The Amazon Sights

The Amazon, home to more than 200 species of mammals and 1,800 species of birds, and providing 20% of the earth's oxygen, is the world's largest and densest rain forest. Stretching 6,300 km (3,900 miles), the Amazon River is the world's longest river. From its source in the Peruvian Andes, the river and its tributaries snake through parts of Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil before emptying

into the Atlantic.

Though Belém, Santarém, and their surrounding areas offer some of the more interesting jungle and river excursions, they don't have nearly the selection or number of visitors that Manaus has. The most common excursion is a half- or full-day tourist-boat trip that travels 15 km (9 miles) east of Manaus to where the coffee-colored water of the Rio Negro flows beside and gradually joins the coffee-with-cream-color water of the Rio Solimões. According to Brazilians, this is where the Amazon River begins. The waters flow alongside one another for 6 km (4 miles) before merging. Many of these Meeting-of-the-Waters treks include motorboat side trips along narrow streams or through bayous. Some also stop at the Parque Ecológico do Lago Janauari, where you can see birds and a lake filled with the world's largest water lily, the vitória régia.

Nighttime boat trips into the forest explore flooded woodlands and narrow waterways. Some stop for trail hikes. Some companies take you by canoe on a caiman "hunt," where caimans are caught and released. Trips to the Rio Negro's upper reaches, where wildlife is a little wilder, are also offered. Such trips usually stop at river settlements to visit with local families. They may include jungle treks, fishing (they supply the gear and boat), and a trip to Anavilhanas, the world's largest freshwater archipelago. It contains some 400 islands with amazing Amazon flora, birds, and monkeys.

Whatever your style of travel, there's a boat plying the river to suit your needs. Sleep in a hammock on the deck of a thatch-roof riverboat or in the air-conditioned suite of an upscale vessel. A typical river program includes exploring tributaries in small boats; village visits, perhaps with a blowgun demonstration; piranha fishing; nocturnal wildlife searches; and rain-forest walks with a naturalist or indigenous guide to help you learn about plants, wildlife, and traditional medicines. River journeys along the Brazilian Amazon typically begin in Manaus and feature three to 10 days on the water, plus time in Manaus and, sometimes, Rio de Janeiro.

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The Amazon Sights

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Its name literally meaning "see the weight" (a throwback to the time when the Portuguese weighed everything entering or leaving the region)...