Encontro de Águas
Visiting the Encontro de Águas, or Meeting of the Waters—the point at which the muddy Rio Solimões hooks up with the bluish-black Rio Negro to form the Rio Amazonas—is like climbing to the top of the Empire State Building in New York. It’s something you have to do, which is why this natural phenomenon is usually swarming with bobbing boats stuffed with camera-brandishing tourists.
However, not even the theme park flavor (and traffic jams) can put a damper on the strange spectacle of the two rivers, which flow side by side for several kilometers before finally merging at a point some 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Manaus.
On one side, you have the Rio Negro, whose darkness is a result of decomposing jungle vegetation that creates high acid levels. On the other is the Rio Solimões, whose light brown color betrays the presence of run-off soil from the Andes. And the differences don’t end there. While the Rio Negro meanders along sluggishly at 3 kilometers (2 miles) per hour, the Solimões rushes by at 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) per hour. If you trail your finger in the water, you’ll also notice that the Rio Negro is considerably warmer than the Solimões.
You can check out the Meeting of the Waters on your own, by taking the 713 bus from the Praça da Matriz to the CEASA port, where there are always plenty of boats for hire as well as a municipal ferry that crosses the river. Most people, however, tend to visit the Meeting of the Waters as part of a guided trip (it is a classic attraction featured on many excursions). Usually offered as day trips, boats leave at 9 a.m. and return at 4 p.m. The standard R$110 fee includes lunch on a floating restaurant.
Tours inevitably include a stop at the Reserva Ecológico do Lago de Janauari, a ecological reserve located on a tributary of the Rio Negro whose igarapés (narrow creeks) and igapós (temporarily flooded forests) you can explore by canoe (or on foot, during the dry season). The park’s most fascinating feature is the gigantic Victoria amazonica, lily pads whose platter-shaped leaves, the size of coffee tables, dot the many lagoons.
The gorgeous lilies themselves have a three-day life span: When they blossom, they are milky white (day 1), they then turn a blushing pink (day 2), and deepen to scarlet before withering up and dying (day 3). Although these excursions have become classic to the point of hokey, they are enjoyable in a Disneyland kind of way, and will certainly encourage you to wander off the beaten path and further into the jungle.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition