Central Amazon Conservation Complex

Central Amazon Conservation Complex
Photo by Michael Ayers.

The Central Amazon Conservation Complex comprises four nature reserves, representing the most important ecosystems of the Amazon.

These include várzea and igapó forests, which are seasonally flooded by silty river water, and blackwater rivers, which slowly flow through forested swamps or wetlands. Furthermore, Anavilhanas is the second-largest river archipelago in the world with some 400 islands. The area is also known for its fish such as the giant Arapaima, many plant species, and endemic birds.

Community Perspective: the easiest to reach (but possibly also the least rewarding) of the four components is Anavilhanas, which can be done on a two-day trip from Manaus (as done by Frédéric) or as a day trip from Novo Airao (as Patrik did). Els covered Mamiraua, João Jaú NP, and Amana Reserve so far is unreviewed.

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Netherlands - 06-Jul-24 -

Central Amazon Conservation Complex by Patrik

I hadn't intended to review this site but after reading Frédéric's review I thought I will add mine as well as there are both similarities and a few differences that may be of interest to others. I visited the site end of June 2024.

I took the night boat from Iquitos to the Peruvian-Brazilian-Colombian border, stayed one night in Colombian Leticia and then flew from Tabatinga to Manaus. I had considered the lengthy boat ride but decided against it as it seemed not very plannable (I could not find trustworthy schedules on internet), meaning I would have to plan about a week for it to 'fit' reliably into my schedule. And it seemed rather boring too. The afternoon propellor flight provided good views over the rainforest and the rivers and was reasonably priced. After a night in Manaus and exploring the parks in the outskirts, I took a late Sunday afternoon shared taxi to Novo Airao from near the bridge which left within 5 minutes and took about 3,5 hours.

I stayed 2 nights in the local hostel, I was the only guest in the dorm. I had initially booked a hotel but they cancelled a week before stating urgent renovations. Next morning I looked for a captain to take me to Anavilhanas. Prices quoted were 400 BRL but one captain whose number I got from the hostel, seemed very keen, and I negotioted 200 BRL. It was a 2 hours private trip, the captain was a kind and calm man, and I enjoyed it. I especially liked the few parts where we drifted slowly through the flooded forest with the boat engine off, hearing the silence and the birds. I saw just a few birds and a few glimpses of dolphins but nothing else.

I decided not to go to the dolpin platform, as it seemed a zoo-like experience to me. Next morning I took the shared taxi back to Manaus, this time it involved a wait of more than an hour to fill up. From Manaus I continued overland by bus towards Guyana.

Frédéric M

Canada - 30-Jun-24 -

Central Amazon Conservation Complex by Frédéric M

I worked hard to find an affordable way to visit this WHS. First, I contacted various tour operators in Manaus to inquire about a boat trip lasting a few days. However, I couldn't find any offer that didn't involve chartering an entire boat at an outrageous price. I then evaluated the possibility of spending a few days in a lodge rather than on a boat. Once again, the price put me off. I have the impression that the Uakari Lodge visited by Els would have been an excellent choice, but the price was high, and the logistics of getting to the lodge complicated matters considerably. Indeed, my Amazon journey didn't begin in Manaus.

It was from the Colombian town of Leticia, and its Brazilian neighbor Tabatinga, that I began my tour of the Amazon. From Tabatinga, it's possible to board cargo boats that also carry passengers on the Rio Solimoes. A few cabins are available, but most passengers bring their own hammock, which they hang on the hooks intended for this purpose. The price of the boat ticket includes three meals a day. My boat was also equipped with unlimited drinking water, toilets, showers and a small restaurant selling sandwiches, instant ramen and sweets. The trip from Tabatinga to Manaus takes four days and three nights (the reverse trip, against the current, is longer and more expensive). Passengers were mainly Brazilians, Colombians and Peruvians, but four other Western backpackers were also on board. We spent the four days of the trip playing cards, watching the employees busy themselves during stopovers in the riverside villages, and watching the landscape slowly unfold in front of our eyes. When the boat skirted the shoreline, it was possible to see sloths, howler monkeys and numerous birds (lesser yellow-headed vulture, black-collared hawk, large-billed tern, yellow-billed tern, ringed kingfisher, Amazon kingfisher, black-fronted nunbird, toco toucan, scarlet macaw, blue-and-yellow macaw, festive amazon, yellow-hooded blackbird, yellow-rumped cacique, russet-backed oropendola). However, more often than not, the boat remained in the middle of the river, which greatly limited the opportunities for observation. On a few occasions, we saw the grey backs of tucuxi dolphins (a different species from the famous pink dolphins, although Brazilians call them both botos).

It was from this boat that I saw part of the WHS for the first time. Indeed, the border of the Mamirauá Reserve overlooks the river. However, that's not enough to tick off this site!

