Prepare for The Jungle in 8 Steps

The idea of visiting a jungle is quite enchanting, isn’t it? But perhaps a rainforest-run is… I don’t know… a bit daunting? Well, it doesn’t have to be.

If you’ve never been on an excursion through the rainforest, the days leading up to your jungle journey can be anxiety-ridden. It’s natural to be nervous before embarking on an experience completely foreign to you. To put your mind at ease, use the days before your trip to prepare. Every trip to the jungle is a different experience and adventure. It is impossible to predict exactly what you will do, see and even need. But if you follow the steps laid out here, you will surely be among the more savvy, ready-for-anything explorers.

I have stayed in jungle lodges throughout Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. I camped wilderness-style in the Amazon on 3 separate occasions for up to 8 days at a time. And, I have also visited smaller jungles in Costa Rica, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. My days exploring the magical wonders of the world’s rainforests are far from over.

The following preparation tips come entirely from experience, trial and error. Each jungle trip I make, I feel more prepared than before.


1) combat insects.jpg1. Prepare to Combat Pesky Insects

The number 1 fear people have of the jungle is insects. And yes, you will encounter bugs. Large and small. Harmless and harmful.

Believe it or not, the creepy crawlers are part of the beauty of the jungle. They come in an impressive range of shapes, colors, and sizes. Some fly and others crawl. They play a crucial role in keeping the rainforest alive and thriving by spreading and transferring plant materials, and through their part in the food chain.

But, many of these buzzing buggers are pesky, annoying, and even dangerous. So it’s important before you head into the jungle to plan accordingly in order to protect yourself from bugs.

Is it really that important to plan ahead for insects?

Yes.

Maybe you are worried about encountering a blood-thirsty jaguar on your trip to the jungle. But that is extremely unlikely. The jungle’s most dangerous living creatures are actually insects. And you will most definitely encounter insects during your rainforest adventure.

In particular, you will need protection from mosquitos, tics, and sand flies.

Why?
  1. They are annoying. Can cause itchy, burning bumps and rashes that can last for days or weeks after your trip to the jungle.
  2. Insects carry and transfer life-threatening diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever.
  3. Many people are allergic to certain insect bites and stings.
How to prepare:
  1. Bug Spray – There are many types. What is right for you depends on many factors. Higher levels of DEET are more toxic, but known for effectiveness. Maybe products exist that are DEET free, and may be sufficient.
    •  Do not handle any wildlife if you have any sprays or lotions on. It can be harmful and deadly to other creatures.
  2. Garlic – Amazingly, mosquitos are put-off by the garlic aroma. And although many people are as well, it’s worth the stink.
    • Eat lots of yummy over-garlic’ed meals. Bring a bulb of garlic cloves with you and add a sprinkling to your jungle dishes.
    • If you would rather deal with the constant aftertaste of garlic you can bring garlic pills. Aside from warding off the blood-suckers, garlic pills have loads of other health benefits.
  3. Complete B Vitamin – I picked up this tip from locals in the Bolivian Amazon. Apparently, building up a strong set of your vitamin B’s may also detract unwanted buzzing biters. In Spanish-speaking countries the vitamin is known as Complejo B. PersonallyI recommend a good daily dose of Vitamin B even if you aren’t avoiding mosquitos. It can majorly help energy levels and overall bodily health.
  4. Carry anti-itch remedies – Despite your best efforts, it’s almost inevitable that you will get bit by something at some point. So it’s good to arrive prepared to combat the annoying symptoms attached to those pesky critters.
    • Menthol – You can buy small pots of menthol gels (like Dollar Sun – a popular brand in South America). Rubbing this on your bites can be soothing, and the smell has an added bonus of deterring mosquitos from coming back.
    • Caladryl/Calamine Lotions – Products like these may be hard to come by closer to the jungle. So if you have trusted products that work for you, bring them from home.
    • Local pharmacy recommendations – I have often asked a local pharmacist for whatever their best suggestion is. They will know the local products and can steer you in a reasonable direction.
    • Lemon – No gimmicks here. It’s as simple as it sounds. Cut open a lemon and squeeze the juice over your itchy bumps. Just please don’t be mad at me when it stings (a lot), because after the sting you will forget about those annoying itchy spots completely (for a while).
    • Jungle Remedies – Your guide is (hopefully) quite knowledgable about medicinal plants of the jungle. So if you are suffering the itch, don’t hesitate to ask them if they can help you muster-up some rainforest remedies. There is actually a tree in jungle with roots that are filled with natural juices that can alleviate the irritating itch.
  5. Clothing – The clothing you wear makes a big difference in weather or not you get bit.
    • White, or light – Supposedly lighter colors attract fewer mosquitos. This is a local tip in/around the Amazon.
    • Baggy – Wear loose-fitting clothing so the insects cannot reach your skin. If your clothing is tight and fitted, most types of mosquitos can bite right through the fabric. So, leggings are a no.
    • Spray your clothes – I never recommend putting bug spray directly on your skin. Instead, give your clothing an added shield of protection by spraying them down instead.
  6. If you know you have an allergy to ants, bees, etc., plan accordingly and carry your EpiPen or allergen medications with you in case of encounter. *Do not go into the jungle without emergency medications if you have a known insect allergy. Although the jungle is filled with natural remedies for many of these allergens and toxins, there is no guarantee that your guide can quickly find the necessary natural cures.

