Top 8 animals to spot in the Amazon

The Amazon is home to one in ten of all known wildlife species in the world, and about half of the globe’s tropical forests. With such a rich ecological scene it is almost impossible to choose our favourites, but here are our top 8 Amazonian animal highlights
Sloth climbing a tree in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock
Sloth climbing a tree in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Sloths are a must-see on your trip to the Amazon. Photo: Shutterstock

The Amazon jungle sprawls across Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. This gargantuan area of dense forest can sustain a staggering 1,300 bird species, 3,000 fish types, nearly 450 mammals and 2.5 million insects. Search Insight Guides’ wildlife trips today, pick a tour that takes in the Amazon, and look out for these magnificent creatures…

1. Giant otter

The giant otter or giant river otter can grow up to a hefty 6ft (1.8 metres) long. This endangered species – formerly hunted for its thick pelt – is sometimes referred to as the ‘river wolf’, feeding on fish (including piranhas), small reptiles and birds. Giant otters are extremely sociable animals. Behaviours including grooming, hunting and vocalising help to consolidate group bonds. Look out for these incredible animals on Insight Guides’ The Andes to the Amazon: Peru explored trip.

2. Three-toed sloth

This popular topsy-turvy creature is the world’s slowest mammal. So slow that algae actually grows on its fur, sloths spend their time dangling from tree branches, mainly sleeping – for some 15 to 20 hours every day. Long claws wrap around the trees, keeping them firmly lodged. Their diet consists of leaves, shoots and fruit. Sloths are clumsy and defenceless on land, however they are surprisingly agile in the water. See a sloth up close on our Galapagos & Amazon (East to West on M/Y Beluga) trip.  

3. Monkeys

Monkeys come in all different shapes and sizes; so many live in the treetops of the Amazon rainforest that new species are still being discovered. Likely sightings include capuchin, squirrel and howler monkeys. Capuchin monkeys have dark arms, legs and tails, the rest of their bodies being white or cream. They are loud and often characterised as lazy. The squirrel monkey is one of the smallest species and can measure as little as 10ins (25cm) from head to tail-tip. Squirrel monkeys are incredibly sociable and live in troops that number around 40 or 50, which often split into sub-groups, dispersing during the day to feed. The troop regroups at night to sleep as one – helping to affirm bonds but also for safety. Howler monkeys – yes, you guessed it – are extremely vocal. The sound of the dawn or dusk howler-monkey chorus can be heard a whopping 3 miles (5km away). Spot these magnificent creatures for yourself on Insight Guides’ Galapagos & Amazon (East to West on M/Y Beluga) trip. 

Howler monkeys are another must-see on your trip to the Amazon. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Jaguar

The majestic jaguar, decorated with rosettes, once roamed all the way from Argentina to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Today, most of the world’s jaguars live in the Amazon basin, enjoying a varied diet of both meat and fish, including deer, snakes, monkeys, sloths, frogs, turtles and even crocodiles. Jaguars are noted for their surprising love of water, and can often be found hunting, swimming or simply playing in streams and pools.

5. Blue and yellow macaw

These bright and beautiful birds breed in the tropical Amazon rainforest. Extremely vibrant, with blue wings, a golden underbelly and a green forehead, the blue and yellow macaw is also one of the most intelligent types of macaw. Some can effectively copy human speech. They feed on nuts, seeds and fruits from the treetops and mate for life, often gathering in flocks and squawking their way through the jungle. Listen out for them on our The Andes to the Amazon: Peru explored trip.    

6. Caiman

This close relation of the alligator and the crocodile is typically the most aggressive of the three. Look out for the black and spectacled caiman on Insight Guides’ Galapagos and Amazon (Western Islands on M/Y Beluga) tour.  The black caiman, found in rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and swamps around South America, can grow to an enormous 20ft (6 metres) long. Their teeth are not designed to tear up their food; instead, they swallow their prey whole. Slightly less fearsome is the spectacled caiman, which rarely grows to more than 8ft (2.5 metres). Characterised by the bony triangular ridge above their eyes, young spectacled caiman have black spots, while adults are an olive green. 


Close-up view of a spectacled caiman (caiman crocodilus). Photo: Shutterstock

7. Exotic fish

The Amazon basin contains more species of fish (many endemic) than any other river basin in the world. The enormous paiche, which can reach 10ft (3 metres) long, is one of the biggest freshwater fish on earth, and would be an impressive spot on our The Andes to the Amazon: Peru explored trip. Another infamous inhabitant of the Amazon river is the piranha – a carnivorous fish with razor-sharp teeth. In reality a rather timid specimen, the piranha may have got some unfairly bad press. With piranhas being extremely unlikely to ever attack a human, it is – although it may seem counterintuitive – generally safe to swim in piranha-inhabited waters.

8. Capybara

This peculiar looking animal is the world’s largest rodent, at about 2ft (60cm) tall. It is semi-aquatic, and while it has shaggy brown hair and a beaver-like face, its feet are slightly webbed. The water helps to keep the capybara’s skin from drying out. It’s eyes, ears and nostrils are located near the top of its head – like a hippo's – keeping it alert while wallowing in the water. Capybaras feed on grasses, reeds, grains and even melons and squashes. See these oversized rodents on Insight Guides’ Sailing the Galapagos (Western Islands on M/S Cachalote) trip.


Ready to take your trip to South America with Insight Guides?

Browse available trip itineraries online now or talk to a local expert today to create your holiday from scratch

Still not convinced? Don't miss these 7 reasons your next trip should feature wildlife