The Amazon

Amazon rainforest © Ivan Mlinaric

The Amazon is the largest rainforest on the planet, comprising an expansive system of rivers and covering more than half of Brazil, as well as large tracts of its neighbouring countries. The Amazon River and its tributaries together create approximately 30,888 square miles (80,000 sq km) of navigable river systems. The region is a veritable biodiversity hotspot, where one in ten known species live in the amazon forest. However, large areas of the Amazon rainforest remain unexplored, and tens of thousands of rare and unknown species of animals, birds, insects, fish, and plants are thought to be sheltered beneath the thick tree canopies.

The Amazon is traversed by a multitude of rivers, the biggest of which is Rio Solimoes, a powerful, navigable stretch of river that enters Brazil from Peru, just above the city of Manaus. Close to the city, the light brown muddy river meets the Rio Negro with its darker waters and the two converge to form the mighty Rio Amazonas, which flows through Brazil to the city of Belem.

Manaus is the gateway for excursions along the river system and into the jungle, situated as it is in the middle of the forest. From the city, scores of operators run day trips and longer boat tours for visitors wishing to experience Amazonian flora and fauna and meet the caboclos (residents of the river towns). The city itself does not have many attractions, apart from some interesting buildings, including an opulent opera house, which dates from the height of the rubber boom in 1896. As the commercial hub of the state of Amazonas, Manaus is very busy, with a noisy and crowded port and several bustling markets.

Belem is the other major starting point for Amazon exploration, with a busy port, small airport, and bus station. Located on the coast, it has a large number of indentations, estuaries, and islands waiting to be explored. It has a few scenic buildings as well, but more interesting are the markets near the quay.

The Amazon lacks extensive tourism infrastructure in the form of good hotels and reliable transportation, but ecotourism is gaining popularity and contributing to the enrichment of the environment and the lifestyle of the local people. For the intrepid traveller who seeks the road less travelled, the Amazon cannot fail to impress.





Attractions

The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest © Jon Rawlinson

Adolpho Ducke Botanical Garden

This vast forest reserve, covering more than 39 square miles (100 sq km) to the east of Manaus, provides tourists with the opportunity to discover what lies beneath the dense Amazon rainforest canopy. The park building complex contains plant nurseries and an exhibition of the woods of Amazonas, as well as a library and an eatery. A network of trails has been created in the forest, and local youths are trained and employed as guides to direct visitors along the paths (although not all of them speak English). It can be difficult to get into the Amazon for a genuine experience of the rainforest and this vast botanical garden offers a convient oppertunity for close look at the unspoilt forest world.

Address: Av. Margarita, Cidade de Deus a Manaus; E-mail: agendamento@museudaamazonia.org.br; Website: www.museudaamazonia.org.br/en/; Telephone: +92 99280 4205; Opening time: Daily (except Wednesdays) from 8.30am to 5pm. Wednesdays by appointment. ; Admission: BRL 20 for a guided tour; BRL 20 for a guided tour and to climb the research tower


Rio Negro
Rio Negro © Claudio Matsuoka

Lake Janauari Ecological Park

This park, an hour by boat from Manaus on the Rio Negro, provides visitors with a taste of the Amazon experience, encompassing 22,240 acres (9,000 hectares) of forest, lowlands, and flooded forest (igapos). Day package trips are available from Manaus, including lunch in a typical regional restaurant and a visit to the area's other main attraction, The Meeting of the Waters, as well as a canoe trip exploring the park's lakes and streams. Visitors can also spot the symbol of the Amazon at Lake Janauari Park; the famous Amazon Victoria-Nympheaceae water lily, measuring up to seven feet (two metres) in diameter, is ubiquitous atop the still shallow waters. The beautiful flowers only bloom for three days, changing colour from white to dark red before dying.

Address: Superintendência Estadual de Navegação, Portos e Hidrovias (SNPH) Rua Governador Vitório, 121 Centro, Manaus


Rio Negro at Sunset
Rio Negro at Sunset © P199

The Meeting of the Waters

Where the dark waters of the Rio Negro join the lighter, muddy waters of the Rio Solimoes, an incredible natural phenomenon results. The separate shades of water run side by side for a length of more than four miles (6km) without mixing. The separation is caused by the difference in temperature, density, and flow of the waters from each river: Rio Negro travels at about a mile (2km) per hour with a temperature of 72ºF (22ºC), while Rio Solimoes flows at between two and four miles (4-6km) per hour with a temperature of 82ºF (28ºC). This phenomenon has become a major tourist attraction in Brazil, best accessed by taking an hour's journey by boat from the floating docks in Manaus to see the dramatically divided waters.