Of course, not everyone agrees about what works in fighting off mosquitos. Read an expert opinion.

Despite different “expert” opinions, I live by the jungle philosophy of: “I will try everything I can to keep the bugs away!”


2) appropriate clothing.jpg2. Pack Jungle Appropriate Clothing

We covered clothing slightly in step 1, because clothing is part of your shield against mosquitos and tics. And while it’s one of most important factors, there is still more to consider of your jungle fashion than keeping off unwanted insects.

Things to consider of your Jungle Fashion choices:
  1. Heat – Most of the time, the jungle is very hot. But it can get cold. If you are visiting during rainy season chances of a chill are increased. Late at night and before or after rain, you may want a light jacket or sweater. It may never be cold enough in the sweltering humidity to warrant an added layer. But it’s better to be prepared, right?
  2. Rain – It’s very likely that you and your things will get wet in the jungle. Keep this in mind when picking out your clothing. A lightweight poncho can be a worthwhile thing to have with you. Keep in mind that it gets uncomfortably hot under a plastic poncho. For this reason, I usually skip the poncho, but I like having one to cover my backpack. I tend to adopt the attitude that, “it’s just water”, and “a little rain never hurt anyone”.
  3. Activity-level – You will probably be doing a bit of walking and hiking in order to learn about medicinal plants, and try to spot animals. You may also be rowing a boat or kayak, and any number of other physical activities. For this reason, I recommend work-out clothing. Clothes you would be comfortable in at the gym are usually good choices for the jungle. Work-out clothing is typically made from breathable, lightweight materials that move with your body in an unconstricting manner. Just remember, (as discussed previously to prevent bugs) leggings are a no-no.
  4.  Shoes – Hiking shoes or boots – don’t expect your shoes to ever be the same again. If you don’t want the shoes to get dirty (and I mean really dirty), don’t wear them to the jungle. Hiking shoes are more comfortable for walking around and more breathable. But depending on where in the jungle you are and what season you visit, rubber boots are sometimes a necessity.
    • I have personally lost several  pairs of shoes to the jungle.
  5. Packing Light – Weather you are going for 2 days or 10, only a couple changes of clothing are necessary. You aren’t going to be winning any fashion contests here. You can wash your clothing out in the rivers and lay them out in the sun to dry, or hang them over a fire. The less you bring, the less you carry.
  6. Bugs – As discussed in Step 1 of Preparing for the Jungle, your clothing choices can impact how badly the bugs attack you. Lights colors and a loose/baggy fit are recommended.
Exofficio Bugsaway Clothing

If you have the time to order special clothing, and can afford higher cost camping clothes, I highly suggest looking into Exofficio’s Bugsaway line of insect-repellent clothing. These products have repellent in the fabric, and are expected to repel bugs for up to 70 washes (the life expectancy of the garment).

