Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

Most tourists to Manaus spend a half or full day exploring the natural beauty of the Amazon River on a boat tour. All of your senses will be thrilled during this peek into the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

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River Excursion in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

Manaus is the capital city of Amazonas located near the convergence of the Negro and Solimões Rivers. This point marks the beginning of the Lower Amazon River. A highlight for tourists is an excursion through the Amazon Rainforest. Your adventure begins at the Port of Manaus. Tethered to the floating docks are a spectrum of vessels. They range from small wooden rowboats to three-deck riverboats called gaiolas. The latter are used primarily to ferry passengers and cargo along the Amazon River. Your vessel is neither of these extremes. So, hurry along. Your tour guide and captain await you.

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Floating Gas Station in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

At home, you think nothing about stopping at your local gas station for a fill up. Yet it is initially surprising to see them floating in a row on the Rio Negro offshore of Manaus. Then this oddity seems logical when you realize the majority of transportation on the Amazon River is by boat.

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Floating Market in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

Adolpho Lisboa and Feira da Manaus Moderna are two large markets located on the waterfront of central Manaus. Local residents and people living along the river shop there for their fish, produce and personal items. But don’t you often want to skip large, crowded stores for quick purchases? The Amazon River’s version of a convenience store is a floating market. This one specializes in fresh bakery products.

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Exploring the Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

You boat tour explores a section of the rainforest in Iranduba. This smallest municipality in Amazonas is located west of Manaus and nestled between the Solimões and Negro Rivers. The scenery is lush and tranquil. Often you will glide beneath a canopy of trees in narrow channels called igarapés. Keep a watchful eye. There is magnificent wildlife along the riverbanks and in the treetops. And what you cannot see, you can hear in a cadence unique to the Amazon.

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Excursion Boat in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

This single-deck excursion boat is typical of the sightseeing vessels in the Amazon Rainforest. They are fast and comfortable yet agile enough to navigate most waterways. Sometimes modified trawlers are used when plans include narrower outreaches. There are several reputable tour operators in Manaus. The most popular packages are half and full-day trips. Longer options are also offered. Multi-lingual guides are available to share their knowledge and love of this beautiful aquatic jungle.

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Facts about Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

The Amazon Basin is massive. It spreads over 2.7 million square miles. About 80% is forested with over 390 billion trees earning the moniker “the lungs of the earth.” To put this size into perspective, the lower 48 United States are 3.1 million square miles. The Amazon Rainforest is well named. On average, it receives 87 inches of precipitation a year over 200 days of rain. The wettest months are December through May. During this period, water levels can rise over 30 feet causing forests to flood. The hot dry season is September through November. The best time for visiting Floresta Amazônica (Portuguese) is in May and June.

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Stalking Great White Egret in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

The Amazon Basin is a utopia for birdwatchers. This is home to more than 1,500 species. Over 250 of them are endemic to Brazil. Most tourists hope to catch a glimpse of macaws, parrots and toucans. One year-round resident you will easily recognize stalking along the riverbed is the great white egret. This elegant hunter stands about 3.3 feet with a wingspan up to five feet. It is also called the common egret because of its wide distribution across the Southern Hemisphere plus parts of North America and Asia.

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Floating House in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

The municipality of Iranduba has a population of 42,000. Most residents are inland. Their homes are reachable by roads which connect to Manaus by the Rio Negro Bridge. Others reside in stilt houses on small plots along the river. A few live directly on the river in floating houses.

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Unripe Cocona Fruit in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

This is an unripe cocona fruit hanging from a six-foot shrub. At maturity, the edible fruit becomes a shade of red, orange or yellow. Inside are 800 to 2,000 seeds. The taste is a mix between a lemon and a tomato. The variety growing near Manaus is technically named solanum sessiliflorum. Locals call it cubiyú.

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Man Paddling Canoe in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

Some residents live deep in the Amazon Rainforest where the channels can be narrow and shallow. This necessitates paddling home in a canoe (canoa in Portuguese). These primitive wooden crafts are often fitted with a small engine for traveling in open water and while making supply trips to Manaus.

