The Amazon is the largest rainforest on the planet, a vast expanse of rivers and lush greenery covering more than half of Brazil, as well as large tracts of its neighbouring countries. The Amazon River and its tributaries create approximately 30,888 square miles (80,000 sq km) of navigable river systems. The region is a veritable biodiversity hotspot, where one in 10 known species can be found. However, large areas of it remain unexplored, where tens of thousands of rare and unknown species of animals, birds, insects, fish and plants are thought to be sheltered beneath the dense canopies.
The Amazon is traversed by a multitude of rivers, the biggest of which is Rio Solimoes, a powerful but navigable course that enters Brazil from Peru, just above the city of Manaus. Close to the city, this river coverges with the Rio Negro to form the mighty Rio Amazonas, which flows through Brazil to the city of Belem.
Manaus is the gateway for excursions along the river system and into the jungle, situated as it is in the middle of the forest. From the city, scores of operators run day trips and longer boat tours for visitors wishing to experience Amazonian flora and fauna and meet the caboclos (residents of the river towns). The city itself does not have many attractions, apart from some interesting buildings, including an opulent opera house dating back to the height of the rubber boom in 1896. As the commercial hub of the state of Amazonas, Manaus is a buzzing little metro, with a noisy, crowded port and several bustling markets.
Belem is the other jumping off point for Amazon exploration, with a busy port, small airport and bus station. Located on the coast, it has a large number of indentations, estuaries and islands waiting to be explored. It has a few scenic buildings too, but more interesting are the markets near the quay.
The Amazon lacks extensive tourism infrastructure in the form of good hotels and reliable transportation, but ecotourism is gaining popularity and contributing to the enrichment of the environment and the lifestyle of the local people. For the intrepid traveller who seeks the road less travelled, the Amazon won't fail to impress.