Have woodland walks got you dreaming of something bigger? Here are some of the best rainforest adventures on earth. For more holiday ideas, see our 1,000 Dream Trips.
Ecuador’s mighty Amazon
Explore the jungle-lined channels of the narrow, meandering Rio Napo by canoe, for birdwatching, animal spotting and memorable encounters with indigenous people.
Why it’s special
The headlands of the Amazon in Ecuador are known to botanists and butterfly experts around the world as a biodiversity hotspot. A great maze of rivers and streams feeds long, meandering tributaries such as the Napo and Putumayo, which have their sources up in the Andes. The lesser rivers, which traverse dense jungle, are ideal for motor-canoe journeys, and the focus here is on jungle walks and human-powered paddling into the tree-lined channels.
The Napo, in Ecuador’s Oriente region, is the home of the Huaorani people – one of very few extant indigenous cultures found close to the riverbanks. Accessed overland from Coca, a hub for the petrochemical industry and something of a Wild West town, or by means of short flights in prop planes, are a handful of comfortable riverside lodges managed by indigenous co-ops or eco-minded operators, providing handy bases for an encounter with the extraordinary local people – and the rainforest, their ancient home.
The Yasuni National Park, on the south bank of the Napo is home to hundreds of bird species. It’s a major site for Amazonian mammals, including monkeys, marmosets and squirrels, and is of global importance for the variety of its bat and amphibian species. To the north of the river, the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, with the Río Aguarico slicing through its heart – is harder to access and consequently more pristine. Freshwater dolphins and endangered river otters inhabit the waters close to the Peruvian border. A dizzying variety of palms, guavas and native trees make up the more than 200 tree species per hectare.
Cameroon's Tarzan territory
Set off on a well-beyond-the beaten-track adventure into the Cameroon, king of the jungles, and the soul of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s West Africa.
Why it’s special
For any number of reasons, Cameroon is the ultimate West African destination. Beyond the overwhelming colour, velocity and energy of the port city of Douala, the equatorial coast curves into the very definition of Tarzan territory. Past rubber trees and banana plantations, the rainforest meets the shipwreck beach of Limbe, where lumbering silverbacks and chimps fool around in the canopies below Mount Cameroon, West Africa’s most volatile volcano. North of here, amid the creepers and vines of the Nkongsamba jungle, is thundering Ekom-Nkam Falls, a dual cascade that plummets from a jaw-dropping 270ft-high escarpment, down into a utopian, misted ravine.
Used as a location in the film Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, this is where Hollywood camped out in the mid-1980s during production – and the waterfalls really couldn’t be bettered as the ultimate hideout. Here, framed by volcanoes letting off steam and soundtracked by monkey hoots and hollers, the story of Viscount Greystoke makes sense at last.
Thailand’s ancient jungle
One of the world’s oldest rainforests, outdating even the Amazon, Khao Sok National Park is one of Thailand’s standout attractions.
Why it’s special
Rugged mountains, waterfall-washed rainforest, lakes as large as cities, leaves as big as duvets, limestone karsts looming as tall as skyscrapers... Khao Sok National Park is a natural wonderland. It’s also home to 48 species of mammals, including wild elephants, sun bears, muntjac deer and fluffy black and white langurs, as well as hundreds of different species of birds, reptiles and amphibians.
The best bit is it’s all easily accessible from Phuket, but with barely a tourist in sight. Spend your days long-tailing across Cheow Lan Lake to secret cave temples, on walking safaris in search of elephants, or plugged into a rubber ring floating down a real-life lazy river. Accommodation options include simple treehouses in the basic but brilliant Our Jungle House and the dreamy floating rooms at Elephant Hills Tented Camp.
Borneo’s wild east rainforests
For astonishing wildlife, the rainforests and wetlands of eastern Sabah are unbeatable. Your first orangutan moment will stay with you forever.
Why it’s special
Borneo has a poor reputation for deforestation, but the surviving rainforest and wetlands of Eastern Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) are incredibly rich in wildlife and visually stunning. The rainforest and mangroves that straddle the Kinabatangan river are home to wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants and sun bears. Nothing – absolutely nothing – can prepare you for the sight of a wild orangutan neatly putting its bedtime nest together high in the canopy. If your luck is really in, you may see a herd of pygmy elephants splashing their way along the riverbank.
Afterwards you can fly to Sabah’s capital and enjoy some R&R at the Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria resort, which has its own reserve of rainforest with guided trails along which you can see pangolins, pit vipers and tarsiers.