A journey down the second longest river in the world is a classic voyage and could take in one or more of the South American countries. The Amazon has fascinated explorers for years and is one of the greatest ecosystems on earth, and yet it has fragility where man has developed parts of the rainforest. This is a region where the diversity of the wildlife will leave visitors mesmerised and where encounters with indigenous people will continue to fascinate.
The Amazon has more than 1000 tributaries making it a really powerful river, ten times the flow rate of the Mississippi. The wildlife is prolific and one of the best known is the anaconda snake that inhabits the shallower waters. Others include piranha fish and bull sharks, and the Amazon is known as a centre for Neotropical fish. The boto is the Amazon River dolphin, and it is steeped in legend. In Brazil, the story goes that it is a dolphin that transforms into a man and seduces young ladies by the river. In the Northern Amazon waters, manatees are seen.
People travelling down the Amazon can do so by cruise ship or by a smaller, more traditional boat, depending on the nature of the trip. One of the most adventurous ways is to travel by small boats that are supported by zodiacs for landing on the shore and viewing the wildlife. There are unspoilt islands, villages on the riverbank, and face to face encounters with any one of hundreds of indigenous species. One of the highlights of a journey like this is the torrents, such as the “Wedding of the Waters,” where the Amazon meets the Rio Negro. Many of these small boat journeys go from Belem in Brazil to Iquitos in Peru.
The Peruvian Amazon is where the Amazon begins and where visitors can travel along the river in a restored riverboat, or smaller expedition vessels, in order to access smaller tributaries. There are blackwater lakes, tribal villages, and the Amazon Biosphere Reserve, where there is an aerial platform over the rainforest canopy. Many of the species living here are yet to be identified. Most of the journeys depart from Iquitos and travel to Tabatinga in Brazil, or visit the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, where sloths or even pink dolphins may be sighted. There are even night river journeys to spot caimans in the Amazonian waters.
Most journeys involving the Brazilian section of the Amazon commence in Manaus, which is best known for its famous opera house. There are many points along the route to stop and explore and there is always something new to see. This could be medicinal plants, river otters, caimans and, for the lucky few, a jaguar. The bird life is prolific and includes herons, parrots, macaws, jacanas, hoatzins, nightjars, and kingfishers, not to mention the unique specimens of butterflies and other insects found in the Amazon jungle.
Parts of the Ecuadorian Amazon can be explored by riverboat and these journeys usually include a visit to the Napo River and tributaries. The wildlife experiences are unforgettable and there are monkeys, giant trees, and a host of insects to view. The flooded forests are very atmospheric and an encounter with a local tribe is a fascinating experience. There are a number of eco lodges in the Amazon, and dugout canoes for visitors, which are alternative ways of seeing this great river and the biodiversity of the jungle.
The Bolivian section of the Amazon River is another wonderful opportunity to see more of the rainforest and the water life. There are pink dolphins and lots of monkeys to entertain visitors, as well as places like Chuchini, a bird sanctuary where thousands of departing birds are a memorable sight. The Mojena and Yurakare people live in the area, and learning more about their way of life is a bonus for any visitor. Even catching piranhas for tea is an entertaining way to pass time on the Amazon.
Any visit to the Amazon River to experience the sounds and sights of the rainforest and rushing waters is a trip that will stay in your heart forever. From the howl of a monkey flying through the trees to a rainbow of bird feathers in flight, not to mention the prolific plant life, there is so much to experience and to learn about in the Amazon. This is a fragile environment, with many species yet to be identified, and a river journey is the perfect way to see the Amazon at its very best, winding through the jungle and bringing life to the continent.
(Photo Credit: Flickr user markg6)