5 Fascinating Facts About the Amazon River

The Amazon River is a monstrous waterway that flows through nine different countries in South America. It’s the life-source of the world’s largest rainforest and home to a wide variety of unique animals. While the river is a popular destination for researchers and tourists, there are still many mysteries left hidden beneath its surface. But we do know these five facts about the Amazon River.

World’s Mightiest River

Aerial photo of Amazon River winding across landscape
Credit: Alexandr Vorobev / Shutterstock

There has been much debate surrounding the title for the world’s longest river. It’s been awarded to both the Amazon and the Nile at different times throughout history. The debate exists mostly because the source of the Amazon is hard to pinpoint, and the rivers have so many tributaries that finding the longest one to measure maximum length is difficult to do. Officially, the Nile is the world’s longest river by about 100 miles, which isn’t much considering that both rivers are over 4,000 miles long.

Despite losing the title for the longest river, the Amazon River easily retains its nickname as the “mightiest river” in the world. It’s the largest river in terms of width and discharge by far. At its widest point, the Amazon River can reach 6.8 miles wide. While that may be impressive, in the wet season, the river floods, expanding to a staggering 24-mile width at some points.

With all that size also comes volume. The Amazon River discharges more than 55 million gallons of water into the Atlantic Ocean per second! Of all the rivers in the world that empty into the ocean, the Amazon represents 20% of that total discharge.

Largest River Island

Mangrove trees and white sand on an Amazon River beach
Credit: Mariano Villafane / Shutterstock

Marajó is an island roughly the size of Switzerland and is located between the banks of the Amazon River. It’s one of the largest river islands in the world with a total area of almost 19,000 square miles. During the wet season, almost half of the island is under water.

Fisheries and sawmills are major industries on the island as it’s home to several unique species of both fish and trees. Large trees are cut during high tide and floated down the river to save on transportation costs.

Most Unique Species

Large caiman resting comfortably on sandy beach
Credit: Vaclav Sebek / Shutterstock

The Amazon River is home to the largest diversity of aquatic animals of any river in the world. Up to 2,500 different species call the river home with many more waiting to be discovered. Some of the more famous residents include electric eels, piranhas, and anacondas.

If lions are king of the jungle, black caimans are king of the Amazon River. These massive alligators can reach up to 20 feet in length and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. While they do sit at the top of the food chain, they’re considered an endangered species, so the chance of running into one is slim.

Someone Swam the Whole Thing

Aerial photo of shallow waters in the Amazon River
Credit: Ammit Jack / Shutterstock

The river twists and turns over 4,000 miles from start to finish, and numerous predators call its murky depths home, yet nothing can stop the human spirit. In 2007, Martin Strel set out to be the first person to swim the Amazon River in its entirety. He swam up to 10 hours per day for 66 days to accomplish the feat. According to Strel, drinking two bottles of wine per day, even while swimming, is the perfect training regimen. Of course, that was his own prescription for success, not his doctor’s.

You Can Surf It

Aerial photo of Amazon River landscape on a calm day
Credit: San Hoyano / Shutterstock

About twice a year during full and new moons, the tidal changes in the Atlantic Ocean are high enough to force the Amazon River to flow backward, causing a tidal bore with waves up to 13 feet high. This phenomenon is called Pororoca by the natives, which is believed to mean “great roar” to describe the loud sound the waves make as they rush through the jungle. Some of these waves can travel as far as 500 miles upstream, which is a dream come true for surfers everywhere, who flock to the river from all parts of the world.

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