The largest rainforest in the world, home to 10% of all worldwide species and more than 47 million people, the Amazon is for many a far-off, mystical place.
And what do humans want to do when it comes to undiscovered places?
They want to explore.
Wanting to see all of the wonders that the world has to offer is natural, and if you’re given the privilege to travel, it’s an opportunity that you should be grateful for.
But most of us have seen James Cameron’s Avatar, which is based on the director’s own visits to the Amazon rain forests and the plight of man vs nature.
And it’s easy to see what happens when humans disrespect nature; instead violating sacred land for their own selfish purposes.
But annihilation of wildlife, vegetation, and the many indigenous people who inhabit the Amazon doesn’t have to follow the tale of Pandora.
It’s possible to travel in a sustainable way that respects the land and causes no harm to the diverse ecosystems.
Ready to learn how to become a sustainable traveler?
1) Take only memories, leave only footprints
Humans love shiny things.
And walking around in a foreign country, the temptation to grab cool looking things can be very tantalizing.
A funky leaf.
A tiny animal skull (good luck getting that back through border control).
A pretty colored feather.
But part of respecting nature is leaving it peacefully and not ripping off flowers or extracting items just for novelty’s sake.
You can look, but don’t take.
In addition, this means absolutely no littering.
This one should be a no-brainer, but leaving any items of plastic is an absolute no.
Instead, take with you reusable items such as water bottles where possible so you avoid purchasing unnecessary plastic.
Additionally, any waste that you create should be taken with you – even if it’s something as simple as leftover food.
You might think you’re making a monkey’s day by giving it some leftover protein bar, when in fact this might contain horrifically toxic products which harm local wildlife and leads to said monkey’s early demise.
Being a visitor means maintaining respect, treading lightly, and never interfering with or littering the environment in which you are a guest.
2) Respect the local cultures
Traveling to a foreign place means you must always respect the local culture.
Indigenous or ethnic tourism is on the rise, and many of these guided Amazon tours will include visits to indigenous communities.
These interactions will involve participation in experiences such as preparing food or buying crafts, and can be beneficial to the local communities through providing outside sources of income.
However, if your intended trip involves such a visit, make sure it’s conducted in a way that allows for cultural exchange rather than exploitation and consider the nature of your visit.
Unfortunately, the term ‘human safari’ or ‘human zoo’ has also grown in recent years.
Any form of outside contact with these tribes could cause immense harm owing to how vulnerable they are to the diseases carried by other humans.
A mere cold could kill them.
So be sure to do thorough research if your visit includes interactions with local people, and pose yourself the traveler’s dilemma: to visit, learn and fund, or to avoid and in doing so prevent these people from earning the funds they now rely on to sustain themselves.
And when in doubt surrounding cultural practices, ask.
Don’t assume that you can take pictures, touch, or otherwise interact in ways you might assume to be acceptable without making sure first.
3) Be quiet
“OMG LOOK AT THAT COOL BIRD!”
Cue an onslaught of terrified and distraught animals that delve into fight-or-flight mode at the sound of a screeching human.
Alarming and foreign sounds can have a hugely detrimental impact upon local wildlife, such as causing birds to flee their nests and leave their babies to die.
Respecting the Amazonian ecosystem means observing it quietly.
You can marvel and admire, but do so without making any loud noises that will startle or anger local wildlife.
Plus, the quieter you are, the more able you are to immerse yourself in the natural sounds of the rainforest and get the most out of this incredible experience.
4) Don’t touch things
Like a kid in a candy store, you have to keep those sticky fingers off things.
Yes you can’t take things home, but you shouldn’t touch them either.
‘Wildlife Not Entertainers’ is a movement launched in 2015 aimed to expose cruelty in the wildlife tourism industry.
That means no cute selfies cuddling sloths.
No swimming with Pink river dolphins.
No wrapping anacondas around your necks.
The exploitation of Amazonian wildlife for tourist enjoyment is a terrifically cruel industry.
Seizing these creatures from their natural habitats does immense harm to the ecosystem in disrupting local wildlife populations.
What’s equally horrifying is that many of these cute creatures you get to snuggle for $15 live in appalling conditions, in cramped cages and chains, with no medical treatment.
The selfie-sloths, for example, are estimated to survive for only 6 months of this exploitation whilst they can live on average 20 years in the wild.
So avoid any forced interactions in which you’re offered the option of paying to touch animals.
Secondly, don’t touch anything in the wild either.
The sloth hanging peacefully from a tree doesn’t want you poking it anymore than the caged one does.
Interacting with wild animals can cause them to react in dangerous ways or can even lead to the spread of various diseases.
5) Choose a responsible tour operator (if traveling via one)
If an Amazon adventure is on your bucket-list, consider your tour operator (if you’re using one), and aim for a provider who focuses on proven sustainable operations.
Many tour operators will claim to pride themselves on sustainable practices yet offer services which in reality are far from this.
Additionally, various tour operators resort to unethical practices to gain a competitive advantage and attract customers (such as offering sloth cuddles).
So when choosing your tour operator, do your research.
This means going beyond what’s listed on their website and searching for real, unfiltered reviews from previous customers.
These you’ll be more likely to find on travel forums or other sites where reviews aren’t faked.
6) Choose sustainable activities
There are many types of methods available when it comes to exploring the Amazon.
So where possible, try and choose those which generate the lowest form of emissions.
For example: quad-biking or hiking?
Jeep tour or kayaking?
The latter are both examples of fun zero emission activities.
They neither contribute to the use of fossil fuels nor disturb local wildlife populations through noise or deforestation to create road tracks.
Plus, they allow you access to the more unique areas and the lack of noise means you’re more likely to encounter the rarer species during your exploration.
7) Pledge towards conservation efforts
Tourism in itself can help protect and preserve the natural Amazonian ecosystem in funding conservation projects.
Additionally, you can go one step further in assisting wildlife conservation and ecosystem preservation by donating to charities and organizations that protect the Amazon.
What’s likely is that after your visit, your eyes will be opened to the natural beauty and wonders that the Amazon has to offer.
You’ll likely also become more educated in the colossal impact that deforestation is having; in reducing biodiversity, disrupting the livelihood of local people, and wrecking natural ecosystems.
Supporting charities that work to raise awareness and combat deforestation can assist in protecting these ecosystems.
The donations don’t have to be monetary; there are also many ways in which you can volunteer, both in the Amazon and for these organizations through various remote positions.
This might include animal rehabilitation, conservation work, or tree planting.
So consider how you continue to support and protect the ecosystem even after your visit.
I want to visit the Amazon…
If visiting the Amazon is on your bucket-list (it sure is mine), just remember to keep sustainability and ecosystem protection at the forefront of your mind when planning your trip.
It’s probably one of the most adventurous journeys a person can take.
Owing to the extraordinary diversity of the Amazon, there are countless reasons for why you should visit.
However, the region is suffering so immensely, with an estimated 17% of the rainforest already lost.
It’s almost a case of go now, before the Amazon suffers so much that the natural beauty is lost to the bitter consequences of mankind and becomes increasingly barren.
Like the bleaching and death of vast areas of the Great Barrier Reef which look nothing like they did decades ago.
But broadly encouraging tourism without stressing the immense importance of doing so in a sustainable manner would only put an already suffering ecosystem at further risk.
So be adventurous.
Plan your trip.
Just remember that you are a guest in a vast and beautiful landscape, and the privilege of being a dutiful traveler is treating the land with the respect and reverence it deserves.