Amazon Information You might want to know before planning your Trip
The legendary Amazon is one of the planet’s enigmas. The world’s largest river basin, 2.5 million square miles (6.5 million square kilometers), but also the planet’s greatest rainforest, the Amazon is a vast open-air greenhouse of global evolution and unsolved mysteries whose true potential remains largely unknown and untapped. It is possible to fly for hours over the Amazon region and see no break in the carpet of greenery except for the sinuous curves of the region’s rivers.
Two of the best places to see some of this incredible wildlife is at the Uakari and Anavilhanas Jungle lodges.
Although the indigenous people of the Amazon have resided in this region for centuries long before the European Conquistadors ever set foot in Amazonia, the adventurer first credited to have voyaged down the river Amazon was Francisco de Orellana in 1542.
The region’s treasures – minerals, oils, animal skins, precious stones, gold, emeralds and eventually petroleum – have, over centuries, attracted many international explorers to this vast region and its natural resources and raw materials, important to Western civilizations, have been exported in great quantities over the years.
Today, the growing awareness of the importance of the rain forest – both locally and globally – and the development of novel approaches to managing tropical forests provide reasons for hope that this incredible region will be maintained as one of the true vast natural paradises of our planet.
The Rainforest supports many communities of indigenous people whose livelihoods and culture depend on the sustainability of the forest. Millions of species of insects, animals, plants, and other organisms that inhabit this tropical wilderness are of extraordinary value to the indigenous communities and colonists that inhabit the region.
The most famous among the plants is guarana. Known for its high caffeine content, the guarana beverage provides energy and helps to reduce hunger. Ayuasca is another famous plant, which is used in spiritual awakening and ceremonies conducted by the Shaman.
A key role in many indigenous cultures is played by the local shaman, or medicine man. The Shamans, or Pajés (as they are known in Indian language), are not only the medicine men of the tribes and villages, but are also sorcerers and spiritual guides. The music, dances, legends and myths of the Amazon are an important part in the local people’s culture. The involving rhythms of the Carimbó, siria and lundu dances are very seductive, physically and spiritually. During the entire year, it is possible to attend and to participate in popular festivals, such as the Boi-bumba, Marujada and Çairé.
From north to south the rhythms show new colors and steps in accordance the History of each area. The people from this land carry in their blood the taste for lively dancing in the streets, and sensual hot rhythms.
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The Amazonian kitchen figures among one of the richest and most authentic in Brazil. The typical dishes use only natural and organic products, picked from the purest sources found in the amazon flora and fauna, unique to any other place in the world.
Eccentric names such as tucupi, tacacá, maniçoba, pirarucu, açaí, cupuaçu, bacuri and guaraná correspond to foods, fish or fruit which are irresistible from the first bite. By using these natural products and ingredients, which have been known for centuries among the Indians of the region, Amazonian cuisine has survived the ages practically unchanged, showing very little influence from European or African cuisine. If you want to try duck in tucupi, maniçoba or bacuri ice cream there is only one condition: forget your diet.
Dishes Duck in tucupi is roasted, then cut into pieces and boiled in tucupi, where it must simmer in the sauce for some time to acquire the flavor. Seasonings include garlic, chicory and basil. Jambu, a deliciously tart fruit, is boiled down in water with a little salt, then basted onto the duck, which is then covered by the tucupi. Pirarucu is among the most famous foods of Amazonian cuisine, and part of the regular diet. It is the largest fish in Brazil, reaching up to 2.5 meters in length and weighing up to 80 kg.
The Pirarucu is fished in the rivers of the Amazon region with hook or harpoon. Its reddish color is the origin of its name in the Tupi Indian language, ‘pirarúku ‘, which means ‘red fish’. The fresh meat is extremely tasty, and can also be dried and salted. Parts of this big fish are utilized as instruments for culinary and non culinary purposes. The dried tongue is used to grate guaraná berries to make the favorite local beverage, guaraná.
The scales are used as manicuring tools. Peixada (~peishahdah) is another favorite fish dish made with pescada amarela or tucunaré (amazonian Peacock Bass), preferably the smallish younger ones. It is important that only one kind of fish be used. ‘Chops’ of the fish are seasoned with lemon, salt and garlic. A broth is prepared with the head of the fish, parsley, onion, salt, mashed garlic and potatoes cut in half. When the potatoes begin to soften, the pieces of fish are added; the dish will be ready as soon as the potatoes have softened completely.