So, since my upstream research had been unsuccessful, I hoped to find a way to visit the Anavilhanas Reserve in Manaus. The Community Perspective section on this page even mentioned day trips to the reserve. Perhaps things have changed, as no one was offering day trips to Anavilhanas. Almost all the excursionists I spoke to discouraged me from visiting this reserve. Indeed, the black waters of the Rio Negro would be much less rich and therefore less conducive to encounters with wildlife than some areas much closer to Manaus. Only one tour operator (Iguana Turismo) actually offered me a trip to Anavilhanas. It was a two-day excursion with an overnight stay in Novo Airão.

For day one, we first visited the ruins of Paricatuba (uninteresting), and then had a mechanical problem with the car. This was followed by a long wait in a pretty outdoor restaurant with ponds and gigantic fish. After the wait, the drive and dinner, it wasn't until late afternoon that we began our tour of the park. It involved a boat tour of the Anavilhanas islands, a short hike through the forest (at Pedra Sanduíche and the Grutas do Madadá caves) and swimming in the Rio Negro at sunset. The river's black water and dense forest are pretty, but the wildlife was absent. Our hike did, however, allow us to observe ants, termites and, above all, a common lancehead (picture), one of the most venomous snakes in the region, according to our guide.

The second day of the tour began in the downpour with a visit to local artisans. After the rain, we went swimming and stand-up paddleboarding in the Rio Negro, before going to see the pink dolphins. The interpreter-guide at the dolphin-watching station emphasized the eco-responsibility of their practices. Indeed, they are the only ones allowed to operate in the national park, they don't allow the dolphins to swim with them, and they only feed them 20% of their daily requirements, making them not dependent on feeding. Three dolphins were present during our visit. The guide fed them and made them jump so close to us that they rubbed against our legs hanging off the end of the dock. I really enjoyed seeing these unusual animals up close.

In the end, I'm glad I made the trip, but I don't think it's the best way to visit this WHS. The flora and fauna of the Amazon require more in-depth visits to be appreciated. Also, I think it would probably have been possible to do this tour independently, heading all the way to Novo Airão and continuing directly to the marina. The Mamirauá reserve would probably be my choice for a future revisit. However, I can highly recommend the cargo boat to hammock down the Amazon for four days. Now that was an incredible experience!

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 28-Nov-22 -

Central Amazon Conservation Complex by Els Slots

The Central Amazon Conservation Complex is a mostly contiguous area of parks and reserves in the northwest of Brazil, approximately in the center of the Amazon biome and the Amazon basin. You can dip your toe in with a one-day tour to Anavilhanas from the state capital of Manaus, but I opted for a more substantial visit to the sublocation ‘Mamirauá Reserve’. Situated over 500km west of Manaus, I first had to fly to Tefé. This is a bustling river port of 60,000 inhabitants with no road access. I was picked up for another 1.5 hours of travel by boat to the Uakari Lodge, where I stayed for 3 nights inside the Reserve.

The OUV of Mamirauá lies mainly in conserving a varzea forest, seasonally flooded by fertile “whitewater” rivers flowing from the Andes region. On our first day, we got to see which effect the floodings have on the local flora and fauna. We visited an island where the difference in water level can be up to 12 meters. The habitat is only suited to animals that can fly, swim or live in trees. You won’t find any tapirs or capybaras here…. Even the ants and termites build their nests high up in the trees instead of on the ground. Jaguars survive also up in the trees, but they are half the size of their cousins elsewhere.

The seasonal rise in water levels has an impact on the local people too. Mamirauá is inhabited by 14 small ribeirinho communities. To cope with the flooding, the people live in houses on stilts. They have floating gardens and floating solar panels to keep these amenities available throughout the year. At one village they told us that they yearly sell or eat almost all of their chickens before the rainy season begins (as the chickens can’t fly or swim). The floodings also deposit a lot of sand, so the beach gets bigger each year and the houses get situated further from the river. The local people use the beach to grow beans and watermelons. They also rescue the eggs of turtles and bring them to the restricted area of Lake Mamirauá after they have hatched. 

Mamirauá also is a Fish WHS: its flagship species is the “pirarucu” (Arapaima), the largest freshwater fish in South America. Furthermore, there are two species of river dolphins: pink and grey. And there are 64 species of electric fish, “the strongest known diversity for this group unique in the world”. The dolphins are easy to see on the river between Tefé and the entrance to the Reserve – but hard to photograph as always. The arapaima were jumping up and down all day in front of my cabin at the (floating) lodge. Other guests at the lodge had come for a week of sport fishing and they apparently had a blast.

