As Brazil hits the headlines for the wrong reasons, the Bespoke Brazil’s Director Simon Williams explains the impact of the Amazon fires on the region and the ways in which this will and will not affect your trip.
During the last couple of weeks, Brazil has once again been in the world media for negative reasons, this time because of the devastating fires raging in Amazonia. Although these are not confined to Brazil alone, the majority of them are within Brazil. Understandably, several clients have contacted us worried about visiting the area.
Should We Be Concerned About the Fires?
From an environmental perspective, of course. The new government in Brazil have time and time again shown a very low regard for the environment, prioritising ruthless economic development of the Amazon basin over the conservation of the forest ecosystem. This has been an ongoing concern for all who work in Brazilian tourism and care about the country since President Jair Bolsonaro came to power. Deforestation continues at a rapid pace and the government actively encourage these damaging environmental practices.
However, as a visitor heading to the Amazon for touristic purposes, on a personal level, there is little to be concerned about. Forest fires in Brazil do happen every year around this time, albeit that this year they have been worse than many previous years. The main areas which visitors head to in the Amazon are concentrated around Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, which are very much unaffected by the fires you see in the news. Most of the fires are not in the state of Amazonas, but in the state of Rondônia which is many hundreds of miles from Manaus.
While the news reports are indeed alarming for a plethora of reasons, there is no risk to your experience in the Amazon, either on river cruises or when staying in a lodge in the Manaus area.
I first visited the Amazon in the year 2000, first in Bolivia (also suffering from widespread forest fires) and then in Peru – where I took a river boat from Iquitos to Benjamin Constant in Brazil. I then boarded a small speedboat to Leticia in Colombia, walked back into Brazil at Tabatinga and continued the length of the Amazon River to Manaus and finally onto Belem, where the river meets the Atlantic. It was nine full days of travel in Brazil alone, and it is sometimes hard to grasp the grand size of Amazonia in Brazil. The forested region is as big as the continental United States.
So yes, the pace of deforestation has increased, but the scale is so large that this is mercifully not yet perceivable in the State of Amazonas. There is currently no smoke in the air around Manaus and the all-important rainy season will soon be coming to hopefully bring these tragic fires under control. The State of Amazonas is only about 3% deforested and where most Amazon cruises take place, on the Rio Negro, there is no commercial logging or agricultural development at all – so you can still enjoy the wild forest at its best, even during this difficult period for the rainforest as a whole.
More than ever, these fires and the associated social and political conversations they have provoked, have underlined the importance of responsible eco-tourism projects that can make the forest worth more to the local community left as it is, than burned for farmland.
I think it is a great time to visit Amazonia and to understand why the rainforest is so important to we tourists who live thousands of miles away. Experiencing the magic of the rainforest first-hand is a great way to truly understand the environmental effect humans can have on the planet, but crucially also the positive impact we can have through eco-tourism.
The fires in the Amazon this summer are an almost unprecedented environmental tragedy, however, if you already have trips booked on cruises or lodges over the coming months, your safety in Amazonia is not at risk. Your stay in the forest is in fact a vital part of supporting the future of the Amazon for generations to come.
For further information on the fires and what you can do to help, please visit the Rainforest Alliance. Through their webpage, you can learn more about everyday rainforest activism, find out more about certified sustainable products, and also explore ways to donate to grassroots organisations on the frontline of protecting the Amazon. For more information on the Amazon and places to stay, click here.