Rainforests travel guide

No one knows exactly how many species live in rainforests, but it’s thought that they contain about 50 percent of all life on land. Rainforests play a vital role in sustaining this incredible biodiversity, as well as all life on this planet. But our fight to protect them is failing. “You can go on about how we need to save the rainforest, but if local people can’t get food or can’t educate their children then it doesn’t mean an awful lot,” says Aled Evans, from our partner Undiscovered Destinations.
No matter how much we advocate for the protection of our rainforests, we will only be successful if we address inequalities of the people who live there.
That’s where responsible tourism steps in. It’s one of the best ways to sustain economies in rainforest areas, providing jobs that are an alternative source of income to logging, and paying the salaries of park rangers who guard against poachers. By traveling to visit the rainforests of the world, you can help prove how valuable they really are.
Keep reading to discover more about rainforest vacations.

Rainforests are…

essential for protecting the planet against climate change and providing habitats for a huge variety of often endemic species that simply wouldn’t exist without them.

Rainforests aren’t…

all the same. Visit the tall forests of Central Africa that hide elephants and gorillas, the jaguar jungles of the Amazon, and the avian paradise of Papua New Guinea.

What we rate & what we don’t

Underrated

Blending in

Whether it’s your accommodation, transport or the group you’re with, keeping things small and discreet offers better chances of seeing wildlife, puts less pressure on the local environment and provides you with a more intimate and exclusive experience. Small groups and small boat tours can access more remote parts of the rainforest, staying in small lodges surrounded by wildlife.

Congo rainforest

The world’s second largest rainforest is rarely discussed, despite the growing threat from deforestation. Few travelers will ever come here – which is exactly why you should. Not the heart of darkness of Joseph Conrad’s novella, the Congo rainforest is instead a fascinating landscape where you’ll discover traditional tribal cultures as yet untouched by tourism.

Plant life

Rainforests harbour an abundance of life, but that doesn’t mean frequent sightings. Much of the wildlife is small and hidden in the huge, leafy canopy above. Many travelers say that simply being under an enormous expanse of green – grown too dense for much sunlight to filter through to the rainforest floor – made more of an impression.

Family vacations

Not all rainforests are suitable places to take the kids, but some of our excellent tour companies in the Amazon and Borneo offer family vacations that are specifically designed with children in mind. For wildlife lovers, what better way could there be to spend a once-in-a-lifetime trip than sharing it with the whole family, both young and old?
Rated

Community tourism

Responsible community tourism is a great way for tourists to learn about local cultures and traditions, but on the community’s terms. Tourism initiatives that work with or are co-owned by indigenous groups ensure that your money goes directly to the community, helping to ensure the continued practice and sharing of knowledge of skills that are often at risk of disappearing.

Ecolodges

The best ecolodges don’t just have a minimal impact on rainforests – they help to restore them. Community-run and staffed lodges provide much-needed jobs and income to indigenous groups who will teach you about the riches of the rainforest. Your money also goes towards supporting conservation efforts in the surrounding area.

Birdlife

Rainforests are home to some incredible birdlife, including many species that are endemic to that part of the world. Birdwatchers can book specialist tours led by renowned conservationists. But you don’t have to be a keen birder to appreciate the sights and sounds of the jungle’s feathered inhabitants, from sloth-hunting harpy eagles to the dance of the Raggiana bird-of-paradise.

Responsible volunteering

Volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary or research center is a popular way to visit a rainforest, but be sure to do your research and only pick placements that can demonstrate the long-term benefits of the work they do. Hands-on volunteering with great apes, for example, requires training and a period of quarantine to prevent passing on diseases. This is not for tourists on a two-week trip.
Overrated

Independent travel

Small group or tailor made tours are the best way to experience the rainforests. First off, the best areas of untouched rainforests are in some of the least accessible and least visited parts of the world. Secondly, for the best chance of seeing incredible wildlife, you’ll need an expert local guide who knows where to find it.

Prioritising wildlife over people

Some conservation projects have clashed with indigenous groups. There have been incidences where people have been prevented from hunting, displaced – and worse. Conservation must be done in collaboration with local communities, whose knowledge of plants and wildlife is invaluable, like in Borneo’s Batang Ai National Park or at community-owned ecolodges in the Amazon.