In my personal experience, they do make a difference. The freedom of not having to spray toxic chemicals into the air, environment, and my lungs… is a luxury. They do not seem to repel ants, but mosquitos and tics stayed away from my bugsaway clothing. I have a couple of shirts and a pair of their pants.

For more information about Exofficio Bugsaway Clothing click here!


3) determine water needs.jpg3. Determine Your Water Needs

You already know how vital water is to your well-being. Hot and humid climates mixed with heightened activity level is a surefire combination for dehydration if you aren’t careful. How much water you need to bring with you depends on what you are doing. Credible tour companies will usually include enough bottled water to cover your time. Others may charge you. Be sure to ask if water is provided, and how much. If your tour will not be providing water, you must bring enough to cover the duration of your stay. You also may want water on hand for the journey to and from your jungle lodgings.

If you are the more adventurous type who plans a survivalist tour for more than a few days, it is unlikely that you will be able to carry enough water to keep you going. A camelback is a wonderful idea when trekking around the jungle. But won’t last you for a week long excursion.

The locals drink straight from the rivers without hesitation. This can be a bit alarming, particularly when the water is “dirty” brown from churned up earth after a rainy season. If you plan to trek and camp in the jungle, this will be your water supply. And that river water supply is not safe for western travelers to drink.

Options for making “unsafe” water drinkable:
  1. Filtration straws – There are straws that actually filter bacteria and waterborne parasites out of the water, making it safer for you to drink. Lifestraw, a reputable manufacturer, claims to remove 99.9% of all bacteria and waterborne parasites.
    • These do not filter out chemicals like chlorine, and will not turn salt water into drinkable fresh water.
    • There are different types of filters for different conditions. Research filters and be sure to use one that is meant to work on the bacteria that you are most likely to encounter.
    • Click here for Lifestraw’s homepage.
  2. Sawyer Filters – Sawyer is a great company for wilderness backpackers to familiarize with. They carry an array of portable filtration systems, such as water bottles and gravity bags. Their products guarantee to filter out bacteria, protozoa, cysts, dirt and sediment.
    • Their products are used and trusted by campers. Many believe Sawyer filtration products to be superior to market alternatives.
    • These do not filter out chemicals like chlorine, and will not turn salt water into drinkable fresh water.
    • There are different types of filters for different conditions. Research filters and be sure to use one that is meant to work on the bacteria that you are most likely to encounter.
    • Sawyer has a great homepage with lots of helpful information.
  3. Chlorine tablets – Another option is to carry chlorine tablets, such as Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide. These tablets are effective for water treatment. They are tried and true and trusted by wilderness backpackers and campers. I have personally used them to treat my water supply while trekking for 8 days through the Amazon.
    • While I can personally vouch for this method of treating water, it is important to remember that this method does not remove anything from the water. You actually add something. It can alter taste, and is the less natural option.
    • Purchase Potable Aqua Tabs on Amazon.

The hard part after treating the water is mental. Odds are the water will be brown and mixed with dirt. This was a mild struggle for me. My advice? Get over it. You’re in the jungle to get down and dirty with nature.


4) Hygiene4. Consider Your Personal Hygiene

I am going to be 100% honest with you. You are going to be gross. Dirt, sweat, mud, and other unnamable jungle goos will inevitably cover your body during your stay. You will not be winning any beauty contests here.

You may be staying in a lodge with showers. If so, great! You are already ahead of the jungle hygiene game. If not, keep it basic. You carry what you bring.

Be mindful of the products you bring to the jungle. Many of our creams, soaps and gels are harmful for the natural balance of the rainforest. So the more you can live without, the better off our rainforest is. Please make efforts to keep your impact on the jungle to an extreme minimum.

If you will be camping, you will be bathing in the not-super-clean rivers. It will be a refreshing and much welcomed experience. Trust me. Your hair will be dirty, tangled and frizzy. So if you have long hair, put it up and forget about it. If you need to wash clothing, you will be washing your clothing in the same coffee-brown river.

