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  • Overview

    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 (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.

    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.

    Rio Negro at Sunset Rio Negro at Sunset P199
    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 Rio Negro Claudio Matsuoka
    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
    Opening time: Daily (except Wednesdays) from 8.30am to 5pm. Wednesdays by appointment.
    The Amazon Rainforest The Amazon Rainforest Jon Rawlinson

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Manaus, and the surrounding Amazon, has a tropical monsoon climate with rainfall all year, but has a distinct rainy season nonetheless. Technically, the dry season is limited to the month of August, but notably less rain falls in the city between June and November. Temperatures are hot year-round, with very little seasonal variation, and the humidity is reliably high. Temperatures average between 73°F (23°C) and 95°F (35°C) all year.

    Useful Contacts:

    Road conditions tend to be poor in the region surrounding Manaus, which limits the usefulness of buses for travelling beyond the city limits, but there is a fairly comprehensive bus network. Taxis are plentiful in the city, but can prove expensive, with fares within the city around BRL 25. Manaus is a popular starting point for river tours, and a number of nearby towns and cities, as well as tourist attractions, can be most comfortably reached by boat. Most major tourist attractions in Manaus are within walking distance and hiring a car is usually unnecessary.

    Those looking for bustling nightlife, luxury shopping trips, and fancy restaurants will find few attractions in the Amazon. However, visitors in search of natural wonders and authentic experiences will find that there are more things to see and do in the Amazon than one person could do in a lifetime.

    The Amazon is one of the world's greatest natural wonders, home to 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2,000 different kinds of birds and mammals. Scarlet macaws, jaguars, giant anacondas, poison dart frogs, piranhas, electric eels... the list of unique creatures to spot is endless.

    In response to deforestation and climate change, the Amazon's tourism industry has started moving toward ecotourism; benefiting the local people, while also providing an unforgettable experience for visitors. The impact on the environment is always important to consider when travelling to undeveloped areas, and asking for sustainable options like non-motorised boats and trained nature guides can make a big difference.

    Because the Amazon is so large, there is a multitude of regions that are each fascinating and worthwhile in their own way. Manaus is the largest city in the Amazon, with around two million inhabitants. It is a great base from which to travel from, as you can find plenty of boat and land trips into the jungle. Manaus has a variety of parks, beaches, a zoo, and the Amazonas Opera House for sightseers. There are a number of lodges within range of Manaus that cater for tourists.

    Belem is much smaller, with beautiful colonial architecture dominating the sights. Belem has a number of interesting natural indentations and islands on its coast, and several bustling markets, including the Iron Market and the Ver-o-Peso, both near the waterfront.

    There are many protected area and national parks within the Amazon that provide great opportunities to interact with nature. Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve near Tefe is a protected area covered in swamp and flooded forest accessible by canoe. Its infrastructure is set up for ecotourism, including a unique floating lodge. Cabo Orange National Park is the only protected area of the Amazon on the coastline, so the flora and fauna are unique to the rest of the rainforest. Infrastructure is lacking, but you can visit it from the nearby Oiapoque City. Cantão State Park has better facilities for tourists and an interesting ecosystem that transitions from flat plains to rainforest.

    The sun is strong close to the equator, especially in the summer, so make sure to bring protection. Be careful not to take any plants, animals, or seeds out of the rainforest, as smuggling is a big problem in the region and the authorities won't hesitate to prosecute. The Amazon is a rural and generally very poor region, thus tourist shouldn't expect to use credit cards outside the cities. Tourists are overcharged as a rule, so it is always a good idea to haggle.

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