Getting Oriented

A trip along the Amazon itself is a singular experience. From its source in southern Peru it runs 6,300 km (3,900 miles) to its Atlantic outflow and averages more than 3 km (2 miles) in width, but reaching up to 48 km (30 miles) across in the rainy season. Of its hundreds of tributaries, 17 are more than 1,600 km (1,000 miles) long. The Amazon is so large it could hold the Congo, Nile, Orinoco, Mississippi, and Yangtze Rivers with room to spare. In places it is so wide you can't see the opposite shore, earning it the appellation Rio Mar (River Sea).

Although there has been increasing urbanization in the Amazon region, between one-third and one-half of the Amazon's residents live in rural settlements, many of which are along the riverbanks, where transportation, water, fish, and good soil for planting are readily available.


This city is the Amazon's largest city as well as its main entrance. It was built largely on the good fortune of a couple of economic booms. The first was rubber. The second was the creation of a tax-free zone. Getting around the city or heading north to Venezuela is done by car or bus. To go anywhere else, you must use a boat or plane. Don't plan to drive south to Porto Velho or Bolivia. The road will be gone in a number of places.

Between Manaus and Belém

As one would expect, distances between the major cities are huge. Traveling from one to another is done mostly by internal flights, since there are no roads connecting them. Boats commonly run from Belém to Manaus and back, though the 1,150-mile journey takes four or five days and the cost can often be similar to flying. Large planes connect cities and larger towns. Small planes reach some smaller towns, though they can be costly. While the Transamazônica Highway is intended to connect the eastern and western regions, nature is still in control.


Belém lies 60 miles upstream from the ocean at the confluence of several rivers. It was one of the first areas to be settled by the Portuguese. Its blend of river, ocean, and tropical forest makes for interesting geography and traveling. Buses run to landlocked villages northeast and southwest of the city, while boats run elsewhere. Boats are slow, so add extra time to your travel plans.

Side Trips from Belém

The river beaches of Mosqueiro lie an hour away by bus, and Salinópolis's expansive ocean beaches are three hours. Thirty minutes in a boat will get you to villages across the river. Interesting towns with beaches on the southeast coast of Marajó Island take three to four hours. Overnight boats will get you to communities like Macapá and Breves. Two days will get you to Santarém.

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