What to see in the Amazon Rainforest: 5 Species to Spot on Your Trip (7 minute read)

(Last Updated On: June 9, 2023)

The Amazon Rainforest, known by many as the “Lungs of the Earth”, is the most biodiverse place on the planet. It is crucial for climate stability in Latin America and the world. Stretching across eight countries, including Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia, it covers more than 40% of the continent, despite decades of deforestation and human exploitation.

The majority of our Peru tours visit the Amazon. This gives travellers the chance to explore a stretch of this vast wilderness. Visitors can stay in eco-lodges or take an Amazon cruise, and spend their time canoeing the waterways of the Amazon’s tributaries, enjoying nature walks and listening to the sounds of the canopy.

Perhaps the most famous animal known to inhabit the jungle is the jaguar, a cat which rivals the tiger for size, and yet is rarely seen by travellers thanks to its preference for sticking to the dense jungle. Whilst you need to be incredibly lucky to spot a jaguar on your trip to the Amazon, you may hear one – its coughing raw can be heard for miles around. And there are plenty of more abundant species that you can spot. If you’re thinking about booking one of our Peru tours and wondering what to see in the Amazon then read on – here are five of the species you are most likely to spot!


What to see in the Amazon


If you head out on one of the Amazon’s tributaries after dark, accompanied by a powerful headtorch, then you are almost guaranteed to see the jet black eyes of caiman crocodiles poking out of the water. And if you head out during the day, then you can see these crocs bathing on the sandy beaches of the waterways. There are 4 species of caiman crocodile in Peru. The dwarf caiman is the smallest, whilst the rarer black caiman can grow to be 15-feet in length.

What to see in the Amazon: a caiman crocodile in Peru
A caiman crocodile in the Peruvian Amazon


The Amazon is home to all manner of colourful birds, including the red, blue, yellow and purple, scarlet macaw. These are a common sight in Puerto Maldonado, where they gather at clay licks to feed on the salt. Another species to look out for is the toucan, with its famous curved beak. There are many different species, but the toco toucan is the one you probably think of when picturing this bird. This is the largest species with a distinct orange beak, and it is fairly common across the Amazon basin.


The best thing about seeing a sloth in the Amazon is that even if you left your camera on the other side of the world, you’ll be able to nip home and get it, safe in the knowledge your new friend won’t have moved when you get back. This infamously lazy resident of the Amazon moves so little that it is not unusual for moss to start growing on the fur of an individual – this actually helps it blend in and avoid predators. Sloths can be found clinging to the lower branches of trees or munching on delicious leaves. Both two-toed and three-toed sloths can be seen in the Peruvian Amazon. However, they are hard to spot despite the lack of movement.

A three-toed sloth in the Peruvian Amazon
What to see in the Amazon? How about an adorable three-toed sloth?

Squirrel Monkey

Squirrel monkeys are one of the most abundant monkey species in the Amazon. They are therefore one of the species you are most likely to encounter on your trip to the Amazon. These adorable and curious creatures live in large groups, dominated by females. Capuchins are also commonly seen on our Peru tours. These highly intelligent and curious creatures do not fear man, and many an eco-lodge chef has caught them raiding kitchens to satisfy their diverse diet.


Capybaras are the largest rodent in the world and are found throughout the Amazon Rainforest. Theirs is a life spent near the water. They are good swimmers and have webbed feet to help them swim and stay afloat. They can even sleep in the water, keeping just their nose above the surface. Capybaras can often be seen on riverbanks in family groups. Occasionally, they can also be seen in the grounds of ecolodges. They come to the clearings provided for travellers at these lodges in order to eat the grass which is scarcer in the deep forest. They are also a crucial source of prey for the Amazon’s predators, namely jaguar, anaconda, ocelot and caiman.

What to see in the Amazon: a capybara family on the banks of the river
A family of capybara on the banks of a river in the Amazon Basin

And if you’re really lucky…


Number one on most people’s list of what to see in the Amazon Rainforest. It’s the most iconic species to inhabit the jungle and the one that all travellers want to see. But you have to be extremely lucky to see a jaguar. These elusive cats tend to stay hidden deep in the jungle. Your best chance to see them is when they come down to the river to drink and to hunt, particularly at dawn and dusk. Jaguars love the water, and can also be seen basking in the sun on the riverbanks. Far more likely is that you will hear the sawing roar of the jaguar or see fresh tracks in the soft Amazonian mud. Travelling to Peru on a group tour means you will be escorted by an expert guide. This gives you the best chance to spot this true king of the jungle.


It’s something of a paradox that the Amazon’s largest creatures are the hardest to spot. The pig-like tapir is the largest herbivore to be found in the region, and another favoured prey of the jaguar. And like their predators, tapirs are elusive, preferring to stay hidden in the trees. They are nocturnal, and can sometimes be seen at clay licks. Here, like parrots, they get many of the nutrients needed to sustain themselves.

A tapir in the Peruvian Amazon
A tapir in the Peruvian Amazon

Pink river dolphin

The iconic pink river dolphin is an endangered species, which inhabits many of the main waterways of the Amazon basin. To spot them, you need to head further away from civilization to more pristine and undisturbed jungle. Here they feed on crabs and other crustaceans at the bottom of the river. Additionally, they can be seen leaping above the river in a flash of pink for any extremely lucky and patient travellers who happen to be in the area. River dolphins are usually seen alone or in pairs. But in extremely rare cases groups of up to 30 animals will work together to target prey, such as a shoal of fish. 

Harpy Eagle

Known for the crown of feathers on its head, the Harpy eagle is the largest raptor in the Amazon. And it’s one of the biggest eagles in the world. The bird inhabits the upper canopy of the jungle, so seeing them from the ground is near impossible. As with many Amazonian species, the river is the best place to see them. It is possible to catch a glimpse as they break cover from the trees and glide across the water to the other bank. Harpy eagles feed on monkeys, sloths and other small mammals, and can fly at 50 miles per hour.

What to see in the Amazon: if you're lucky, a harpy eagle
You would be lucky to see a harpy eagle on your trip to the amazon

So now you know what to see in the Amazon! Admittedly, unlike a safari in Africa, it is difficult to see many of the jungle’s species, because they like to remain hidden in the dense jungle. But staying near the river and taking advantage of trained local guides gives you the best chance possible to see jaguars, harpy eagles, river dolphins and more. Browse our range of Peru tours if you’d like an Amazon adventure of your own.