My main interest however was with the mammal life in the reserve, and I was not disappointed either. We did 2 hikes and 2 boat tours, which gave us sufficient time on the ground/on the water to see all main mammal species except for the very rare ones such as the jaguar. Mamirauá has two species of monkey that cannot be found elsewhere in the world anymore: the black squirrel monkey (similar to the common one, but with black hair on its head) and the intriguing white uakari. The uakari has fully white fur and a bright red face – it doesn’t look like any other monkey, it’s almost like an albino. We were lucky to see one during the boat tour to Lake Mamirauá, in the heart of the reserve. Although the sighting was short, the animal showed its fluffy body well by walking on a leafless branch. And it turned its head to show its red face. On the long walk on day 3, we encountered a group of uakaris in the forest, but there they were harder to see (just a white limb here and there).

Due to the seasonal nature of this site, a visit in May (right at the end of the rainy season when the water level is at its highest) will be totally different from one in November. In the dry season, the caimans and birds thrive on the fish that are then confined to a smaller area. In the wet season, you have a better chance of observing mammals as they have to resort to the trees.

The history of the Mamiraua Reserve and the Uakari Lodge is fascinating as well. The reserve started in 1986 to protect the uakari. Quickly however it became clear that the local people would have no space anymore to fish and cultivate the land to sustain their livelihoods. So the reserve was turned into a mixed-use area, where local people may extract resources on a sustainable basis and ecotourism has its place. It is governed by an elaborate community-based management system. People from the 14 communities work at the lodge and perform patrol duties on the river, and each community yearly receives a share of the income from the lodge to spend on projects. With this approach, they have managed to stop illegal logging and fishing.

A final thought: I wonder why this hasn’t been inscribed on cultural criteria as well. The people have adapted their lifestyle to the seasonal flooding too, as described above. Also, the area is clearly impacted by human use, ever since the rubber boom of the early 1900s attracted significant numbers of people from other parts of Brazil to work here. Brazil’s nomination file also describes its proposal as a cultural landscape, but there seems to have been no follow-up by ICOMOS. I recommend reading ‘Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon’ by John Hemming about the fascinating human history of Brazil’s Amazonia.

Read more from Els Slots here.

Zoë Sheng

Chinese-Canadian - 05-Jun-22 -

Central Amazon Conservation Complex by Zoë Sheng

Amazon, heart of the planet, you'd think it's an instant 5 star visit... Not so much. The inscribed areas are rather poor, especially the ecological centers where they feed dolphins as a tourist attraction. To truly enter protected areas you will need to take a boat cruise into Jaú National Park. That means taking a 3h drive from Manaus, then traveling further in for at least a day and finally reach the ranger station.

The cruises are also super tourist driven, so I can't recommend them. Macaw watching, cayman catching, piranha fishing, visit to ruins (read: rubber baron remains, not exactly native) and shopping with a local tribe: Portuguese immigrants, not indigenous at all. To get anything more you will need to find a deep trekking tour instead and while I'm sure the Amazon is great, other places to see them are much better visits.


João Aender

Brazil - 25-Feb-13 -

During carnival this year, unlike most Brazilians, I opted not to party, but, instead, to reach Central Amazon Conservation Complex, the WHS Brazil dedicated to its largest bioma.

First stop is Manaus, a large 2-million people city situated in the heart of Amazon forest. After that, with a rental car one must drive 200 km (paved roads in good condition) to a town called Novo Airão, from where you can easily visit the Anavilhanas National Park (it is no longer an Ecological Station since 2008). Anavilhanas comprises an average of 400 river islands and islets, depending on the dry or wet season. All of them are located within the Rio Negro (Black River), the largest blackwater river in the world and one of the most important tributary rivers of Amazon River.

Truly amazing! Rio Negro has pure and tepid waters, black-tea-like coloured, very good for bathing. If you have luck, one might sight a "boto rosa" (pink freshwater dolphin), one of the symbols of Amazon forest.

From Novo Airão, one can also reach another protected area of the WHS: Jaú National Park. It is the largest national park in Brazil and one of the largest in the world. Jaú has approximately the same size of Belgium.

3 hours in a boat are necessary to reach the park entrance and prior visiting authorisation is required. I opted not to sleep withing the forest - which is what some people do to have more time to visit the NP -, but still, I could have a good idea of this enourmous and virgin slice of the Amazon Forest.

I was truly overwhelmed by this WHS.

Site Info

Full Name
Central Amazon Conservation Complex
Unesco ID
9 10
Natural landscape - Rivers, Wetlands and Lakes

Site History

2003 Extended

Extension of Jaú National Park, to include: the Amana Sustainable Development Reserve, the Demonstration area of the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve and the Anavilhanas Ecological Station

2003 Name change

From "Jaú National Park" to "Central Amazon Conservation Complex"

2000 Inscribed


The site has 2 locations

Central Amazon Conservation Complex: Jau National Park, Amana Sustainable Development Reserve and Demonstration Area of Mamiraua Sustainable Development Reserve
Central Amazon Conservation Complex: Anavilhanas Ecological Station


The site has

Human Activity
Individual People
Visiting conditions
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process