Typically, I wash myself with only water when I am “jungling” (camping in the jungle – a phrase I invented just now). When I get back to civilization I get what feels like the most needed and most rewarding shower in the history of showers.

With all that said, there are a few key things to help you feel human and keep your hygiene in check while you’re roughing it rainforest-style.

Hygiene Hacks – Things you SHOULD bring with you to stay clean in the jungle:
  1. Toilet Paper – those of you going “survival” won’t be bringing toilet paper. I have found that this is one I have a hard time living without. Most of you out there agree with me on this one, so put a roll or 2 in your pack along side a plastic bag.
    • Plastic bag, you say? Yes, yes I do say. Why? Because where do you plan to put your dirty TP when you are done wiping your immaculate anus? I know you don’t you plan to throw it out into the jungle.
      • Whatever goes into the jungle, comes back out of the jungle with you. No arguments.
  2. Baby Wipes – These are a great alternative to soap and chemicals that get disposed into the ecosystem. I carry a pack of baby-wipes everywhere I go while I am traveling. And that habit started here, in the Amazon jungle. Wipe yourself down with a few of these moist towelettes to feel refreshed, rather than sending chemicals down-river that can poison the plants and wildlife. Again, throw them away in a bag that you take back with you when you leave.
  3. Toothbrush and toothpaste – If you haven’t already, this is the chance to develop your skills at brushing your teeth with a bottle of water (a good skill to have). Dental hygiene is still important, even in the jungle.
  4.  Empty Bags – I mentioned this in #1 and #2 – but it’s important enough to get it’s very own number. Of course, I always recommend reusable washable bags. But if you don’t have those bring some plastic shopping bags. You won’t regret it. In fact, you will be grateful when you have a bag to separate out your very dirty clothing, and a place to put the inorganic garbage you will inevitably create.

5) what not to bring5) Know What Not to Bring

Knowing what not to bring with you to the jungle is just as important as knowing what to bring. Again, you are stuck carrying whatever you bring. You may also be asked to carry gear, food and supplies provided by the tour company along with your personal items. What you carry will be with you in extreme weather conditions while you are sweating and tired. So keeping your load as light as possible will put you in better shape for exploring.

Ways to lighten your load:
  • You do not need many changes of clothing. 2 outfits and a bathing suit (optional) is sufficient, one set of clothing can be washed and laid out to dry (or dried over a fire) while you wear another.
  • Reconsider certain hygiene products that you normally can’t live without. Hair conditioners or gels? Do you really need these things in the jungle? They will just weigh you down and take up space in your bag.
  • Do not bring your laptop computer or tablet to the jungle with you. That is asking for trouble.
  • Do not wear valuable jewelry.
  • Leave your passport behind. If something happens to it in the jungle, you will be in a bad situation.
  • Same goes for credit cards and personal identification.
  • Money – Don’t bring a lot of money. But bring some. The first time I went to the jungle, the agency told me to bring only enough for a park entrance fee. I strongly feel that this was ill-advised. Bring enough money for entry fees, add-on’s (some jungle lodges offer beer and beverages outside of built-in costs), and to tip your tour guide and cook.
    • Your guide is your lifeline in the jungle. They keep you safe in an unstable and foreign environment. This is not a job that you, as their tourist, should take lightly. Tip them solidly to show your appreciation for keeping you alive.
But What about My Things that I Don’t Take into the Jungle?

This is an important step in your jungle prep-time. Usually, hotels and hostels in popular jungle-base towns offer to store your bags while you are away. But not all. Do a little research. Make sure you stay in an accommodation that has a locked room where you can keep your things safe. Some tour companies even offer locker spaces in their offices where you can safely store your things. This is all part of the research you have to do before you embark on this adventure.

 


6) how hands on.jpg6) Decide How Hands On You Are Willing To Get

Your goals going into the jungle will determine just how down and dirty you intend to get. If you are a serious thrill seeker or need to live in the rainforest for an extended time, you may consider adding the following to your backpack; A machete, a pocketknife and/or swiss army tool set, a mechanism for starting fires, tablets for purifying drinking water.

