Navigation on certain rivers can involve passing more or less dangerous rapids. Here the quality of the organization is of primary importance: above all, the trustworthiness of the equipment (especially outboard motors!) as well as the experience of the dug-out canoe driver.

Before going through tricky rapids
Take off your shoes
Don't wear heavy garments that could hamper your swimming
Important papers, money, etc. must be placed in a waterproof container that can float
While passing rapids, stay as close as possible to the center of your dug-out canoe, try not to move and in particular don't stand up!

Rapids are responsible for many drownings each year…

Certain spiders (heteropoda sp, see picture) sometimes "come on board" secretly. They can be large but are totally harmless. My dug-out canoe has sometimes nearly overturned because of the panic caused by the presence of these little creatures.

As strange as it might seem, certain people seem to be convinced that being part of an organized tour systematically protects them from any danger and frees them from any responsibility in terms of vigilance and security… Once, having barely escaped from being ship-wrecked because the motor stopped as we were going out of a rapid, a lady said to me "in any case, I knew nothing could happen to us"!!

Be careful of setting camp near rivers, especially the small ones.. Once I lost a dug-out canoe, a motor and all my equipment because torrential rains had caused the river to rise 6 METERS in a single night!

Dangers due to the fauna

The danger that very large crocodilians represent is just about as anecdotic as the one represented by large felines.

- The big cayman of the Orinoco (crocodiles intermedius) which is in fact a crocodile, can be over 6 meter long, just as the black cayman (melanosuchus niger) of the Amazonian basin and the Guyanas. However most specimen are much smaller. The difference between caymans and crocodiles resides essentially in the different position of the teeth of the lower jaw.

But it is certain that one has to beware of such a large predatory animal.

This is also true of the anaconda (eunectes murinus). Stories about 20 meter long anacondas belong to Hollywood mythology but a 6 meter long specimen can weigh over 100 kg. This snake is common, prolific and can be found in the sewers of large cities. It feeds on mammals, reptiles or birds corresponding to its size.


The most dangerous fish of the Amazonian rivers is a stingray that can have a span reaching 1 meter, (potamotrygon sp). Its 10cm (or more) sting can inflict very painful wounds. It also can cause necrosis that takes months to heal. The immersion of the affected limb (generally the leg) in very hot water usually helps destroy the venom… A Ye'Kwana Indian chief of Venezuela told me that the flagrant liquid contained in the aerial roots of the philodendron (these large-leaves epiphyte plants that pitifully vegetate in pots at home) is an efficient remedy.
You will certainly be told to beware of muddy or sandy soil. It is true that the stingray prefers this type of environment, but I have seen some everywhere, even on rocks, in the middle of rapids.

Certain sheat-fish (cat-fish) also have stings on their caudal and pectoral fins that can inflict painful wounds.

The gymnote or electric eel, (electrophorus electricus) resembles our conger with minute eyes and a flat head. It can be as much as 2 meter long. The largest part of its body in an electric battery with an output of over 500 volts but with low amperage. Stories of "grilled" people, there again, are pure fantasy but the output is sufficiently strong to knock out a swimmer and provoke drowning…so it is said. (to be honest, I have seen many more drownings due to an excess of rhum rather than the electric eel…). The electric eel is nocturnal and uses its batteries to knock out small fish and steer itself by echolocation. It is slow and not very aggressive. While fishing at night with a machete, in water 30cm deep, a large specimen quietly passed between my legs.

A small fish, the candiru (vandelia cirrhosa) lives in certain rivers. It has the disagreeable habit of lodging where it shouldn't. Being a parasite of large fish, it sometimes penetrates in natural offices of swimmers.

It is then necessary to have a surgical operation to remove the intruder. It is a good reason not to swim naked, isn't it ?

I have left the famous piranhas (sarrasalmus sp) for the end. There exists around fifty different species, of different sizes. I fished one weighing more than 2 kg in the Rio Tomo in Colombia. There again, in more than ten years of frequent swimming, nothing ever happened to me. I still have the same number of toes…. I also never saw anyone being bitten in the water.

But my taxi driver friend in Caracas told me many stories, one bloodier than the other. Beware however of the fearsome jaw while unhooking the fish from your line (first knock it out with a club), for I have indeed seen little pieces of fingers fall off!

Fishing lovers will be gratified in the Amazonian zones. There are many fighting species like the peacock bass (cichla sp) or the payara (hydrolicus scomberoides).

It is also possible to fish at night with a machete, near the edge! It is essential to do so during a moonless night in order not to be seen.

If the water is clear, you sometimes see very large fish near the edge, in very shallow water. Their eyes reflect light. I have caught fish weighing more than 10 kg thanks to my forehead lamp. It is necessary to hit hard on the head of the animal.