Amazonas and the Amazon River in Brazil
Amazonas is the largest state in Brazil (1.6 million sq km), bigger than any country in South America except Argentina, but with a population of just 2.8 million. Half of the inhabitants live in the capital, Manaus, with the rest spread out in remote communities often linked only by air and river.
The scenery in Amazonas is magnificent. Nothing can prepare you for the vast skies, the pure air, the endless shades of green, and rivers that stretch to the horizon. Nowhere does the Amazon feel more like the inland sea it once was than here. Rivers merge in vast swirls of myriad shades, from the translucent black of strong iced tea to café-au-lait brown, through vast forest-fringed lakes covered with giant water lilies or through eerie strands of flooded igapó or varzea forest. And in the rivers' depths swim 4m-long horny-tongued fish, bull sharks, dolphins, stingrays and catfish big enough to swallow a man whole.
Amazonas state preserves Brazil's most extensive and unspoilt areas of lowland tropical forest, and the tourist industry here is developing fast. Most tours and trips to jungle lodges begin in Manaus, a sprawling rubber-boom town with good national and international connections. Beyond Manaus are the giant boulder mountains of the upper Rio Negro, which rise to Brazil's highest peak, the flooded wilds of Mamirauá Ecological Reserve near Tefé, and the Javari near Tabatinga, which are among the best places in the Amazon for spotting wildlife.
But the vast forests of Amazonas are not uninhabited. Civilizations have been living here from anywhere between 11,000 and 5000 BC and these people and their caboclo descendants maintain a rich cultural life. Although indigenous villages are very difficult to visit, their heritage can be experienced at the festivals in São Gabriel and the Boi Bumba in Parintins. The latter is the largest and most spectacular in the country after Carnaval and takes place on an island in the middle of the Amazon river at the end of June.
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