Animal souvenirs

Tourists demanding to see native wildlife fuel the illegal poaching of animals that are kept in cages in homes and brought out to tour groups who pay to take selfies with sloths, parrots and anteaters. Buying animal items made from feathers, skins or fur also encourages poaching. Be sure that your only wildlife souvenirs are photos of (usually distant) wild animals.

Following the crowd

Rainforests can also suffer from overtourism, particularly smaller forests with popular hiking trails. Avoid adding to the problem by traveling with a responsible guide who knows the less-trodden trails, so you can experience the sound of the forest without distractions. Alternatively, visit outside the peak season, or simply avoid more developed areas altogether.

Our top Rainforest Vacation

Malaysia tours, rainforests and beaches

Malaysia tours, rainforests and beaches

Explore Malaysia staying in sustainable hotels

From £3230 14 days inc UK flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Rainforest or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Types of rainforest vacations

Adventure

You could argue that any rainforest vacation is an adventure, but some tours are specifically geared towards a little more excitement. Rainforest adventure vacations are sometimes small group tours that include an extra day or two of white water rafting or mountain biking alongside more typical activities. More adrenaline-fuelled tours include a nine-day rainforest trek, and a month-long Congo River expedition

Cultural

Indigenous people have lived in rainforests for thousands of years and many are involved in responsible rainforest tourism, sometimes working as guides or running community-owned ecolodges. Some tours offer the chance to stay with tribes in their traditional homes and share their meals. You may have the chance to watch a spiritual ceremony, a demonstration of music or crafting, learn how to create tattoo ink from plants or practise blow-pipe shooting.

Conservation & volunteering

Volunteering vacations can be hard work but incredibly rewarding. Some are based at wildlife sanctuaries where volunteers can help with feeding, cleaning enclosures, constructing habitats and providing enrichment for injured wildlife. Some may include data collection, animal tracking and surveying tasks for conservation and research centers. Others may involve tree planting to help regenerate areas of rainforest or joining a night patrol and checking camera traps.

Family adventures

Family tours are run by experts who specifically design trips for families, or are tailor made to meet your family’s needs. Lodges are often set up with adjoining rooms and activities are selected with young adventurers in mind. Some are ideal for children aged eight and over, while others are better suited to older children and teenagers, and dates are usually offered to fit around school vacations.

Wildlife watching

Wildlife watching tours offer the best possible chance of seeing the birds, animals, butterflies and reptiles that live among the world’s rainforests. While no tour can guarantee sightings, those that are led by experienced local wildlife guides stand more chance of spotting some of the elusive jungle inhabitants. Some wildlife vacations feature visits to national parks, whereas others take a more focused approach: gorilla trekking in Central and Southern Africa or harpy eagle watching in Brazil.

Types of rainforest

Forests in the Amazon, Congo Basin, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are equatorial rainforests – often considered to be “real” rainforests. Here, the temperature and hours of sunlight vary little with the seasons, roughly 2,000mm of rain falls throughout the year, and they are home to the highest biological diversity. But there are other types of rainforest, too.

The other main kind of tropical rainforests are the less inspiringly named moist forests, made up of monsoon and cloud forests. Found in parts of South America, South East Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean, these forests are usually further from the equator, sometimes on higher land, and experience more seasonal changes and a little less rainfall overall.

The often forgotten rainforests are temperate. These are found in wet oceanic regions, including New Zealand, the Pacific Northwest, the west coasts of Scotland and Wales, Southern Norway and south-western South America. They are either coniferous or broadleaf forests, or a mix of both, and are characterised by a floor of mosses and ferns.

In rainforest conservation, the terms primary and secondary come up a lot. Primary forests have never been significantly touched by humans; they are extremely scarce, especially in Europe. Along with old-growth forests – mature forests with a small human footprint – they support the greatest biodiversity. Depending on the forest, trees range from a few hundred to almost 1,000 years old. Some of the best examples can be found in South America in the Amazon rainforest.

Secondary forests are forests that have been damaged by human activity (such as logging, road building and mining) or which have regrown from an area that has previously been cleared. They are characterised by smaller, younger trees and less biodiversity.
Written by Bryony Cottam
Photo credits: [Page banner: Breno Machado] [Rainforests are: Patty Ho] [Underrated: Anna & Michal] [Rated: OBORE / Projeto Reporter do Futuro] [Overrated: Murray Foubister] [Advneture: Andres Medina] [Families: F Delventhal] [Types of rainforest: Fabio Fistarol]