predator in the Amazon jungle. There are six species of caimans and the black caiman is just one of them. They can grow up to 16 feet. Typically, they eat fish, turtles and birds, but they can hunt larger animals like jaguars or capybaras.
Caimans are often seen in different parts of the Amazon rainforest, hiding between the foliage on the shore of a river.
Chances are high that you can encounter this beautiful parrots with colorful plumage on a trip to the Amazon rainforest. There are over 2,000 birds species in this biodiversity haven but vibrant-colored macaws ―which are the largest of all parrots― are the most iconic. They usually gather in flocks of between 20 or 30 birds that you can recognize for its loud squawks.
Blue morpho butterfly
Almost 90% of the Amazon wildlife are insects. Many of them still haven’t been identified by scientists. But the universal favorite is the blue morpho butterfly. With wings of a shimmering blue color, this butterfly loves daylight so you’ll certainly get to see a lot of them.