South American Expedition

Hello. I am a seasoned paddler and traveler, but my experience is limited to trips here in the United States. However, I am seriously considering an extended canoe trip down the Amazon River and need advice. Should I go with an established outfitter, or attempt to plan it alone? I really want the best experience possible, with a couple local guides that know the River well, but I have many safety concernes with going this route. What is the best way for me to plan a 30+ day canoe trip in South America?

Eric J. MGhee


For what it is worth
I know Alaska is at the opposite end from where you are going, but we did two guided trips to AK prior to taking our longest trip there by ourselves.

What we learned was invaluable, and both trips (canoeing the Noatak River in the Arctic Circle) and (kayaking in Icy straight and Glacier Bay) were some of our most memorable trips of our lives.

As much as I enjoy heading off into the wilderness with just my wife, I would not take that trip just by some prior book reading.

I would want an experienced guide or guide service and I would check their references thouroughly and then get a list of folks that they have guided who could verify that they are indeed the ones with the correct knowledge and have the tools to give you your trip of a lifetime.

By the way we would be delighted to carry your packs!!!



get a reputable guide service!
I can’t say this strongly enough. Get a reputable guide service with an established business. check it out thoroughly. Not only do you have the navigational issues you also are crossing international borders and you are NOT in any cosmopolitan setting where a simple phone call will solve your problems. A good guide will know how to “smooth the waters” (pardon the pun) and make your trip one to remember for a lifetime.


I just travelled from Iquitos to Manaus
on the Amazon River in June (but not by kayak).

I think you definitely need a local guide who knows the river. The charts are not very accurate, the couse of the river changes with the wet and dry seaons.

It’s an experience, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it by yourself without a guide.

Iquitos to Manaus
What are the details of your trip (outfitter, time, distance, etc.), if you don’t mind me asking?

Go with a guide
Paul (Brazilbrazil) is right, do not attempt this trip without a guide. I lived in Brazil until about a decade ago, I’ve fished there extensively.

In the Amazon region you don’t need much to get lost and you can’t count on any reliable resource for a rescue. You will literally be in the middle of nowhere. A solo trip for a first timer is pretty suicidal.

On top of that, again Paul is right, you really need to do your homework when choosing an outfitter, there is a lot of good and bad down there.

On the other hand, if done right this has the potential to become one of your most memorable trips. I really hope that you enjoy fishing, and if so, make sure to pay one of the many peacock bass lakes a visit, it is going to blow your mind. Also take a small spinning rod with 6 pound test line, a short wire trace and a bunch of spinners for piranhas; they are surprisingly sporty and quite abundant as well, it is fun to catch and release them - a pair of pliers for the hook removal is handy and assures that you will return home with as many fingers as you’ve left.

If you plan to fish ask your outfitter to provide you with a license, the IBAMA (the fish and game agency of Brazil) sometimes is serious and you may bump into a warden’s boat in one of the rivers, I have a friend who had his gear confiscated for the lack of a license (confiscated is a nice word for robbed), but that was many years ago.

Parts of it can be reminisce of a Mad Max movie…

Definitely take some big locals with ya…

Dr. Jb?
what were you doing in Brazil?..just curious…Was brought up in Sao Paulo…


I was born there
I was born in São Paulo, graduated there (I’m a veterinarian, graduated in the University of São Paulo), married there and my kids were born there as well. We moved to America about nine years ago.

So, answering your question on what was I doing there, I guess the best answer is loosing precious time.

It took me 10 years to convince my wife to give up all our friends, home, business, stability and move to a new country with two small children (6 and 4 years old at the time)and high hopes toward one of the many different faces of the America Dream.

As an immigrant, and under the risk of sounding awfully cheesy, I just don’t have enough words to express the level of gratitude that I feel for this country. It was very tough, I work more than I thought I would at this phase of my life, but we have more friends than ever, my kids are happy, my wife is happy and I can afford this rather pricy hobby of ours. Mine is a very American dream that by all means came true. Thanks for asking (I mean it).


More details…
For those of you that have been there, where is the best place to go for remotness and wildlife, for that amount of time? Any suggestions on outfitters?

outro Paulista??

I was born in Santa Cecilia…can’t get more Paulista than that! My parents are American but all four of us were born there. We left when I was 11 so I have a definite gringo accent when i speak portuguese.

I went back to work for an airline there and then transferred back up with Vera…

I also convinced my wife to come up…she worked for Varig at the time…She really didn’t want to come up either but she and the kids (born here) are happy. They go down every summer for a month and I try to make it down for a week or two.



– Last Updated: Aug-29-05 4:33 PM EST –

At the south of the Amazon basin there is a huge flood plain called Pantanal, it is not exactly Amazonia, but it is MUCH better for wildlife viewing with thousands of Jacarés (Caymans - gators smaller cousins) an unbelievable bird population that includes many different species of macaws and parrots, tons of monkeys of the most varied species and lots of fish.
You will possibly see an occasional giant ant-eater and with a lot of luck a jaguar (consider yourself lucky if you find jaguar tracks, they are endangered and very reclusive - I consider myself lucky for never finding one face-to-face in the wild, this is the third largest cat on the planet, only behind tigers and lions…not very far behind).
You might have the chance to see a green anaconda, a snake that can get almost twice as big as your kayak and thicker than you thigh, its main food source? Capibaras (a rodent the size of a hog, you will see these for sure) and jacarés - that's a snake big enough to swallow entire gators for dinner, not too shabby...

