Amazon River Facts: The Ultimate Resource

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Amazon River facts

The mightiest river on earth, the Amazon has become almost mythical in its size and mystery. 

Although there is still much to be discovered about this incredible region, the Amazon is firmly considered to be the most bio-diverse region on earth.

The Amazon also has a rich history that dates back thousands of years. Even today there are indigenous tribes and wildlife species still being discovered. With so much beauty and diversity, there are tons of epic Amazon river facts.

To help you find out all you can about this amazing place, we have put together the ultimate list of Amazon river facts. Whether you're studying, planning to visit, or just curious, this page is the perfect resource.

We have tried to group the facts for ease of use - please use the quicklinks provided below to jump to a certain section. 

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Amazon River History Facts

Amazon River facts - history 1

First discovery

The first European to discover the Amazon was Spanish conquistador Vicente Yanez Pinzon in March 1500. His ship was sailing 200 miles out to sea when he noticed they were sailing on freshwater. He then took the ship in the direction of the freshwater and discovered the large river mouth. 

The naming

The Amazon gets its name from the female warriors of ancient Greek mythology. The first European to explore the rainforest was Spanish soldier Francisco de Orellana in 1541. He reported fighting tribes of female warriors and thus named the area 'Amazon' or 'Amazonia'. 

Francisco de Orellana was also the first European to sail the entire length of the Amazon. 

A long swim

In 2007, Martin Strel became the first person to swim the entire length of the Amazon river! Martin swam for ten hours a day for 66 days!

A long history

Although we now associate the Amazon with lush rainforest, it was not always this way. During its history the Amazon has been an area of large lakes and seas. 

Wrong direction 

According to research, the Amazon used to flow west-ward instead of east-ward! The change was brought about by the rise of the Andes Mountain Range -causing it to flow into the Atlantic Ocean. 

The bridge

Until recently there was not a single bridge over the Amazon! The first to be built was in Manaus in 2011. The reason is fairly simple - the rainforest is generally not inhabited. There are very few towns/cities and most crossing points can be operated by ferry.  

Medical history

According to scientists, about 25% of all medicines used in the western world contain ingredients that originated in the Amazon Rainforest. 

Amazon River Geography Facts

Amazon River facts - geography

A big river

The Amazon river is the world's largest river by both length and discharge of water! It's 6,992km long and discharges 175,000 m3 per second! The length record is often contested with the Nile and the debate is still ongoing. 

The total discharge of the Amazon is equal to the discharge the next 7 biggest rivers in the world put together! 

A lot of rain

The Amazon is known for it's humid and rain. Every year the Amazon basin receives at least 2300 mm (or ~7.5') or rain fall. In some of the wetter areas this increases to 6000 mm (almost 20')! Amazon river cruises depart in both seasons, but they offer differing experiences. 

The sad truth

Since the 1960s it is estimated that 20% of the Amazon has been destroyed by deforestation! If this trend continues, 50% of the rainforest could be destroyed within 20 years. 

A frightening fact

According to research, every single second one acre of forest is cut down! This is a worldwide fact, but the Amazon accounts for much of it. 

A lot of countries

The Amazon is so long that it runs through 6 countries; Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil. Of these 6, Brazil gets the lion's share due to the large size of the country. 

A wide river

The Amazon is also the widest river on the planet. During the wet season, the Amazon River can be more than 48 kilometers (30 miles) wide at some points! 

The mouth of the river is over 320 kilometres (200 miles) wide. That is seriously wide!

A big island

The biggest island in the Amazon River is the size of Switzerland! Located in Brazil in the state of Pará, Marajó Island is 48,000 square kilometers (18,533 square miles).

A gentle slope

The height of the Amazon from source to sea actually changes very little. Depending on the season, there is between 1 - 2cm vertical change per kilometer of the river. This is why threes no white water on the main river!

Although there is not much height difference, the river still moves quickly thanks to its sheer size and weight. In certain areas the current speed can reach 3 meters (9.8 feet) per second!

A lot of tributaries

The Amazon has roughly 1,100 tributaries extending from it. 17 of these are over 1,000 miles long!

The rainmaker

The Amazon releases around 7 trillion tons of water per year into the atmosphere! This then recycles and becomes 50%-75% of the annual rainfall.  

The source

The actual source of the Amazon River is in Lago Villafro in the Andes Mountains. The huge amount so water are fed by glaciers! The true source was only discovered in 1971 by Loren McIntyre (USA). 

A big city

When people think of the Amazon, they think of sprawling rainforest. However, there is actually a huge city in the Amazon called Manaus. Located in Brazil, Manaus is situated 900 miles (1450 km) inland and has a population of over 1.9 million people! This is one of the most popular cruise departure points for Amazon river cruises. You'll find basic boat options and more expensive, luxurious options.  

