An excruciating death by candiru fish, being shredded by piranhas, a demise by dengue fever, killer jaguars, electric eels, crocodiles, pirates and a plethora of poisonous plants, reptiles and amphibians. These are some of the dangers that, according to Hollywood, await the Amazon traveler. But while the vast and remote reaches of the Amazon, with two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity, can be a harsh environment, the chances of death and destruction are left to the big screen. With precautions, an unforgettable rain forest trip can be had without fearing for your life.
Clear and Present Precaution
Wear quick drying, long sleeved shirts, long pants, a hat, hiking shoes or boots to protect against bites, stings, cuts and the sun. Special leech socks are ideal for jungle treks as the Amazon is an especially wet, leech friendly environment. Unless you are doing virgin jungle treks in extremely remote areas, treks and tours in the Amazon are guided, well-trodden path activities with little threat of danger. Adopt a look but don’t touch attitude, and above all, listen to the tips and advice of local guides.
Piranhas rarely attack humans; mostly only when being fished, in the water around dead animals or in low, isolated waters. Most piranha species are actually herbivores. Little evidence of invasions by the dreaded candiru -- a tiny parasite fish attracted to urine, which enters the urethra, causing hemorrhaging and even death -- actually exists. But don’t urinate in the water. People swim in the Amazon, and the chances of stepping on a croc or a deadly snake are low. Generally, wild animals tend to avoid humans unless provoked.
Vibrant colored poison dart frogs and butterfly species, or plants laced with strychnos and curare are deadly toxic, yet you are unlikely to be eating any of them. Bites or stings from Brazilian wandering spiders, scorpions, wasps or stingrays can be painfully poisonous, but rarely deadly. Always inspect clothes, shoes and sheets for hidden creatures before dressing or sleeping. The biggest danger of poisoning in the Amazon comes from the venom of coral snakes, bushmasters and vipers -- often fatal if not treated. Many Amazon engendered poisons have been derived into anti-toxins, medicines and anesthetics.
Mosquitoes abound in the Amazon and are potential carriers of malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever. Practice prevention before traveling with vaccinations, malaria prophylaxes, and checking for regional outbreaks -- each of these diseases can be treated. Buy insect repellents regionally from local brands rather than all-purpose bug-off spray from home. The Amazon's hot, humid conditions tend to breed bacteria and parasites that can lead to nasty gastrointestinal problems -- preventable by ensuring food is washed or cooked thoroughly. Antibiotics and specialized medicine are available at local pharmacies generally without a prescription.
- The New York Times: Shocking Truth About Piranhas Revealed!
- Wiley Online Library: Journal of Travel Medicine; Candiru – A Little Fish With Bad habits: Need Travel Health Professionals Worry? A review
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Poison Dart Frog Fact Sheet
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Strychnos toxifera
- Peru Nature: Brazilian Wandering Spider
- All About Wildlife: Rain Forest Snakes
- New York Times: Poisonous Tree Frog Could Bring Wealth to Tribe in Brazilian Amazon
- Photo Credit Peter Jochems/iStock/Getty Images ineb1599/iStock/Getty Images
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