First, ask yourself these question:
  • What is the reason I am going to the jungle?
  • What am I hoping to see/learn/experience while I am there?
  • What am I am willing to do in order to see/learn/experience these things?
  • What am I unwilling to do?

Some are quiet observers of nature. While others are on scientific or documentarian missions with specific goals in mind. And then there are those on an adventure to test their personal limits by learning survival skills in one of the world’s most unforgiving climates. And some may have a cautious curiosity drawing them in with trepidation and determination to overcome personal fears.

There are a vast array of reasons for visiting the jungle.

Talk to Your Guide

Be open from the beginning with the tour agency about what your hopes for the trip are. You may choose a particular company based on the type of experience you hope to have. Most jungle tour operators service small groups and can accommodate your personal interests if you express them. Knowing what you want out of your trip, may even help them place you with a tour guide best suited for your personal interests.

When you meet your guide, talk to them as well about what you are hoping for.

  • Talk to your guide if you have a specific jungle-related fear (example: tarantulas, snakes, etc)
  • If there is something you absolutely want to do, make sure your guide knows it! (example: learn to use a machete, see wild monkeys, go fishing for a meal, make a jungle necklace souvenir, etc.)
  • Is there something you absolutely will not do? tell them that too. (example: “I will not fish”, “I will not eat a maggot”, “I will not hold a snake!”)

These will set the ground rules for your trip. It’s your experience that you pay for. So, make sure you get the most of it!

Hand’s off?

If you are in the jungle mainly for observance and education, you are awesome! You may not be one of the more hands-on jungle-ers. And there is no shame in that. You can involve yourself as much or as little as you want. There is nothing wrong with soaking it all in and observing along your guided tour.

Hand’s on?

If you are looking for the brag-worthy Tarzan adventure to prove your skill and bravery, you are also awesome. You have a few extra things to consider before heading into the jungle. Survival gear, anyone?

Odds are your guide will have several knives with him. He will be an expert knifeman. But it is always a smart idea to have a small pocket knife, or swiss army tool set. Maybe you won’t need it. But when your guide is setting up camp and building fires to cook your food, you are going to want to pitch in. You will not regret being equipped with a few basic tools.


7 prepare electronics.jpg7. Prepare Your Electronics

You may not feel compelled to bring anything electronic and valuable with you in the jungle. But this day and age, that would put you in the minority. Even your native jungle guide probably has a cell phone on him.

Don’t expect any kind of signal. Do expect rain and humidity. Prepare accordingly. If you do not carefully pack and store your electronics, they could get damaged.

Prepare and Store Electronics

Waterproof bags are good idea for your cell phone. Bear in mind, that your cell phone will be of little use to you in the jungle for anything other than taking pictures and listening to music – which you may want when you are around a camp fire at night.

If photographing the journey is important, take extra care to ensure your camera gear won’t be harmed. A decent waterproof camera bag is a good idea. If you want to take photos while it’s raining, there are weather-resistant sleeves you can buy. I recommend a fabric one over plastic, it’s a few dollars more and will last a lot longer. You need to store your gear, (as you probably already know) in a padded vessel of some kind to protect from bumps and drops. And don’t be surprised if you have some jungle-related camera mishaps.

*On two separate occasions, I was unable to take photos with my wide angle lens in the jungle because the humidity caused a cloud to form under the glass, and all my photos became cloudy. Argh!

B&H sells a decent (slightly overpriced) storm jacket for high end cameras.

Charging Electronics in the Junlge

Maybe you will stay in a lodge. Most jungle lodge’s typically have only a few hours of electricity per day. In that time, you may be competing for outlets with other guests. This is your provided opportunity to charge your cell phone and other electronics.

If you do not stay in a lodge, you might want to consider portable chargers. On my 8 day camping trip, I left with my phone fully charged and brought along two fully charged portable charging sticks. This was the perfect amount of charge for my phone in the 8 days. Bear in mind, I don’t use my cell phone for photography. I only used it to play music from time to time. You may need more charge than I did if you plan to use your phone more.

Check out the small light-weight charging sticks I used in the jungle.

Camera – If you have a camera, bring as many extra batteries as you think you may need. In the days before your trip, take time charging all of the batteries.

