3 Ways to See Tons of Wildlife on a Rainforest Trip

Golden-Mantled Tamarin spotted at the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador
Golden-Mantled Tamarin spotted at the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park.

You want to visit the rainforest to see monkeys, caimans, toucans, sloths, and capybaras up close, not just sit in a tree and itch mosquito bites.  So how do you maximize your chances of seeing pink river dolphins splashing in the river and macaws swooping in by the hundreds?  It’s actually not too hard as long as you keep a few guidelines in mind before booking your trip.

Here’s the thing about rainforest wildlife, they’re not exactly show-offs.  Many of them are quite timid, while others are trying to be stealthy hunters and others are simply difficult to see for the dense vegetation.  By spending a bit more time in the rainforest (a minimum of 3 nights, but 4 to 5 is even better), your chances of spotting a wooly monkey or hoatzin are even greater.  This may mean you stay in once place for a while, like at the Sani Lodge in Ecuador which is renowned for it’s great birding opportunities and nearby pink river dolphins; you may also be on the move getting deeper into the rainforest, like the BioTrip Manu which starts in the cloudforest and decends deeper each day into the pristine Amazon basin.

This means not staying in a town and seeing what toucans may hang out in the nearby trees.  If you’re keen to see wildlife, you have to put in some travel time and get as deep into the forest as you can.  In Costa Rica, you can certainly see some monkeys at Manuel Antonio, but going to the more remote Corcovado National Park provides a much better chance of spotting a jaguar, macaws (the largest concentration in Central America), sloths and tapirs.  Before you sigh at the prospect of spending more time in transit, keep in mind that the journey into the remote rainforest is often one of the most memorable parts of the adventure.  Each 9-passenger plane flight and poled canoe ride takes you a bit further from highrises and loud buses until finally you’re noticing snakes sunning themselves on passing branches and river otters slipping through the water.

OK, this may seem obvious, but just because you’re visiting the rainforest doesn’t mean you’re going to an area filled with wildlife.  The first thing to find out is a lodge’s exact location: Is it within a wildlife preserve, bordering a National Park, or inside another type of reserve?  There are a few other things to consider, like their typical itinerary and activities.  Some lodges located in a less wildlife-dense area are more focused on deluxe accommodations, spa services, and yoga.  Some lodges specialize in cultural interaction with a local indigenous community in which you learn about their rituals and traditions, perhaps over wildlife outings.  That’s not to say that you can’t have a combination of these types of lodge and great wildlife viewing chances; for instance, La Selva is a deluxe lodge and Kapawi Ecolodge has a strong cultural component, but both also offer amazing animal sightings and biodiversity.  But just because a place is located in the forest, doesn’t mean it’s exactly a wildlife hotspot.  Check out their itineraries, animal lists, location, and previous travelers reviews to get a feel for how much wildlife is typically present in the area.

Keeping these rules in mind, you’ll be spotting kinkajous, anacondas, macaws, butterflies, howler monkeys, and brightly colored frogs on your next rainforest trip.

Want to know more about traveling to the Central and South America’s Rainforests?  See all of Detour’s diverse trip options here: http://detourdestinations.com/trips/amazon-tours.html and here: http://detourdestinations.com/trips/costa-rica-tours.html