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A trip along the Amazon itself is a singular experience. From its source in southern Peru it runs 6,300 km (3,900 mi) to its Atlantic outflow and averages more than 3 km (2 mi) in width, but reaching up to 48 km (30 mi) across in the rainy season. Of its hundreds of tributaries, 17 are more than 1,600 km (1,000 mi) long. The Amazon is so large it could hold the Congo, Nile, Orinoco, Mississippi, and Yangtze rivers with room to spare. In places it is so wide you can't see the opposite shore, earning it the appellation Rio Mar (River Sea). Although there has been increasing urbanization in the Amazon region, between one-third and one-half of the Amazon's residents live in rural settlements, many of which are along the riverbanks, where transportation, water, fish, and good soil for planting are readily available.
Belém lies 60 mi upstream from the ocean at the confluence of several rivers. It was one of the first areas to be settled by the Portuguese. Its blend of river, ocean, and tropical forest makes for interesting geography and traveling. Buses run to landlocked villages northeast and southwest of the city, while boats run elsewhere. Boats are slow, so add extra time to your travel plans.
Side Trips from Belém
The river beaches of Mosqueiro lie an hour away by bus, and Salinópolis's expansive ocean beaches are three hours. Thirty minutes in a boat will get you to villages across the river. Interesting towns with beaches on the southeast coast of Marajó Island take three to four hours. Overnight boats will get you to communities like Macapá and Breves. Two days will get you to Santarém.
Between Belém & Manaus
As one would expect, distances between the major cities are huge. Traveling from one to another is done mostly by boat and plane, since there are no roads connecting them. Boats commonly run from Belém to Manaus and back, though the 1,150-mi journey takes four or five days. Large planes connect cities and larger towns. Small planes reach some smaller towns, though they are costly. While the Trans Amazônica highway is intended to connect the eastern and western regions, nature is still in control. Much of it is still dirt, mud, or dust. Consider it impassable and even dangerous in places.
Manaus is the Amazon's largest city as well as its main entrance. It was built largely on the good fortune of a couple of economic booms. The first was rubber. The second was the creation of a tax-free zone. Getting around the city or heading north to Venezuela is done by car or bus. To go anywhere else, you must use a boat or plane. Don't plan to drive south to Porto Velho or Bolivia. The road will be gone in a number of places.
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