Visiting the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, a 250,000-acre rainforest in Ecuador, means trekking around 13 lagoons, spotting 60 kinds of orchids, and seeing anacondas wrapped around thick tree branches. Take a canoe trip down the river in the heart of the forest, and you'll see pink dolphins swimming alongside your boat.
Cuyabeno is just one of several must-visit rainforests around the world that promise travelers adventure and the chance to get up close with unique wildlife in lush surroundings.
Rainforests see more than 50 inches of rain a year. There are close to 4 million square miles of rainforest in the world, according to the Rainforest Alliance, an organization based in New York City, which works to conserve the biodiversity in rainforests. The majority of them, such as the Amazon, which is the largest on the planet, are concentrated in Latin America; but others, such as the Congo Basin, the world's second-largest rainforest, are found in Africa and parts of Asia.
Many are ripe for exploration by active travelers.
"Really, the best way to experience a rainforest is to hike through it. That could mean trekking through dense jungle or following well-marked trails," says Diane Jukofsky, director of communications, marketing and education at the Rainforest Alliance. "This gives visitors a chance to really absorb the scenery and see the wildlife, plants and flowers that make the rainforest special."
But experts say it's not the best idea to venture through a rainforest on your own.
"These environments have challenges, so it's a good idea to hire a guide or go with a tour company specializing in back-country adventures," says Margaret Kelly, a travel editor at Fodor's, the travel-guide series.
The biggest danger in attempting to explore a rainforest without a knowledgeable guide is getting lost in the jungle, but experts also say that not knowing where to look for certain wildlife is another major reason to not go solo.
If you visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica, for example, a guide can help search for the emerald-green Quetzal, a rare bird that often hides among the towering strangler fig trees there. The Quetzal is one of 400 kinds of birds in this rainforest, which is located 7,500 feet above sea level and has cooler temperatures than traditional rainforests due to its high altitude. Other wildlife here includes 100 species of mammals, including jaguars and howler monkeys. In addition to hiking the 17 miles of trails here, visitors can take ATV tours, walk on bridges suspended between trees, ride down zip lines and even tour a coffee plantation inside the forest.
If you want to experience a piece of history during your rainforest vacation, head to the 460-square-mile Khao Sok National Park in Thailand. It is 160 million years old and said to be the oldest rainforest on Earth.
As travelers here trek through the forest by foot or on an elephant, they will see flora such as fig, banana and coconut palm trees, and abundant wildlife, including cloud leopards, barking deer and Kingfisher birds. Jeep safaris and canoe trips down the rainforest's many streams are also available.
North American travelers don't need to go to far-flung locales to experience a rainforest. British Columbia in Canada boasts the Great Bear Rainforest, a 25,000-square-mile swath of land situated along the Pacific Coast. The forest is known for its 200-foot-tall spruce and red cedar trees and for diverse species, including Kermode and grizzly bears, bald eagles, cougars and wolves. In addition to hiking and fishing for salmon in the ocean, visitors can see totem poles and other 1,000-year-old remains of the First Nations people who used to inhabit this area.
You'll find thrills on such trips, but don't expect to find 300-thread-count sheets. Experts warn that even the best rainforest accommodations don't typically meet the standards of luxury.
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"Many lodges in rainforests won't have air conditioning or gourmet meals," says Emmanuel Burgio, founder of Blue Parallel, which plans upscale customized tours of South America, including treks to area rainforests. "The deeper you get into the rainforest, which is where you can really see the wildlife, the less luxe it gets."
For example, the Acajatuba Jungle Lodge, which is a three-hour boat trip from Manaus, the main city in the Amazon, has 40 rustic rooms without air conditioning and has electricity only for a few hours in the evening.
Though Blue Parallel's trips to the rainforests in South America cost roughly $1,000 per person per day — because clients fly around by private plane and the company adds extra touches, such as providing guests with their favorite wine — the priciest part of a rainforest vacation is normally the airfare. Lodges and meals are usually under $300 a night, and prices for guided trekking or boating trips are generally under a $100 per person per day.
Good prices, the promise of true adventure and wildlife that few in the industrial world have ever had the chance to see: Rainforest vacations offer this and more.
© 2012 Forbes.com