Caldeirada, similar to the peixada in the seasonings used and in the preparation, is made with several types of fish, and includes green vegetables. Light and nutritious, it is served with boiled eggs and manioc meal or ‘pirão’ (manioc grits), made with the broth of the Caldeirada. For those who like ‘hot’ food, add the local hot yellow pepper. Maniçoba is an exotic dish whose preparation lasts about one week, because the leaf of the maniva (the cassava plant) must be cooked for at least four days after being ground. Afterwards, salted and dried meat, bacon, salted pig’s ear, pig’s foot, smoked sausage and pork sausage are all added; practically the same ingredients of a complete feijoada (made with beans).
Maniçoba is classically accompanied with white rice, farinha-d’água (manioc flour) and hot yellow pepper to taste. Fruit Amazonian fruit is abundantly found in the flood plains of the rivers, rivulets and igarapés (narrow river channels), as well as in the highlands. With more than one hundred edible species, the regional fruit is directly responsible for the indefinable, perfected and often exotic flavors of the delicious desserts that enrich the region’s table.
Açaí is a drink extracted from the small fruit of the açaí tree, a lanky palm tree that reaches 30 meters in height and produces bunches with dozens of round pits (fruit). Purple in color, the drink is made like this: the pits of the açaí are placed in water to soften the fine peel that covers them. Soon after, the pits are kneaded with water in a clay bowl or in an appropriate machine. The mixture is then filtered in special sieves to obtain the purple liquid, thick and with an incomparable characteristic flavor. After adding sugar, tapioca meal or farinha-d’água (manioc flour), you drink it cold from a gourd or bowl with a spoon. Bacaba is a drink extracted from a different palm tree to the açaí, though it is made in the same way as açaí.
The result is a delicious and refreshing liquid of brownish color which is served chilled with sugar and tapioca meal, or farinha-d’água (manioc flour). The bacaba drink is less popular than açaí, though both are commonly used to make ice creams Cupuaçu is a cylindrical fruit, more or less 20 cm long and 13 cm in diameter. Rounded at its extremities, it is protected by a hard shell of dark brown color. Inside, there are about 50 big seeds covered entirely by a white meaty mass with a pleasant pervasive aroma and delicious sweet and sour flavor.
This classic Amazonian fruit is used to make Cupuaçu wine, ice cream, jellies, puddings, pies, creams, cakes, liqueurs, compotes, stuffing, mousses and countless other sweets. The Brazil Nut comes from the fruit of the castanheira-do-pará. This magnificent tree has remarkable dimensions: a trunk of 4 meters in diameter which reaches up to 50 meters in height. The fruit is spherical, about 11 to 14 cm in diameter, with variable weight between 700 and 1,500 grams. The round shell has a woody texture and is very hard, containing from 11 to 22 almonds or great chestnuts, covered with a thin woody shell. These chestnuts are very tasty and of high nutritious value.
Brazil nuts are often used for making sweets, fillings, cake icings, and various other dessert products. When fresh, they provide a milk which is used in the preparation of several typical dishes. Appreciated all over the world, the Brazil nut is one of the primary export products of Pará. Pará is one of the principal Amazonian states, in which the Amazon delta reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Those who adventure to the amazon to discover its many marvels will be deliciously surprised by the wonderful food.
Amazon History The most sophisticated Amerindian civilizations were those located near major rivers, and were the first to disappear with the advent of the Conquistadors. For this reason, we know little about how these Indians managed their surrounding ecosystems, but there is much evidence that points to the sophisticated manner in which they worked the forests and the land.
Before the arrival of the Europeans, the indigenous people of Amazonia had developed a forest culture which fed, in an ecologically sustainable manner, a forest population much larger than the present one. If we consider the high concentrations of Brazil nut trees found in certain corners of Amazonia many experts believe that these were planted by Amerindians who were no strangers to long-term planning (these trees typically take 15 to 20 years to mature and produce fruit). Such management schemes yielded high quality fruit, edible oil, medicinal leaves, and fiber for backpacks and other goods – all from a single species.
Five hundred years ago, Portuguese conquerors used their modern weapons against indigenous peoples armed with bows and arrows. Since the earliest adventurers explored the Amazon Valley, the principal quest has been to exploit its treasures – minerals, oils, animal skins, precious stones and metals, to name a few. Gold, emeralds, petroleum, and other raw materials important to Western civilizations have been exported in great quantities from this vast region. As explorers came more frequently in the 19th century to obtain these riches, an increasing number of people began to settle in the Amazon region. These settlers faced great struggles against the region’s Indians. The Jesuits sent missionaries to convert the Indians as an attempt to control the profitable commerce.
