Sailing down Brazil's beautiful Tapajós river

From exploring indigenous villages to feeling a soft breeze while sailing, this cruise has much to offer

Sunset over the Tupaiú, a yacht with an “antique charm”
Sunset over the Tupaiú, a yacht with an “antique charm”
(Image credit: Cazenove+Loyd)

Classic films set in the Amazon rainforest tend to evoke a place "rife with danger and disease", poisonous snakes and biting insects. But on a cruise on Brazil's Tapajós river – one of the Amazon's great tributaries – you don't feel at risk at all, says Paul Richardson in the FT. The river's clear blue waters are free of piranhas, allowing for "delightful" swimming, and too acidic to support mosquitoes. The river is so wide you sometimes feel as though you are at sea, and the sun often rises and sets over the water. There are beaches with sand so soft that it squeaks underfoot; the forest itself is a place of "dreamlike" beauty. And if you choose the right boat, the experience can be very relaxing, with good food, cocktails and convivial chatter. 

Built in Manaus in 1987, the Tupaiú is a wooden yacht with panelled cabins and "simple comforts" that lend it an "antique charm". It is now operated by the Amazon cruise company Kaiara, which offers five-day voyages from Santarém, where the blue waters of the Tapajós meet the pale-brown Amazon, forming a clearly visible line. At the city's harbour, "big-bellied riverboats" like Mississippi steamers stand broiling in the heat.

Out on the water, however, a fresh breeze fans the Tupaiú's open-sided decks. I spotted fishermen's canoes, and also a barge carrying soya grown in deforested areas for export to China. Kaiara's guides talk frankly about the environmental crisis in the Amazon. The yacht heads down smaller rivers to indigenous villages where local women lead trips into the forest to learn about traditional remedies. There are swimming stops at beaches where guests are plied with iced caipirinhas. Dinners are served beneath the stars on remote sandbars. And on night safaris by canoe, the world of the movies feels closer as guides scour the riverbank with their headlamps, catching "a thousand eyes" glinting in the dark. 

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Cazenove+Loyd has a week-long trip from £3,800pp.

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