I wake up hearing the rain pound my windows. The rain is so loud that I feel like I am in an open air canopy with only wilderness surrounding me.
My bed rocks and rolls slightly, enough that I question whether I am still on the boat or if this is in fact all a dream. My semi-lucid state is punctured when I knock a beetle the size of a half dollar off my arm in panic.
It’s not a dream, I am really still here in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, staying at a luxury lodge after spending a week aboard the Jacare-Acu exploring the depths of the Rio Negro and the Amazon’s flooded forests.
The purpose of our visit here is to find and experience the most authentic Brazil, exploring the flora and fauna on the majestic and mysterious Amazon River with several other families.
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Manaus: The Gateway to the Amazon River
My 7 year old has dreamed of visiting the Amazon ‘all his life’, but more likely since he first saw Go Diego rescue a jaguar in the jungle or learned about tidal bores and pink river dolphins from the Octonauts. Either way, his dream is becoming reality and his excitement is contagious.
Our Amazon River cruise experience begins in Manaus, a bustling town famous during the booming rubber trade days of long ago. We have opted to start our adventure with a day trip out to see the Meeting of the Waters, something I know nothing about until my son gives me a lesson.
He says “Think of one as melted milk chocolate and one as coffee. As they meet they can’t mix until their consistency and temperature becomes one”.
This symbolism never leaves my mind as we spend our days here. The river fluctuates between coffee or chocolate, depending on the scene. The Rio Negro will always be one of these two for me, even sharing in their addictive properties as I just can’t get enough of it.
The Meeting of the Waters is one of the most unique natural phenomenon I’ve ever witnessed. Two rivers, the Rio Negro (black or coffee in my son’s explanation!) and the Solimoes River (brown aka coffee with milk!) join together but exist totally separate for several miles. It was an amazing way to begin a trip to one of the world’s most fascinating regions.
During our day out, we not only experience science in action, we also get to pet a wild sloth sitting in a tree, shake hands with wild monkeys (who I am certain were shaking us down!) and test our adventurousness.
While visiting a local tribal village on the banks of the Amazon River, my son surprises me with his eagerness to try new foods. He tells me eagerly “It tastes like kale chips.” I am not an adventurous eater, but I was convinced to try a large fried ant from the bowl being passed around. After choking it down, I will state for the record it did not taste like my homemade kale chips at all!
Communing with nature all morning and soaking up the excitement of watching Brazil play in the World Cup in the town square could not be a better start to our Brazil adventure. And here we haven’t even officially begun our Amazon River cruise!
An Amazon River Cruise with Kids
After a 2 hour bumpy, adrenaline filled drive down rural roads from Manaus, we arrive to a basic but breathtaking floating restaurant. This is where we get our first dose of what life is like on the river. Within minutes, thunderous rain storms drenching us are replaced by sunny skies ideal for frolicking in the black reflective waters of the Rio Negro, which is exactly what the kids do.
The prelude is over, we are now ready to truly begin our expedition. Soaking up the ambiance of the Rio Negro, we anxiously await the arrival of our home for the week. It is here that we begin to understand that we are at the mercy of the mighty Amazon. We go and do as it allows. Schedules, timelines, cell phone signals, social media and the 24 hour news cycle are left behind as we leave the city, switching it out for a cacophony of nature sounds and wide open spaces.
The idea of a WiFi free week makes me nervous, but in the end I realize the trip wouldn’t have been what it was without the absence of electronics. The grownups remember how to have media free dinner conversation, while the kids explore their creativity through made up games, song writing and actually relaxing as they watch the world go by from the rooftop hammocks.
The Jacare-Acu, our home for the week is an 8 cabin boat with the capacity of 16. Think a glamping cruise of sorts. Cold river water showers mingle with modern amenities like air conditioning, providing the luxuries of home with the rusticness of being remote.
Our days are filled with hiking, piraña fishing, pink river dolphin sightings, searching for caiman, and explorations by canoe along spellbinding Alice in Wonderland like tributaries that take us deep into flooded forests.
On one of our many excursions, the mirror-like properties of the river is enchanting as we float along feeling as if we are in a magical land where the line dividing up from down is distorted. Where there is no beginning nor end. The trees go up and simultaneously go down. A place we shouldn’t even be able to reach as it’s not actually part of the river during the dry season. Our journey into the Amazon Basin becomes richer and more interesting the deeper we go.
Hiking into a steamy jungle visiting tarantulas, bats and learning how tribal people survive in this harsh environment all with just a machete in hand bring us closer to my visions from the book the Lost City of Z. I find myself getting lost in my memories of the book, always searching for evidence of this lost Amazon civilization.