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Suspended Brown-throated Sloth in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

The brown-throated sloth is the most widespread species in Brazil. This sluggard of the rainforest uses its three curved claws on its hands and feet to clutch onto tree limbs and often suspends upside down. An adult can measure up to 31 inches and weigh 14 pounds. They sleep 15 to 18 hours a day. When awake, their pace is very slow. This sloth’s coarse, wet guard hair attracts algae and fungal flora. This combination provides the mammal with camouflage from predators.

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Floating Restaurant in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

Most of the half and full-day river excursions include a lunch at a floating restaurant. One of the most popular is Rainha da Selva Restaurante on the Solimões River. The eatery specializes in delicious Brazilian and South American cuisine. This stop also features a small handicraft store.

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Wooden Boardwalk at Janauari Ecological Park, Manaus, Brazil

Adjacent to Rainha da Selva Restaurante is a wooden boardwalk. This elevated path through a flooded forest leads to Parque Ecologico Janauari. The park contains over 22,000 acres of diverse vegetation typifying the Amazon Rainforest.

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Cecropia Embauba at Janauari Ecological Park, Manaus, Brazil

Hopefully you have an experienced guide during your tour who can identify the abundance of flora and fauna in the rainforest. They all have fascinating stories. An example is the Cecropia embauba. For centuries, local Indian tribes have boiled the foot-long leaves into tea. The medicinal properties lessen respiratory problems, improve diabetes, lower blood pressure and strengthen the heart.

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Squirrel Monkey at Janauari Ecological Park, Manaus, Brazil

Squirrel monkeys are sure to greet you from the tree canopies during your walk into Janauari Ecological Park. This adorable, beige and orange creature measures up to 13 inches with an even longer tail. They live together in large groups. Expect many of them to race and jump among the branches while you stroll by. The squirrel monkeys at the park entrance have become accustomed to tourists and may aggressively seek a handout.

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Viewing Platform at Janauari Ecological Park, Manaus, Brazil

The boardwalk at Janauari Ecological Park leads to a thatched platform. It provides an elevated view of the swampy lake and woodlands. If you like what you see, some tour operators offer an extended visit of Parque Ecologico Janauari by boat.

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Water Lilies at Janauari Ecological Park, Manaus, Brazil

The visual highlight of Janauari Ecological Park is water lilies. The Victoria amazonica is unique in the shallows of the Amazon River. The flower has a three-day lifespan. On the first night the bloom is white. The following evening it becomes pink. The next day it turns red while withering. These would have been the envy of famous French impressionist Claude Monet who created 250 paintings of water lilies.

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Water Lily Close Up at Janauari Ecological Park, Manaus, Brazil

The world’s largest water lily deserves a close up. Its giant leaf can reach a diameter of five to ten feet. English gardeners were so impressed they competed to grow the aquatic plant in the mid-19th century. The lily was then ceremoniously gifted to Queen Victoria and dubbed the Victoria regia, although that name is not used today. Many locals call it the Queen of the Lakes.

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Black-collared Hawk in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

With such an abundance of wildlife in the Amazon Basin, it is not surprising to find a large assortment of predators. There are several species of eagles and kites plus about a dozen types of hawks. This is an adult black-collared hawk. These birds are typically perched above freshwater in the heart of South America. When a passing fish is spotted, this hawk will dive off the tree before swooping up the unsuspecting prey with its long talons. Then the bird will return to a branch to enjoy its meal.

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Description of Amazon River, Manaus, Brazil

Your excursion is a minuscule subset of the Amazon River, the world’s largest by volume. The Amazonas (Portuguese) headwaters are in the Andes in central Peru. Over 1,000 tributaries join the easterly, 4,000 mile flow across northern Brazil. When the Amazon arrives in the Atlantic Ocean – 900 miles from Manaus – the 300 mile wide mouth empties up to 500 billion cubic feet of fresh water a day.

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Indigenous People in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

Prior to the mid-17th century, millions of índios (Portuguese for Indians) lived across the Amazon Rainforest in 2,000 nations. Three tribes resided near here: Tamurãs, Barés and Manaós, the namesake for the city of Manaus. The majority of indigenous Brazilians died from European diseases or harsh treatment as slaves on rubber plantations. Only 200 tribes remain today. Some are together on their ancestral land or government-established reservations. Others, like this old man, prefer to live in relative isolation on small plots deep in the forest. Yet they have adapted western amenities such as clothes, electricity and communications. The Dessana tribe – who are on the Tupé reserve about 15 miles from Manaus – welcome tourists to witness their native lifestyle and customs.