As expansion moved westward on the Amazon River toward the island where today the city of Manaus is located, the settlers began to exploit rubber extracted from the seringueira tree. This commerce grew in such proportions that Manaus became a very rich city by the early 20th century. The ‘Golden Age’, symbolized by the magnificent baroque Manaus Theatre and Symphony Hall, ended when the French and the English secretly took seeds of the seringueira tree to Asia to cultivate there. With the competition from Asia, Brazil was not the only supplier, and Manaus lost its position and importance. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Brazilian government decided to research the interior of the Amazon.
New explorers were sent deep into the heart of the forest to discover existing Indian tribes, their customs and forest knowledge. By 1980, the last unknown tribe was identified and contacted. The Brazilian government then created a Ministry to manage indigenous interests, the integrants being representatives from the tribes. Rich in natural resources, mineral extraction and ore production are important to the region’s economy. Albras is a major producer of aluminum; Cosipar produces cast iron; Camargo Corrêa Metais produces metallic silicium. Tourism is a main resource of the Amazon today, and there is tremendous concern over the environment.
Many millions of dollars have been spent to save the Amazon. This salvation has occurred with the creation of numerous programs that promote sustainable development in the region, instead of the previously uncontrolled exploitation of the forest. The next decade will prove crucial to determining the fate of the Amazon forest. The illegal practices that threaten the forest continue to exist (forest burning to create pasture land and mass wood extraction), though policing has increased considerably.
The growing awareness of the importance of the rain forest – both locally and globally – and the development of novel approaches to managing tropical forests provide reasons for hope. Today, as the eyes of the world turn toward this rich and amazing environment, tourism makes the regional economy grow at a very fast rate. Ships cruise the river full of passengers who venture to have their personal experiences in the forest. Manaus rebuilt itself, and its people are fully aware of the importance of foreign visitors to the region’s economy. Amazonians today receive visitors openly and hospitably.
Amazon Culture The Forest supports many communities of indigenous people whose livelihoods depend on the sustainability of the forest. Millions of species of insects, animals, plants, and other organisms that inhabit this tropical wilderness are of extraordinary value to the indigenous communities and colonists that inhabit the region. Indigenous and other local people presently utilize many of these species, and some have been introduced to agriculture elsewhere in the tropics.
Some species possess specific advantages for cultivation, such as the ability to grow under harsh conditions with minimal care, or having superior content or quality of oils, proteins, drugs, insecticides, waxes, or other products of importance. The most famous among these plants is guarana. Known for its high caffeine content, the guarana beverage provides energy and helps to reduce hunger. Commercially bottled by large manufacturers such as Coca-Cola, guarana is a tremendously popular beverage in Brazil and in other parts of South America.
The carbonated beverage is sold under a variety of names, and is consumed at the rate of tens of millions of bottles per day. The traditional uses of guarana in the Amazon include as a powerful tonic for general well-being, an analgesic for pain, an aphrodisiac, a heart tonic, and as treatment for digestive disorders. Life in the Amazon Valley often begins with a hot cup of guarana in the morning. A key role in many indigenous cultures is played by the local shaman, or medicine man.
The Shamans, or Pajes (as they are known in Indian language), are not only the medicine men of the tribes and villages, but are also sorcerers and spiritual guides. Some of the spiritual awakenings and ceremonies are conducted with the usage of plants. The most famous of these are the ayuasca, from which the ayuasca hallucinogenic tea is made and given to the followers of the Santo Daime Tradition.
The hallucinations provoked by the tea are believed to give spiritual experiences to those who drink it. The Pajes are also renowned for their knowledge of the forest and its inhabitants’ ways. It is said that they can communicate not only with the animals and the plants but that they can also communicate with the spirits that rule nature and all animals’ spirits. Projects such as the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) and Shaman Apprentice programs help to preserve the traditional knowledge of indigenous cultures in relation to medicinal plants, as well as a host of other knowledge about people’s relationship with the forest.
Cultural reinforcement programs are designed to attend the necessities of each Indian nation, thereby helping indigenous communities to strengthen their traditional cultures, or at least save them from extinction. The music, dances, legends and myths of the Amazon can provide keen visitors with clear visions and sense of the region’s magic, and of the vibrant force of man’s cultural roots. Folklore groups perform traditional choreography using typical local garb.
