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The Amazon: Brazil
The Amazon is a river of excess. More kinds of fish, birds, mammals, plants, flowers, insects and trees crowd the Amazon basin than anywhere else on earth. The Amazon is also the most watery river on earth. The Nile may be a tad longer, but the Amazon's volume is second to none. An estimated one-fifth of all the world's fresh running water finds its way into this titanic river, which flows 4,000 miles across South America from the Andes to the Atlantic — desalinizing the ocean for more than 100 miles beyond its mouth. If photographing wildlife is your thing, you couldn't possibly pack enough film for a trip along this river, whose waters and jungles shelter a staggering array of species — many still unidentified. Crocodiles, anacondas, manatees, dolphins and more than 1,500 species of fish swim in the Amazon. And the Amazonian jungle — which accounts for half the plant's remaining rain forest — teems with tapirs, monkeys, jaguars, ocelots, pumas, sloths, parrots, macaws, comorants and toucans. But thin-skinned travelers beware, because flesh-eating piranhas and blood-sucking vampires also call the Amazon basin home — as do more than 8,000 kinds of insects.

The Mississippi: The United States
Can you imagine the history of America without this massive, muddy river? A superhighway into the heart of a young country, a war zone, a trade artery, a wellspring of literature and music, and a physical (not to mention psychological) barrier between East and West, the mighty Mississippi is all that and more. North America's largest river rises in Minnesota's Lake Itasca and heads due south, forming the border between more than a half dozen states until it spills into the Gulf of Mexico. The 2,350-mile-long "Father of Waters," as the Indians named it, flows through a variety of scenery as it transforms from a clear country stream into a brown behemoth often more than a mile and a half wide. During the course of this river's rich history, Abraham Lincoln worked on it, Mark Twain wrote about it, and General Grant fought over it. Although now one of the busiest commercial waterways in the world, you can still cruise "Ol Man River" in nineteenth century paddle boats and gamble like the card sharks of old — without the fear that your opponent has a derringer up his sleeve. Make sure to explore the birthplace of the blues and jazz, the sprawling Mississippi Delta. And no trip on this musical river would be complete without a few days and nights in America's most celebrated city of sin: New Orleans.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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