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Cattle Grazing in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

Approximately 289,000 square miles of the Amazon Basin has been deforested since the late 1970s. Approximately 60% is from ranching. The resulting pastures tend to be of poor quality, yet cleared land is easier for claiming ownership. These livestock are mixed breeds. The white animal with drooping ears is an Indo-Brazilian. When they were imported to the United States in 1946, they became the brahman. The others are nagori cattle. Both species are very tolerant of extreme heat.

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Caiman Waiting to Ambush in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

There are over 450 species of reptiles wandering through the Amazon Rainforest. Among the smallest are lizards, iguanas and snakes. The largest is the caiman. They range from the Cuvier’s dwarf caiman (maximum male length five feet) to the Amazon’s largest predator, the black caiman (often exceeds 14 feet long). Most caimans you notice lying in wait along the shore are four to five feet. They look similar to an alligator and are part of the same alligatoridae family. Yet caimans are classified as a crocodilian.

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Floating Community in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

On Largo Janauari (Lake January), you will see clusters of homes huddled along the riverbank. In Portuguese, floating houses are called casas flutuando.

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Kapok Tree in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

The giant of the Amazon Rainforest is the kapok. The Brazilian name is samaúma. The tree often reaches a height of 200 feet or more. To stabilize such mass on flood-prone riverbanks, the trunks can grow up to ten feet wide and are supported by buttress roots. Indigenous people carve the lightweight wood into canoes. The seed oil is used to make soap and medicines.

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Wading Wattled Jacana in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

The long legs and oversized claws and toes of the wattled jacana are designed so it can effortlessly navigate through aquatic vegetation in search of insects. The nest of this wetland bird is capable of floating to accommodate changing water levels. Distinguishing markings are a chestnut-colored back, yellow bill and red forehead. They display yellow wings in flight. The wattled jacana is widely distributed across freshwater wetlands in the South American tropics.

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Woman in Rowboat in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

Another common form of transportation is a motorized rowboat. This seems primitive. Yet it is a very practical way to navigate through the river narrows. Notice the woman’s clothing. Despite living deep in the Amazon Rainforest, she is wearing typical Western attire.

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Termite Nest in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

The Amazon Rainforest hosts about 240 species of termites. The Portuguese word is térmitas. Indigenous people call them cupins. The Latin derivative means wood-eating worm. These blind cousins of cockroaches feed on cellulose from dead plant material and are an essential part of the ecosystem. They live in a complex caste system similar to bees with a king and queen, several soldiers and predominately workers. Termites create three types of nests. Some are completely underground while others protrude. This is an arboreal nest attached to a tree.

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Flock of White-winged Swallows in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

This flock of white-winged swallows are taking a break from foraging over the water in search of flying insects. Their iridescent blue head and shoulders plus white belly make them easy to identify. They are small, measuring about 5.5 inches long, and weigh about half an ounce. The birds live near freshwater throughout the upper half of South America. In Brazil, you will only see them from mid-September through mid-April.

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Meeting of the Waters in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

The Meeting of the Waters is included in every boat excursion from Manaus. This is the convergence of Rio Negro’s blackwater and the beige, sandy waves of what Brazilians call Rio Solimões. Others refer to the latter as the Upper Amazon River. The two rivers run in parallel for about 3.7 miles without mixing. This oddity is caused by the difference in the water temperatures, density and speeds of the two rivers. Encontro das Aquas is a visual phenomenon seen in few other places around the world.

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Educandos Neighborhood in Amazon Rainforest, Manaus, Brazil

As you head back to Manaus after the Amazon Rainforest tour, you may see stacked cement housing, shacks on stilts and anchored boats … all in various degrees of decay. Educandos was a prime, waterfront location when it became the city’s first neighborhood. Now the bairro houses mostly displaced immigrants from across Brazil and, recently, Venezuela refugees. This type of shanty town is called a favela in Portuguese.

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