The involving rhythms of the Carimbo, siria and lundu dances are very seductive, physically and spiritually. During the entire year, it is possible to attend and to participate in popular festivals, such as the Boi-bumba, Marujada and Çaire. From north to south the rhythms show new colors and steps in accordance with the History of each area. The people from this land carry in their blood the taste for lively dancing in the streets, and sensual hot rhythms.
Traveling though the interior of the Amazon, one can hear songs and rhythms from a distance. The dances are spontaneous and traditional and maintaining these local rhythms help to preserve the Amazonian peoples’ roots and to keep their culture alive. Dance festivals are a living form of preserving their origins and a way to pay respect to their ancestors. Among the most appreciated cultural manifestations of this incredible and unique land are the popular festivals, parties full of drama and happiness that traditionally occur on special dates.
The most famous festival in the Amazon region is the festival of Cirio de Nazare in the city of Belem, which lies at the mouth of the Amazon River. The Cirio de Nazare story tells of a mulatto hunter named Jose de Sousa, who found the image of Our Lady of Nazareth lying in the forest. Sousa felt the image brought him luck, and it was later placed in a chapel where it was said to bring miraculous cures for his ailing neighbors. The first procession displaying the image took place in 1763.
The Amazon has the false reputation of being very hot. However, temperatures in some parts of the northeast and in the South of Brazil are a lot higher than in the Amazon. It is generally hot and humid throughout the year and average temperatures range from 23° to 33°C. It is the wettest area in Brazil.
Nights are relatively cool on the water. There can be cold snaps in December in the western reaches of the Amazon basin. The rainfall is heavy, but varies throughout the region; close to the Andes up to 4,000 mm annually, under 2,000 at Manaus. Rains occur throughout the year but the wettest season is between January and April (rainy season).
No month has less than 60 mm of rain. Rain usually falls in relatively short but very heavy tropical showers, often accompanied by spectacular thunderstorms. The dry season is May to December, with October being the driest month. It can get very hot in this period. To avoid the heat of the midday sun, tours are planned in the morning and late afternoon. October through to January is the low water period and the best time for fishing. To check out how the weather is today in the Amazon.
Amazon Natural Aspects Amazonia is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, spanning more than half of the Brazilian territory. Within the 2.5 million square miles of the Amazon Basin resides a wealth of life richer than any place else on earth, including 500 mammals, 175 different lizards, 300 other reptile species, tree climbers of every kind, and a third of the world’s identified bird species. Millions of species remain undiscovered.
To understand the origins of Amazonia, one needs to travel back in time some 15 million years to the formation of the Andes Mountains. Until that time, the Amazon River flowed west, emptying into the Pacific Ocean. When South America collided with another tectonic plate, the Andes were formed, blocking the Amazon at its Pacific end. Inland seas, now cut off from the ocean, transformed into freshwater lakes, and the environment of the Amazon basin changed radically.
The Amazon’s flow gradually reversed to flowing from west to east, until roughly 10 million years ago, the river reached the Atlantic. The Amazon River is the lifeline of Amazonia, carrying an astounding 16 percent of all the river water in the world over its 6,500 miles. A fifth of all river water discharged into the world’s oceans is conveyed through the Amazon. The Amazon River Basin supplies 20 percent of the Earth’s freshwater. Covering an area nearly the size of Europe, it is the world’s largest river basin. Water in this region flows so abundantly and there are various terms used for the natural aspects it creates.
One of the most astonishing aspects of the Amazon are the Várzea, (flooded forests), where the majority of the forest lies flooded under water during the rainy season and only the tops of the trees can be seen abundant with wildlife, having adapted itself to live above the water during the months of the flooding. Igapó is a term used to describe a small pond created during rainy season when the rivers overflow into fertile land areas.
Once the rains subside the Igapos start drying up and are excellent locations for fishing. Igarapé is a small river or stream that normally leads water from the Varzea to the larger rivers. Igarapes are also great locations for fishing, for during the drying season this is where the fish exit the drying Varzeas and return to the rivers.
The Amazon is home to countless species of fauna and flora, including endangered jaguars, howler monkeys, tapirs, pink freshwater dolphins, giant river otters, manatees, and an incredible array of tropical birds and plants. With more than one-third of all the species in the world, the Amazon has the greatest biological diversity on Earth. Many of its species exist nowhere else, including the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish — the arapaima — which can grow to 10 feet in length, and a fruit-eating fish called the tambaqui. Approximately one-third of the world’s tropical woods (about 2,500 species) and Latin American plant species (30,000 of a total 100,000) are found only in the Amazon. The region also has the highest diversity of birds and butterflies in the world.