These thoughts carry on as we walk through ruins of a mostly abandoned village that has been overtaken by the jungle. I can easily see how an entire group can be gobbled up by the forest, hidden for centuries spurring myths and mysteries.
Swinging from branches ala Tarzan, climbing trees and immersing themselves in animal trap making allows the kids the opportunity to live out their dreams of being wild adventurers. The heat, humidity and sheer distance of our hike mean nothing. These little explorers are fully engaged in the here and now.
Adding further to these jaw-dropping explorations, our excellent and knowledgeable guide, who knows the area intimately, shares his love for the jungle. He effortlessly glides from boat to canoe to land, using senses our foreign bodies have long forgotten, to spot animals well camouflaged by the jungle in the pitch black of night. My son calls Joshua the above and beyond guide, which he truly is.
Giving Back to the Local Amazon Communities
Our journey isn’t all about us though. We take time to learn about the various projects that are funded through Katerre’s trips through the Amazon Basin.
Proceeds from our trip goes to support an indigenous community on the Rio Negro. Funds have supported the building of a school house, a bathroom, and a home for a teacher.
Being able to visit the beneficiaries of these trips is a special part of the journey. It’s always delicate bringing foreigners into local villages, not wanting the interactions to feel exploitive. But when kids are involved, magic just happens.
During our visit, a rainstorm drenches the village making us rush inside the tiny school house seeking shelter, while the local kids take this as an opportunity to play. My son can’t resist the temptation to join in building a mud river to race leaf boats, leaving differences of language and culture behind.
It’s here that we all break through from our Western teachings of staying out of the rain with a game of soccer on a field that looks like a marsh. But no one cares, because we are all one, together in this moment, humans having fun, occupying one planet.
This is the community spirit, the sense of connection and the feeling of teaching our kids that Our Whole Village looks to share on their family trips.
Unplugged Magic of the Amazon
The carefree days and magic of being unplugged is now difficult to give up. However, the welcoming luxury of the Mirante do Gaviao Amazon Lodge helps sooth us back into civilization with a World Cup game, plush rooms, a cool pool and piping hot showers. The perfect end to a perfect week.
This journey to the heart of the Amazon Basin, one of the greenest and wettest places on Earth, is one of the most magical gifts you can share with your family. The Amazon River sucks you in, expelling you days later with a new lens in which to view the world. It’s a one of a kind place filled with life- past and present. It begs for you to stay, in this simple world where communication happens in person, where drones and phones are sucked up in the river in seconds disappearing forever, where personal connectedness is what really matters.
Thank you Amazon. Thank you Brazil. We will be back.
How to Book Your Own Amazon Cruise
Honestly, this adventure down the Rio Negro in the Amazon Rainforest was one of the most magical adventures my son and I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I would highly recommend this to any adventurous family looking to get off the grid and experience the world how it would have been in days past.
A trip to the Amazon with Our Whole Village and Katerre can be booked in several ways. The Jacare-Acu can be chartered for approximately $3,700 per day. If you have a large family or group of friends this would be an amazing option and one I would highly recommend. A tour consisting of 5 days/4 nights would be perfect to really get your feet wet here.
Otherwise you can book a tour paying by the person for $2,499 for adults and $1,899 for children.
Rates include one night accommodation in Manaus, transportation from Manaus to Novo Airão, lunch at the floating restaurant – Flor do Luar, four nights on the boat, one night at the end at Mirante do Gavião and transportation back to Manaus. This also includes all meals from lunch at the floating restaurant to meals at Mirante do Gavião, including most drinks on the boat. Once we set foot on the boat, we didn’t spend another cent until shopping in Novo Airão.
There are 4 small rooms with twin bunk beds and 4 rooms with double beds. For families of three an additional mattress can be added into the room on the floor so that you do not have to purchase two rooms. Rooms are basic, but perfectly comfortable considering you are on a hand made boat.
All rooms have AC, however there are periods of the day when the generator is turned off, but in general you won’t notice.
There is no hot running water on the boat. All water for the sinks, toilets and showers comes directly from the river so it will always be the temperature of the water. Some times it is warm, sometimes it is not.
The Meeting of Waters was an add on that we opted for which cost $50 per adult and $25 per child. It is highly recommended as a great introduction to the Amazon River.
Additional days at the start and ending hotels, also owned by Katerre can be added on if desired. I would highly recommend an extra night at Mirante do Gavião which starts at $175 per person per night, including meals.
Health & Wellness
In general there are not a ton of mosquitos around the boat, however when you visit the jungle areas it is important to slather up in mosquito repellent. We received our Yellow Fever vaccination for the trip but did not take malaria as it wasn’t required.
Could you do it? Would you do? Do you want to do it?
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