Swimming near piranhas

Floating lodge, Amazonas, Brazil

A lot of the enjoyment of travel comes down to trust. We trust transport to get us to places, we trust accommodation to provide what’s described on their website, we trust bloggers and writers to accurately depict a destination. On my journey into the Brazilian Amazon I had to trust my guide when he said that a particular section of river wasn’t infested with piranha.

A sublime swimming pool

I’ve always been fascinated by piranha, but not to the extent that I want to be in the water with them. Having been on a fishing expedition to find these toothy fish my caution felt justified. Using small pieces of meat the fish were attracted to our boat and I could feel – rather than see – their powerful jaws sawing away at the meal at the end of my line. It was when, at the end of the day, my guide assured us that it was safe to swim in the water that my trust of him really kicked in

Guide holding up a piranha

It was explained to us that piranha only swim in certain types of water, the murky green water where we’d found them rather than the tannin-rich dark water around our floating lodge. Thus reassured, I dived in.

I really enjoy swimming and this tributary of the Amazon River was the perfect pool. Flat, warm and with no-one else around I swam until sunset every evening, sharing the brackish water with tiny un-bitey fish and pink river dolphin.

Sunset over a lake, Amazonas, Brazil


Experiences such as these demonstrate the value of having a guide or speaking with knowledgeable locals. Having swum in various other Amazon tributaries it helps to know what to look out for, and how each section of river can have different risks and rewards.

Cooked piranha on a plate

I recently read someone describe piranha as “delicious” and with a delicate flavour. It really is not, at least not the one that I tried and which we caught earlier that day. It has a strong flavour and we had it served to us intact, massive teeth and all – not particularly appetising, but a good reminder of why I wouldn’t want to be swimming anywhere near these fish.


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