It may sound like lots of dangers, but that's far from true if you stick to common sense and have a decent guide, you don't want to get lost there.
The Pantanal is divided in two regions, north and south, both very nice and with all the wildlife, but, the south side, which is closer to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte (three large cosmopolitan areas in Brazil) is much more developed, it is road accessible and is somehow less wild, but with more comforts (it is a wild and exotic place, but you will see other boats and people almost on a regular basis). The north side is for those more adventure oriented, many of the farms/lodges are only accessible by small plane and this is where the real fun is - it is also usually more expensive.
If you want a more in depth analysis from the human perspective of this area, check out the National Geographic Magazine, I think from two months ago, not sure, they made a report on the area.

The Amazon forest is very thick and the viewing of wildlife, albeit there in incredible abundance, is more restricted, the Pantanal is more open, and more “user friendly”.

If you decide to stick with the Amazon basin, a good idea is to try one of the floating hotels, these are boats outfitted with rooms, bathrooms, showers, etc…you can explore a lot of area using the boats as your base, they travel as you sleep and when you wake up you are at a new location, rested and ready for exploration. You have these available in the Pantanal as well.

Many of the outfitters offer customized programs, therefore, pocket permitting, you can have a tailor made exploration trip designed based on your requests.
I will make some phone calls and see if I can find who are the top players nowadays, give me a couple of days.

Try to google "pantanal norte" and see what comes up, the tourist sites are generally bi-lingual.


Hey neighbor
We were neighbors, I was born in Higienópolis, used to live in Rua Alagoas, that’s about 15 minutes walking, or about a 45 minutes drive, he…he…he.

My wife and kids go back once or twice a year, I went back once when my dad passed away, that was four years ago. Never before and never after.

By the way, Coleen’s husband, from Oleta river’s Full Moon Paddlers is Brazilian as well.

I Was Upriver At Leticia, Colombia

– Last Updated: Aug-29-05 4:59 PM EST –

That was a while ago...Back in 1975...

Leticia is way upriver. Actually on the northernmost of the three main tributaries, the Rio Papagalo, or Parrot river.

I would not recommend that area now. Leticia itself has been OK, but it is in the middle of rebel (FRAC) held territory. So if you go very far from town you are asking for trouble.

Never step into the water barefoot. The critter than kills the most people in the Amazon is a freshwater stringray. The natives go barefoot all the time. They also get stung all the time. You can die without prompt medical treat.

I would very strongly recomend a LOCAL guide with local knowledge and political connections.

Frankly, I would also recommend one with a motor boat! The area is so huge, you won't really cover any of it in a kayak or canoe.

I did "rent" a real dug out canoe there (Gave a native a bottle of Aquacaliente to use it. Trade it, don't drink it!)

One thing that surprised me was seeing Dolphins so far from the ocean! There are also pink ones, but I never saw one. The natives have interesting legends about the pink ones.

Try these
Outside magazine has an on-line article about the Pantanal with some links you may find useful

The dolphins behave quite differently
from the ones here in the Pacific. The fresh water dolphins (including the pink ones which I did get to see) are not very friendly or inquisitive. They tried to avoid us as much as possible.

The ones here at home, come right up to your boat.

We used GAP Adventure Tours
They are a good outfitter and had very knowledgeable local guides.

It took us ten days to cover the distance from Iquitos, Peru to Manaus, Brazil.

I would recommend this company. Pre-departure commuication was lacking, but once in the Amazon, everything went perfectly.

YOu need to define “expedition”! I would be suprised to find any company that tours for a month etc. Think about this a moment. This is not North America where you can escape danger more easilly and bail out anywhere etc. The Amazon is a huge river and many people along it have never seen a white boy let alone a kevlar kayak etc. The tour companys would be fairly tame etc offering a more safe haven but still somewhat controlled etc. They cant affford the liablity of a real expedition Im sure- and the cost would be big. If you want to do the river, I would research my own trip. Contact those who have done it etc. A friend of mine paddled the Amazon in the 80’s with his wife at the time. This was part of a much larger trip since they actually started in Northern Canada and ended up in Cape Horn Argentina etc. She describes this part of the trip as “crisis after crisis” So you would need to train mentally for all that happens to you. You could or many never come back etc. They were on the

amazon in flood stage (spring) and the river was sooooo wide they could not find shore/ or a dry place to camp. THey slept, lived, cooked and pooped in their kayaks for 17 days before they found ground to get out on to walk. If this sounds more like what you are looking for then start planning the logistics. If its more of a ccontroled safe tour, Im sure you can find a company on the net. Good Luck, im envious.