Chapter 1 Welcome to the Brazilian Amazon
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Often referred to as the ‘lungs of the earth’, the Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on Earth, and the Amazon River is the the world’s mightiest. Covering almost half of Brazil’s landmass and extending into eight other South American countries, the Amazon is a rewarding destination for anyone looking for an experiential trip that will linger long in the memory.

The Amazon exists on a scale that is difficult to comprehend. The biodiversity of the rainforest is mind-boggling: there are more species of plant in just one hectare of the Amazon than in all of Europe, and the jungle is home to around a quarter of all the planet’s living species.

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There are some 1,000 rivers and tributaries – enough to circle the Earth twice over if joined together – in which swim an estimated 3,000 species of fish. Some 300 species of mammal have been identified in the jungle, along with close to 2,000 types of butterfly.

The sheer scale of the Amazon rainforest can be both awe-inspiring and intimidating to the visitor. When planning a trip here it makes sense to concentrate on one region. The Brazilian portion alone is mind-blowing in scale, but many of the jungle’s most compelling attractions are within the reach of travelers who want to experience the world’s largest tropical forest without abandoning their creature comforts.

And if you’re imagining hacking your way through impenetrable forest, machete swinging wildly, it might be time to think again.

While the Brazilian Amazon offers great scope for rugged jungle adventures, a trip here needn’t be an endurance test of your wilderness survival skills. Today’s visitor can also find high-end jungle lodges offering impeccable cuisine, while luxury yachts provide a floating base to explore the jungle in style.

During the dry season, pristine white sand beaches spring up alongside rivers that are so broad they’re more like inland seas, making the Amazon a surprisingly perfect location for a beach holiday, and with a sense of splendid isolation that you won’t find anywhere on Brazil’s more famous coast.

Foodie travelers will be in their element, too, thanks to nature’s bounty. The trees hang heavy with colourful tropical fruit – many of which don’t even have names in English – while the rivers teem with edible fish. Superfoods such as energy-boosting guarana and acai are found in abundance.

Fish baked in a Brazil nut crust, potent caipifrutas made with sugar cane rum and fresh fruit, and rich ice creams, mousses and sorbets made with tropical fruit such as creamy cupuacu are among the many culinary treats to be discovered.

What you see and experience depends entirely on where and when you visit, and how you prefer to travel. The Amazon River itself is the ‘expressway’ of the jungle. The communities that live on the banks of the legendary river are long accustomed to enormous ships passing by – with no roads linking it to the south of the country, all freight into the main city of Manaus is carried by river.

In contrast, travelling down the Amazon’s countless tributaries is a much more laid back affair, more akin to taking a quiet country road. But the scale can still be vast! The waterways range from relatively narrow to so wide that you won’t be able to see the shore on the other side.

Villages along these shores are usually very small, populated by communities who lead largely subsistence lifestyles; living off the river and the land. Schooling is a challenge here, and many children take a boat for miles to reach class.

The jungle is home to a staggering collection of flora, colourful birds and butterflies, and while the larger land mammals largely keep themselves hidden in the trees, it’s common to spot pink dolphins at play in the rivers.
But it’s not all about wild nature. Many of the Amazon’s 17 million human inhabitants are concentrated in the large cities of Manaus – which has a population close to two million – and Belem. Manaus is a buzzing, bustling city deep in the heart of the jungle, where visitors can admire the architecture of the city’s famous Opera House and take in a lively drinking and dining scene before embarking on a trip down the Rio Negro as it flows out of the city. Meanwhile, the port city of Belem is a foodie hotspot, with some truly high end restaurants serving highly imaginative dishes made from native ingredients.

The jungle’s cities and large towns owe much of their grand architecture to the rubber boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Surrounded by rubber trees, these cities thrived, becoming the richest and most developed in Brazil until seeds were smuggled out of the country to establish plantations in Malaysia, thus ending Brazil’s rubber monopoly.

Today, the Brazilian Amazon is a rich mix of untamed nature, barely-contacted indigenous villages and busy cities. It is perfectly possible to enjoy exuberant wild nature while traveling on luxurious yachts, or take in an opera after exploring some of the most remote regions of the jungle.

The Amazon offers almost limitless opportunities for accessible, even luxurious, adventures, and trips can be tailor made to suit individual travel tastes. Always surprising, never dull, the Brazilian Amazon is a destination that goes well beyond the ordinary and into the realms of outright fantasy.

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