Madeira River: Location and all you need to know

Last Updated on August 30, 2023 by Hernan Gimenez

The Madeira River is a major waterway in South America, approximately 3,250 km (2,020 miles) long. The Madeira River is one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon, accounting for about 15% of the water in the basin.

rio madeira en brasil
The Cuyari River, known in Portuguese as Madeira or the River of Wood, is formed by two large rivers that join near their mouths. It was through this river that the Topinambuli people entered the Amazon.

Location of the Madeira River

The Madeira River is the main tributary of the Amazon. It is formed by the confluence of the Mamoré and Beni rivers at Villa Bella, Bolivia, and flows north to form the border between Bolivia and Brazil for about 60 miles (100 km).
mapa del río madeira

After receiving the Rio Abuná, the Rio Madeira meanders northeast into Brazil through the states of Rondônia and Amazonas to its confluence with the Rio Amazonas, 90 miles (145 km) east of Manaus.

A tributary of the Madeira flows about 100 miles (160 km) downstream into the Amazon, forming the marshy island of Tupinambarama. The Madeira is 2,082 miles (3,352 km) long from the upper Mamoré, and its total width is about half a mile (see Rio Balsas article).

It is navigable by sea most of the year from its mouth on the Amazon to the Cachoeira (falls) of Santo Antônio, 807 miles (1,300 km) upstream, the first of 19 waterfalls or rapids blocking the passage, near the town of Pôrto Velho, Brazil.

rio madeira es navegable

The Madeira-Mamoré railway, which ran for 228 miles (367 km) between Pôrto Velho and Guajará-Mirim, bypassed the falls and rapids and provided a link to the upper Madeira River. Abandoned in the 1970s, much of the railway corridor is now served by a road.

Although exploration of the Madeira Valley began in the 16th century, it was not until the late 1970s that parts of the region were mapped by satellite (see article: Mekong River).

Traditional rainforest dwellers, Indians and mestizos, who lived along the riverbanks and gathered forest products such as Brazil nuts and rubber, were joined by farmers and ranchers who settled in the area in the second half of the 20th century.

Madeira River Towns

From its source at the confluence of the Beni and Mamoré rivers, downstream to the Abuna river. Below the confluence with the latter tributary, the river changes its course to the north-east, towards the interior of the state of Rondônia in Brazil.
ciudad del río madeira

The section of the river from the border to Porto Velho has a significant drop and was not navigable. Before 2012, the Teotônio and São Antônio waterfalls existed here, with a higher flow and greater drop than the more famous Boyoma waterfalls in Africa.

Today, these rapids are submerged by the reservoir of the Santo Antônio dam. Below Porto Velho, the Madeira meanders northeast through the states of Rondônia and Amazonas in northwestern Brazil to its confluence with the Amazon.

Madeira River Continent

The continent of South America is located in the southern hemisphere of the planet. It is characterised by a variety of geographical features, including several major rivers such as the Rio Tocantins. The Madeira River, one of South America’s major waterways, is the largest tributary of the great Amazon River.

Characteristics

The average inter-annual rainfall in the main basins varies between 75 and 300 centimetres (2.46-9.84 feet), with the entire upper Madeira basin receiving 170.5 centimetres (5.59 feet). The highest rainfall extremes range from 49 to 700 centimetres.
rio madeira de brasil

The Madeira itself remains one of the largest rivers in the world, with an average inter-annual discharge of 18,000 cubic metres per second (640,000 cubic feet per second), or 536 cubic kilometres (129 cu km) per year, about half that of the Congo.

The average inter-annual contribution from the Bolivian Andes is 4,170 cubic metres per second (147,000 cubic feet per second), or 132 cubic kilometres per year, representing 25% of the discharge of the entire upper Madeira basin.

Downstream of the Amazon, the average discharge of the Madeira increases to 31,200 cubic metres per second (1,100,000 cubic feet per second).

Modern importance

As the largest tributary of the Amazon, the Madeira River contributes significantly to the region’s economy. The port of Velho is a conduit for trade and supplies to many other Brazilian cities.
importancia del río madeira

The biodiversity of the basin includes around 900 species of fish living in its numerous marine habitats. The water flow of the Madeira River represents about 15% of the total water volume.

The Madeira River flows into which sea? The Madeira River flows into the Amazon River, which in turn flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

The areas where the Madeira flows are inhabited by indigenous tribes who continue to fish and farm in their traditional way. In short, Madeira supports not only flora and fauna, but also indigenous and modern communities that depend on its waters for their livelihoods.

Here is a video to learn more about navigation and transport on the Madeira River.

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