The Brazilian Amazon is far more than a large river surrounded by rainforest. It is a continent of forests, savannas and mountains, coursed by myriad veins of flowing water, pocked with lakes, overflowing with flooded forests and home to several million people. They live in vibrant cities, little towns, indigenous villages and tiny river settlements of stilted or floating houses. Visiting even a small part of the region is the highlight of many trips.
A journey through offers the experience of a lifetime. And as it would take a lifetime to visit everywhere (the Brazilian Amazon alone occupies an area a little smaller than Western Europe), it can be hard to decide where to go and what to see. First time visitors often base a decision on where to see wildlife. This can be a mistake. For whilst the wildlife is spectacular, the forests are dense and seeing animals other than birds is far harder than in the Pantanal or cerrado. What is magical about the Amazon are its vast landscapes – it’s oceanic rivers and winding streams, its shimmering skies and labyrinthine backwaters – and the unique human drama which is played out here day after day.
The Amazon offers great geographical diversity. In the north, the magnificent Rio Negro - black as coffee and fringed with pearly beaches - rushes in rapids past giant boulders the size of mountains before winding through the world’s largest river archipelago and stretching to several kilometres wide as it reaches the Amazon proper at the teeming port city of Manaus. Around Boa Vista, 759 km north of Manaus, lie the expansive Amazon savannahs, towered over by the world’s largest table-top mountains, their brows heavy with perpetual thunder cloud.
In the East the Amazon is joined by a series of rivers until it reaches its mouth, where it divides into two main confluences before pouring out into the ocean leaving an island of silt the size of Denmark, the Ilha de Marajó, in its wake. In the far west, the Amazon forests are gentler and more fertile; filled with life around the verdant fringes of the Rio Javarí, where the trees seem permanently full of parrots, macaws and monkeys and where grey and pink dolphins surface from the deep, languid brown river. This is the Amazon heartland – where deforestation has been at a minimum and where many of the region’s tribal people choose to remain remote or uncontacted.