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Amazon Tourist Guide

Amazon

The Amazon is the world?s largest river, but is actually a complex waterway of tributaries and branches that account for about one fifth of the earth's freshwater. The vast rainforest of the Amazon region of South America is vital for the planet?s environmental balance and it?s home to countless species of animals and plants, and to human tribes that live traditional village lifestyles and depend on the river for their livelihood. The Amazon region can be explored by river cruise from the mouth of the river on the Atlantic coast of Brazil, or from the upper reaches in the Andes mountains of Peru.

On an Amazon river cruise you encounter both dense rainforest and cities with a colonial past built on the prosperity of trade in natural rubber in the 1800s and early 1900s, and gold in the 1920s. Your expedition may start from the mouth of the Amazon on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Belem is the main port, located 90 miles from the open sea on Guajara Bay. The city was founded by the Portuguese in 1616 to protect the mouth of the Amazon and stake Portugal's claim to the area, and thrived during the rubber boom. The city is a mix of modern and colonial styles of architecture. The Goeldi Museum is worth a visit; Avendia Presidente Vargas is the main shopping street and Ver-o-Peso on the waterfront is one of the most colourful markets in South America. Look out for Basilica de Nossa Senhora de Nazere - built in 1909 as a replica of St Peter's in Rome.

Santarem is the third-largest town in the Brazilian Amazon, which found prosperity in the 1920s gold rush. It has a marketplace where you can shop for local craft items and is a great place to try a caipirinha - the traditional drink of the region made from rum, crushed lime and sugar.

Manaus is the furthest navigable port on the Amazon for commercial shipping - about 1000 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean - and became prosperous as a center for rubber exports from Brazil's plantations. The rubber trade has died down now and left a heritage of colonial European style grand houses and civic buildings, strangely out of step with the traditional rainforest lifestyle of the region. Manaus is start of expedition cruises upstream on the Rio Negro - the largest arm of the Amazon waterway - cruising through the world's largest river island system, the Anavilhanas Archipelago. Here are hundreds of islands covered in vegetation. When the waters are low, white sandy beaches are revealed. Nearby, there is the Meeting of the Waters - where the muddy dark waters of the Rio Negro flow along side the clear white waters of the Solimoes River without mixing for several miles.

Boca de Valeria is the entrance to the channel that leads to Lake Valeria. Local villages on the river bank give you a glimpse of the traditional lifestyle. The locals generally row out in canoes to meet the cruise boats.

The upper reaches of the Amazon in the Andes mountains are best explored by cruise boat from Iquitos in Peru. Iquitos is a charming old town accessible from Lima and other cities only by water or light aircraft, as the few roads in the region become impassable in heavy and frequent rain. There are bars and cafés in a pedestrian area alongside the river and Paza de Armas, the town's central square. One curious heritage of a boom period in the 19th century is Casa de Fierro (Iron House), a structure that now houses shops and restaurants - it was built by Gustav Eiffel and his company and shipped over from Paris. You have a chance to spot pink dolphins in the Ucayali River and try your hand at dug-out canoeing on the River Maranon.  Hotel Palace - now an army barracks - is a remarkable European mansion from the same period, decorated in Art Nouveau style with multicoloured tiles from Seville, Spain.

Nauta is an Andes mountain city where the Ucayali and Maranon rivers meet - an important part of the upper reaches of the Amazon river complex.

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