Colour change

The huge amout of freshwater discharge from the Amazon into the Atlantic Ocean changes the colour of the ocean for 2,600,000 square kilometers (1,003,865  square miles).

Is that edible?

There are actually over 3,000 edible fruits that can be found growing in the Amazon rainforest. However, you need to be careful as there are also many poisonous varieties! 

The lungs of the Earth

The Amazon is often referred to as the 'the lungs of the Earth'. This is because the oxygen generated from the rainforest accounts for about 20% of all the oxygen on earth! 

A big basin

The largest drainage basin in the world is of course the Amazon Basin. It covers an area of approximately 7,050,000 square kilometers (2,720,000 square miles) in total. The Amazon Basin also accounts for 1/5th of all river flow in the world. 

How big?

The Amazon rainforest covers around 40% of South America! This means it plays a major role in many people's lives and makes boat travel essential. 

A slow rain

The canopy of the Amazon is so thick with foliage that floor of the forest is constantly in darkness. It often take 10 minutes for the rain to reach the ground, even in heavy rainfall, so you'll have time to get your poncho out

The tribes

There are at least 400-500 indigenous Amerindian tribes that live along the Amazon River. Of these, at least 50 have never made contact with the outside world!  

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Amazon River Wildlife Facts

Amazon River facts - wildlife

A lot of fish

There is at least 3,000 recorded species of fish in the Amazon! That's more than the entire Atlantic Ocean. Some expert believe there may be more than 6,000 species! 

A river friend

The boto is the largest species of river dolphin in the world. It's unusual pink colour is often seen in the dark waters throughout the Amazon. It is commonly called the Amazon River dolphin or the pink river dolphin. Males can be over 8 feet long and weigh over 185kg! 

Shark alert

Amazingly, bull sharks have been spotted near Iquitos, Peru. The area is 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) upstream from the mouth of the river! 

A big fish!

The Arapaima is a species of fish found in the Amazon that can grow up to 4 meters (15 feet) in length! These beasts can weigh up to 200 kilograms and Jeremy Wade famously tried to catch one in an episode of River Monsters. They have teeth on the roof of their mouth and on their tongue!  

A big snake!

It may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but huge anaconda like to lurk in the shallow waters of the Amazon. They wait for prey to come to the shore to drink before striking. Some anacondas have been known to grow to 5 meters in length (17 feet)! 

A bright bird

Macaws are the favourite of many people who visit the Amazon. These vibrant parrots are often seen in groups 20-30 and can be heard from far away. They mate for like and can live for up to 60 years in the forest. 

A loud bird

As many visitors to the Amazon will realise, toucans are the loudest of any creature that lives here. Their call can be heard over half a mile through thick jungle!!

What a claw

The harpy eagle is a majestic bird and the largest of any bird go prey found in the Amazon. Their one of the biggest eagle species on earth and their claws are bigger than grizzly bear claws! 

Sea cow

The Amazon manatee is often called the sea cow thanks to its similar size and shape. The Amazonian manatee is recognised by its white or bright pink patch on its breast. 

The lazy ones

The three-toed sloth is commonly spotted in the Amazon. It's one of the laziest creatures around, sleeping for a good 20 hours every day. Even when it is awake it rarely moves - and if it does, it's very slow! 

The piranha myth

Although most movies portray piranha as vicious hunters that will kill humans should they enter the eater, this is not entirely true. It's generally safe to swim with piranha. Of the 60 species of piranha, only a few will attack humans. Even these species of Piranha will only ever become aggressive if there is a serious drought and food has become scarce. 

First in biodiversity

The Amazon rainforest is the most biodiverse place on earth. It has 3,000 species of fish, 1,300 species of birds, 2.5 million species of insect, 430 mammal species and a whopping 40,000 species of plant!

To put those numbers into perspective, the Amazon is responsible for 1/3rd of the world's flora and fauna species.  

Painkiller

A chemical extracted from a particular species of poison dart frog has shown to have medical qualities. Scientists can use the chemical to produce a painkiller 200 times stronger than morphine! However, it's currently not used as it's actually too strong. 

Poison choices

Although poison dart frogs get their name from indigenous tribes using their poison on the end of hunting darts, most tribes actually use poisonous plants instead. Only about 4 species of poisonous dart frogs are used for hunting. These poisons are the most potent on earth. 

Extinction race

Although it may sound unbelievable, according to research, 35 species a day become extinct in the Amazon! 

The king of the jungle

The jaguar is the Amazon's top predator. Blending perfectly into the dappled rainforest light, jaguars are rarely seen by humans or their prey. Although they live on land, jaguars are excellent swimmers and often hunt in the water! They have frequently been seen taking down large caiman! See video below. 

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Below is a short video by National Geographic demonstrating how effective jaguars are at hunting! 

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Thank you and happy travels!

Expedition Cruise Team

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