Many people imagine the Amazon as a single river but, in reality, it is a huge network of rivers extending into nine countries. Before the Andes were formed, some 15 million years ago, the Amazon flowed west into the Pacific. But as the crash of continental plates pushed up the mountains, the river was cut off from its ocean and became a vast inland sea, hemmed in by the Guiana Shield to the east. Over millions of years this sea eroded the ancient sandstone shield, until it eventually burst through into the Atlantic. It left behind a vast filigree of veins that today make up the Amazon river system, populated by prehistoric air-breathing fish and unique freshwater species such as the Amazon stingray, whose closest relatives still live in the Pacific.
The Amazon contains a third of the world's fresh running water, whose colours range from vodka clear and tea black to coffee with milk and opaque aquamarines sprinkled with pink blind dolphins.
Even its tributaries dwarf the world's other rivers: the Madeira, Tapajos, Rio Negro and Tocantins all have
flows far greater than that of the Mississippi. At Santarém, 800 miles inland, the river spans a distance greater than London to Paris, while the river mouth itself contains an island the size of Denmark.
Many who come here expect to see animals, and common sightings include caiman, monkeys and dolphins. However, the forest offers plenty of cover for lowland animals, and most birds and primates live high in the canopy. Even in the small rainforest lodges on the tiniest tributaries, animals are hard to spot. Far more can be seen in Goiás or the Pantanal, yet the Amazon is unforgettable. There are few places in the world where the power of nature can be felt more potently or where a way of life in tune with that power survives more successfully.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF