One thing I discovered in Manuas is that if you’re planning on going into the jungle, choosing who you want to take you there can make all the difference. Here are a few thoughts on our experiences.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, when tourists (or at least people who look like tourists) get off the plan in Manaus, they are approached by slick people trying to sell cheap jungle tours. We weren’t just warned away from these people by Lonely Planet. The tourist desk at the airport also advised us to stay away from them. (By the way, the tourist desk at the Manaus airport is extremely helpful and nice. They’re also multilingual.)
When we got to Manaus, we got a bus into town (buses 306 and 813, about R$ 2.25 and R$3 respectively). From there we started visiting different tour companies. From what I’ve seen, this approach seems to be the way to get the best price, though I think the more legit companies would be more than willing to book in advance. That approach might also afford more peace of mind. However, prices depend on how many people the company will be taking out to the jungle at any given time (more people means cheaper prices), and choosing a company after arrival allowed us to see who was already going out during our time-frame. It also gave us the luxury of comparing prices in person and asking for discounts.
We compared several different companies. The ones that stood out were Iguana Tours (recommended by Lonely Planet) Amazon Antonio (recommended by Amazon Gero), and Amazon Gero (recommended by Lonely Planet). All of these companies have been in business for a while and are licenced. Amazon Antonio’s office is in Hostel Manaus, while the other two have offices in Hotel 10 de Julho. There are also tour companies that leave from other, smaller cities along the river. I’ve heard these can be an even better value, though obviously they take longer to get to.
In the end, I would have liked to have gone on a tour with all of these companies, but we decided to go with Amazon Gero. While the costs for all three were comparable, Amazon Gero was the best at accomodating our schedule (one night). All of these places, however, specialize in doing slightly longer trips (3-7 or so days), so if we had had the time, our experience probably would have been even better (and we would had gotten more bang for our buck by spending less time in transit) if we had had more time.
As it was, though, we were very happy with Amazon Gero and were really glad we chose them. The area where their lodge is located has a lot of wildlife, they provide good food, and knowledgable guides. There are a lot of mosquitos in their corner of the jungle, but we slathered ourselves in bug repelant (around R$15) and I didn’t get a single bite. (One thing to ask a tour company is if their lodge has a lot of mosquitos. Some of the tours go to areas where the water is too acidic for mosquitos to live. However, the added comfort is paid for by not being able to see as much wildlife. Because mosquitos are the base of the river foodchain, areas where they’re absent have almost no animals.)
Anyway, Amazon Gero seems to attract a young-ish, independant-traveler, hostel type crowd. That was great for us (there were also some older people at the lodge, though, so it’s not just for young people). Per day, it cost R$160 for each person. That was a huge splurge for us (we’ll be eating less the rest of the trip) but for what the company provides it’s actually a really good deal. The price includes transportation to and from the lodge, room and board, the guide, mineral water, and all the activities. The company also picks up participants at whatever hotel/hostel they’re staying in. So, from the time they picked us up to the time they dropped us off, we didn’t spend any money. (Beer and soda is available to buy at the lodge and most people there did buy some at some point. However we were never pressured to buy anything and instead just drank the free mineral water.)
The price also varies depending on the type of bed. We wanted to sleep in hammocks because it seemed cooler and because it was cheaper (R$140). However they were all taken by other people, so we had to get a private room with a double bed. It had mosquito netting and a fan, and bathrooms were shared. There was a more expensive option to have a private room with air conditioning (and maybe a private bathroom). I know some companies only provide one type of bedding (private rooms, for example), and then just have hammocks stung up for lounging in (Amazon Gero also had some lounging hammocks).
I’ve mentioned in previous posts some of the things we did while in the jungle. It’s worth stating also that the better companies (including Amazon Gero) can set up a night of camping in the jungle or sleeping in a local person’s house. Because we only had one night, we didn’t do those things, but everyone else in our group did because they stayed longer.
In the end, though, we really felt like everyone went out of their way to help us. (When we got back to town, a couple of guys from the company actually drove us all over while we checked out different hotels. They also told us interesting facts about the city.) Also, the group of people we went out with was really cool, as were the people we met at the lodge. So, if you’re thinking about taking a jungle tour from Manaus, hopefully that’s helpful.