Planning an Amazon vacation

(Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press, MCT)

It's easier than you think, and you should be able to do it for about $3,000, including a flight from the U.S. and staying at a good ecolodge. You need to be moderately physically fit and be able to climb stairs and walk well on uneven surfaces and muddy trails. Here are the main choices for exotic fun:

Ecuador

Ecuador's Amazon in the El Oriente region is a delight of rain forest and animal diversity. It is also simpler than other Amazon trips.

Fly into: Quito is less than a five-hour flight from Houston; take an additional 30-minute flight on Ecuador's AeroGal (modern Airbus jets) to Coca, the jumping-off point for most Ecuador Amazon adventures.

Main tourist areas : Ecolodges along the Napo River, east of Coca. The Napo is a main tributary of the mighty Amazon River.

Could combine with visits to: Quito and the Galapagos Islands.

Popularity : Ecuador had 227,000 tourist arrivals from the U.S. last year, according to Euromonitor International.

For more: Ecuador Ministry of Tourism, http://ecuador.travel/; Latin Destinations (www.latindestinations.com, 866-645-2846).

Peru

Where the Amazon River proper begins; lots of choices for Amazon cruises or ecolodges.

Fly into: Lima, then Iquitos or Cusco to start your trip.

Main tourist areas : Ecolodges or cruises near Iquitos or Tambopata Reserve (southern Peru).

Could combine with visits to: Machu Picchu, Lima.

Popularity : Peru had 423,000 tourist arrivals from the U.S. last year, according to Euromonitor International.

For more: Peru Tourism Bureau, http://www.visitperu.com; Adventure Life (www.adventure-life.com, 800-344-6118); REI (www.rei.com/adventures, 800-622-2236), or Greentracks (www.greentracks.com, 970-884-6107).

—Brazil

Brazil covers 60 percent of the Amazon region, so it offers many cruises and lodges, and it has a big tourism industry.

Fly into: Manaus, a city of 1.7 million. There are nonstops from Miami. Unfortunately, a lot of flights from the U.S. stop first in Rio or Sao Paulo — 1,600 miles south — then backtrack north. You also need a $140 visa to get into Brazil.

Can combine with visits to: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Bel em