Compared to every other one of the world’s great rivers, the Amazon is by far the biggest. However it’s measured, by the amount of water, size of its drainage basin, or total length, no other river comes close.
Yes, some argue the Nile River is a bit longer in total length, but that fact too is in dispute. The Amazon River, with an average discharge of 55-million gallons per second, releases more water than the next seven-largest rivers in the world combined. The Amazon River discharges approximately 20 percent of the world’s total fresh water. The Amazon basin, at more than 2.7 million square miles, is nearly twice the size of the world’s second largest river (by water discharged), Africa’s Congo River basin. And the Amazon’s mouth stretches over 40 miles and pushes freshwater more over 100 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. To date, no bridge has been built across any portion of the Amazon River.
Aside from its gargantuan size, the Amazon also is one of earth’s great bioregions and home to approximately 10 percent of the world’s known biodiversity, including many flora and fauna that are classified as endangered. This place is a treasure trove for biomedicine.
Getting up close and experiencing the Amazon River firsthand puts things into a more intimate perspective. It is a chance to see the trees in the forest, and if one is lucky, to catch a glimpse of the creatures that call this place home.
Once you enter the river region there are essentially two ways to get around. Boats along the water are as common as taxis in New York City, but you need a boat with a good motor to scoot along the water. And a good captain is essential if you want to make time and dodge the many limbs and tree fall that could easily sink your boat. Once you are off the river, the way to get around is to hike along the trails that disappear into the jungle.
With an experienced guide, a visit to the Amazon is an opportunity to see gorgeous creatures like the Amazon River dolphin (or pink dolphin), the largest river dolphin in the world. Adult males can reach a length of eight feet and weigh up to 400 pounds.
The Amazon is also home to sinister denizens like the pink-bellied piranha, the highly poisonous bushmaster snake, the anaconda, or any number of other deadly residents. Insects, birds and many other creatures abound, and a good guide can point them out – and keep you from making a misstep.
The moment you step into the jungle you are absorbed and feel like you have been enveloped (like a gauzy, steamy blanket), rather than being detached and observant. The heat is constant and the high humidity quickly dulls your senses. Even on a bright sunny day, the jungle canopy shuts out most of the light, shrouding details from the untrained eye.
This is a place of rare beauty. And once your eyes become accustomed to the apparent wildness of the jungle you are able to discern the harmony of nature.
Human beings may think themselves the most evolved species on earth, but make no mistake, the creatures of the Amazon River and the jungle that surround it are the true rulers of this realm. They will be there long after humans are gone.
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