The Amazon is one of the world’s great rainforests. The Amazon river runs 3,000 miles from the Andes to the sea, and is longer than any river but the Nile. The vast Amazon basin covers more than two and a half million square miles, more than any other rainforest.


Hundreds of years ago, many Indians, or indigenous peoples, lived in the Amazon. Most lived along rivers, where canoes made transportation easy. Many of these indigenous people died from diseases brought to South America by European explorers and colonists. Others died after being enslaved. Today, there are fewer indigenous people in the Amazon than there were 500 years ago. But other people also live in the Amazon now.

In the centuries since Columbus discovered the the New World, many Europeans have migrated to South America. Most of the people living in South America today have both European and indigenous ancestors. Until recently, however, few of them lived in the Amazon. They preferred to live in established cities along the coasts and in the Andes mountains.

But in the past few decades, more and more mestizos have moved to the Amazon. They were having trouble finding work in their hometowns and saw opportunity in the Amazon. Many went looking for agricultural land. Others took jobs in oil fields or other industries.


Colonial encounter: The total population of the Brazilian portion of the Amazon basin in 1850 was perhaps 300,000, of whom about two-thirds comprised by Europeans and slaves, the slaves amounting to about 25,000. In Brazil, the principal commercial city, Para (now Belém), had from 10,000 to 12,000 inhabitants, including slaves. The town of Manáos, now Manaus, at the mouth of the Rio Negro, had from 1,000 to 1,500 population. All the remaining villages, as far up as Tabatinga, on the Brazilian frontier of Peru, were relatively small.