* Tip from experience – consider a portable music device. As authentic as you may want the experience to be… If you aren’t toughing it out survivor-style, think like a local and bring some music. Your guides will probably appreciate it!


8) details to loved ones.jpg8. Send Details to Loved Ones

It’s highly unlikely that you will have access to wifi when you are in the jungle. That means for the entirety of your jungle excursion you will be completely cut off from the rest of the world.

It’s always important to keep loved-ones in the loop and up-to-date on your travel plans. But this is even more imperative when you won’t have the ability to communicate with the modern world for a while.

Send details of your excursion to the people you are in contact with on a regular basis.

Send the following information to your loved ones:
  • The dates you will be inaccessible.
  • The location of where you will be.
  • The name of the tour operator you are registered with.
  • The phone number and address of the tour operator.
    • ^ In case of emergency. If your loved ones urgently need to reach you, the tour operator likely has a way to communicate with your guide.

A skype/whatsapp/facebook call is always nice. But I also recommend sending your loved ones the information in the form of an email or text message. This way there is a written record of your information.

Let them know the details of your adventure before embarking. It will probably not be necessary. But if nothing else, it will ease their minds when you are completely off the grid.


0 a few more things.jpgA Few More Things You Might Want to Know Before You Go:
  • Look at everything before you touch it. I learned this the hard way.
  • Never touch a fuzzy caterpillar – in fact don’t touch any living creature unless an expert is with you and tells you it’s ok. I also learned this the hard way (but by accident).
  • Always listen to your guide and do not wander off alone. Ever.
    • A Chilean tourist got lost in the Bolivian Amazon outside of Rurrenabaque last year when he wandered off without his guide. He survived for 9 days by following a family of monkeys. They led him to water and showed him which fruits were safe for consumption.
      • Wandering on his own wasn’t smart of the tourist, but this was undoubtedly neglectful on the part of his tour guide. I hope you do not use this agency. I do not wish to offer bad press to any company on this blog, nor do I want to risk having their name pop up in a search engine attached to my page. So, if you would like more information about companies that you should probably avoid in Rurre, feel free to contact me directly. Your safety in the jungle is paramount. In Rurrenabaque, matters like this will not be publicized, or will not be publicized in an honest light. I am not convinced that the following article is 100% factual, because I personally know many of the “characters” involved – but here is the basic story, if you are interested to read more about it.

Jungle Talk Video:

Quick Review:Prepare for jungle long sm

5 thoughts on “Prepare for The Jungle in 8 Steps

  1. Amazing post and actually a very useful one. I love garlic and the smell of it so… woe betide amazonian mosquitoes!! 🙂 (I’m googling the anti-mosquito clothing brand you recommend now). Spending a couple of days in a jungle is one of my dreams! Don’t stop writing Rachel, I’m waiting for more!

    1. I took sort of a long break, but I am back and still writing and blogging! When you are ready to head into the jungle, let me know 🙂

  2. I would love to venture through the jungle! I know I would be an observer, I’m not a survivalist, and I hate insects stinging away at me. But with proper repellent and following an extensive preparation guide like this, I would totally do it. I can sit and watch animals and nature for hours on end. I find it fascinating and enlivening. My only drawback is that I’m also extremely terrified of snakes, it’s my one big stupid fear, so I would relay that to my guide. Did you see a lot of snakes? I can see why you need to calculate everything before you go to make safety the utmost priority. What an extensive guide you’ve written, Rachel, extremely thorough and informative and if the opportunity arises for me to go to the jungle, I’ll be reading this again religiously!

    1. Thank you, Christina! I was definitely more of an observer the first time I went. I was actually really scared! But my fears melted away and I had the most incredible experience. And I kept going back to the jungle after that. I have seen snakes, but honestly not many. I have never seen one walking around the jungle. I have only seen snakes on the branches and river banks from the boats I have been in!

  3. Very informative Rach! And very impressive! Now I think I only want a day trip to the jungle though and sleep with out the insects. LOL. You have taught much and amazing photos. Quite proud of you. XXX

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