Where Does the Amazon River Start?

Written by Janet F. Murray
Updated: September 9, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/gustavofrazao
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The Amazon River is the largest source of freshwater to enter the Atlantic Ocean, contributing one-fifth of freshwater to the ocean. Other incredible attributes of the Amazon River are that it is 4,000 miles long, spans South America, and is home to millions of fish, mammals, birds, insects, and reptiles. The Amazon River basin covers almost 40% of South America. With such extensive coverage, many people are curious about where does the Amazon River start its journey?

Origins of the Amazon River

The Amazon River starts its journey at the confluence of the Marañón and Ucayali Rivers and ends in the Atlantic Ocean.

iStock.com/gustavofrazao

The Amazon River’s origins are several and varied, but one of its main sources is at the confluence of the Marañón and Ucayali Rivers, although its main tributary is the Marañón River. This river originates in the Nevado de Yarupa, a glacier in the Andes Mountains. After this point, it then flows for 1,000 miles and eventually combines with the Ucayali River. On meeting, the Amazon River forms at this confluence. The tributaries to the Marañón River are the following:

  • Crisnejas River
  • Chamayo River
  • Urtcubamba River
  • Cenepa River
  • Santiago River
  • Moroña River
  • Pastaza River
  • Huallaga River
  • The Tigre

The Marañón River does not only have tributaries but also various significant river systems that join to create the massive Amazon River. These are the Morona, Pastaza, Nucuray, Urituyacu, Chambira, Tigre, Nanay, Napo, Huallaga, and the Ucayali river systems. Besides the Nevado de Yarupa source, another origin of the Amazon River is the Nevado Mismi peak in the Peruvian Andes. This glacial stream flows into the Quebradas Carhuasanta and Apacheta rivers before flowing into the Río Apurímac River.

Amazon River Basin

The Amazon River starts at its Marañón tributary and its basin is one of the largest in the world.

Alexandr Vorobev/Shutterstock.com

The basin of the Amazon River is one of the largest in the world as it covers over 2,722,000 square miles. This expanse makes up close to 40% of the continent of South America. Because of its massive size, the Amazon River and its basin release more freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean than any other river in the world.

To place this fact in context, the Amazon River releases up to 215,000 m3 of freshwater per second into the Atlantic Ocean. Remarkably, this volume of water amounts to one-fifth of all the freshwater released into the oceans.

Yet another notable fact about the mighty Amazon River is that it is over 4,000 miles long and sprawls over 68,000 square miles of land. This figure is correct during the dry months, but the Amazon River expands to cover almost 220,000 square miles of land in the wet months.

The Course of the Amazon River

The Amazon River starts at the convergence of the Ucayali and Marañón rivers. Where the river system and the flood plains of Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela lie, is the location of the upper regions of the Amazon River. The water from these river systems and flood plains flows into the confluence of the Ucayali and Marañón.

From there, the Amazon River flows through Brazil and Peru, forming part of the border of Colombia and Peru. As it moves, the lower Amazon River later begins at the intersection of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões. These waters do not mix for almost 4 miles but flow side by side.

The mouth of the Amazon River stretches from Cabo Norte in the Brazilian state of Amapá to Ponta da Tijoca in Pará. However, some people consider the mouth of the Amazon River to extend from the mouth of the Araguari River to Ponta do Navio on the northern coast of Marajó.

Interestingly, the Amazon River has no bridges because its width is just too vast. As a result, engineers have been unable to build a bridge to cross the river safely, so most crossings take place via ferry.

Wildlife in the River

Alligator in Swamp
The Amazon River is home to alligators.

Thierry Eidenweil/Shutterstock.com

Being the most extensive river system in South America, the Amazon River is home to thousands of species of fish, insects, birds, and mammals. Incredibly, over 2,500 species of fish live here, and scientists are still discovering more. Also, there are many species of commercial fish in this river.

Some examples of these are the pirarucu and giant catfish. And most fish in the Amazon River are migratory and exist in large shoals, with one of the most famous fish residents being the piranha. The piranha is a small fish with many tiny, sharp teeth. These fish feed on the flesh of an animal, or human, if they get the chance.

Besides fish, the Amazon River is home to animals like alligators, river turtles, and manatees. Unfortunately, these animals are endangered as they are a favorite prey for people. Other animals living in or near the Amazon River include dolphins, nutria, and the semiaquatic capybara, a large rodent.

Wildlife in the Rainforest

Tapir on grass
The tapir is native to the Amazon Rainforest.

Piotr291092 / Creative Commons

As with the river, the rainforest and river basin house thousands of animal species. Monkeys live throughout the rainforest and are a big tourist attraction. The howler monkey with its distinct call and the spider monkeys are firm favorites. Additionally, capuchin monkeys live in the Amazon Rainforest and are often sold as pets worldwide. Woolly monkeys, titis, sakis, and marmosets are other popular monkey species in the Amazon rainforest.

Not surprisingly, many fascinating mammals thrive in the Amazon rainforest. These are the arboreal sloths, three different types of anteaters, armadillos, and water buffalo. However, the water buffalo is not native to the Amazon rainforest, having been imported from Southeast Asia at some stage. But, a few animals native to the Amazon rainforest include the tapir, the white-lipped peccary, and many deer species.

When you explore further, you find that the rainforest is also the dwelling place of beautiful species of birds that light up the canopies. Examples of these birds are parrots, macaws, caciques, parakeets, and hoatzins. Many species are tree dwellers, like woodpeckers and toucans. But others like the herons, cormorants, roseate spoonbills, and scarlet ibises live near water sources. Moreover, the Amazon rainforest is also home to predatory birds like hawks and eagles.

Although many rainforest dwellers are herbivores, peaceful and beautiful to look at, this environment has a more ominous side. Many predatory animals and reptiles live here, with some of the most popular and well-known, including the:

Aerial View of Amazon Rainforest, South America
The Amazon River is both long and remote in areas
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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