Extremely common in the Amazon rain forest are species like the Giant Otter, the pink Boto and Tucuxi dolphins, manatees, anaconda, coral snakes, turtles, saki, spider, capuchin, squirrel and howler monkeys, marmosets, tamarins, anteaters, kinkajous, ocelot, jaguar, tapir, peccary, paca, armadillos, cayman (black, spectacled, stone head), deer and a host of bird species. The rivers teem with fish, making sport fishing an increasing attraction, especially for excellent rainbow bass, piranha, pirarara, surubim, aruana, acara, pacu, and aracu. Some animal species explained Among the most famous animals figures the Jaguar, whose name means ‘he who kills with one leap.
The largest, most powerful member of the American cat family is renowned as a stealthy, matchless hunter. Leanly built, jaguars average between three and six feet in length, and between 70 and 350 pounds. With its crushing jaws, which can penetrate a turtle shell, the jaguar tops the Amazonian food chain, feeding on large mammals like deer, tapir, and, if necessary, reptiles. Yellow-rumped caciques (birds) are talented ventriloquists capable of imitating e a wide variety of birds and mammals as a hunting tactic, though they typically use their remarkable vocal range to attract a mating partner. In a cacique colony, there may be as many as 100 active nests at any one time. Females have no qualms about using a partially built nest, and they don’t hesitate to borrow materials from an absent neighbor.
When it is time to mate, males croon their songs and puff up their plumage. The anaconda is one of the longest snakes in the world and is recognized as the heaviest, weighing more than a cow. The anaconda’s weight plays a key role in hunting. After ambushing its prey at a watering or feeding site, the anaconda coils itself tightly around its victim and crushes it. Swallowed head first, the prey is gradually ingested and then slowly digested. The black skimmer glides above water with its lower beak skimming the surface. When the lower half of a black skimmer’s beak touches its prey, an amazing, instantaneous process occurs: the beak, which contains a good supply of blood and nerves, automatically snaps shut on its victim – often some kind of fish. Only three species of skimmers possess this incredible, tactile adaptation. Interestingly, the skimmer’s beak is subject to wear and tear of water and hunting, and breaks on occasion, but it has the ability to regenerate itself. Vampire bats are an individual specialized species.
When night falls, they leave the roost and forage in the waiting forest, keeping their movements silent as they fly. Silence is the key for the vampire, for it allows it to land near or on its prey undetected. Food sources include many different kinds. The vampire bats found in Amazonia are the only true ‘vampire’ bats in the world, and, like the mythological creature with which they are associated, they feed on blood. The tapir is among Amazonia’s more ancient inhabitants. The region’s largest land herbivore, the tapir is recognizable by its unusual proboscis (nose). Functioning like an elephant’s trunk, the tapir uses its nose to sweep plants into its mouth.
When planning your trip remember that the Amazon is almost always hot and humid and that there is a rainy season which starts in January through to April, with October being the driest month.
The clothing you take should be comfortable.
We recommend you take the following:
- Long sleeves shirts/t-shirts and pants
- Rain jacket and waterproof boots or tennis shoes
- Shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts for canoe trips
These items we advise to make your trip more enjoyable:
- Mosquito repellent and sunscreen
- Hat and sunglasses
- Binoculars and camera with lots of film
- Ziploc or dry-sacs to protect your camera equipment
The Amazon is a yellow fever and malaria region.
- Yellow Fever inoculation is advisable. Make sure you plan this in advance because the vaccine only becomes effective after 10 days. Consult with your local doctor whether or not you should take malaria pills. If so, you will need to start taking these before you travel to Brazil.
- Drink plenty of water (tap water is unsafe to drink). Check with your hotel or lodge whether or not you can use the tap water to brush your teeth. If not, they will provide bottled water.
- Due to the presence of piranhas, caiman (crocodiles) and venomous snakes in the water, swimming in the lakes or rivers is not recommended, unless otherwise instructed by the hotel or lodge staff.
- Do not touch branches or tree trunks (venomous animals such as scorpions, fire ants and spiders live there and are extremely hard to see).
- You should be silent and not use brightly colored clothes, otherwise you may risk seeing less wildlife.
- It is important to respect local traditions. When in contact with local inhabitants, or visiting local villages, remember that you are the outsider. – Electricity in the Amazon is 127 volts AC. Most hotels do provide 110-volt & 220-volt outlets or adaptors. Check with your hotel which voltage is used in your room to avoid damaging your electronic equipment.