As one of the largest, and most diverse, continents on earth, South America has an abundance of rivers and waterways. However, there are a few that cover vast stretches of land. From the world-famous Amazon River to the lesser-known Purús River, let’s delve into the top 5 longest rivers in South America.

Featured image credit: Pedro Szekely (via Flickr – CC by 2.0)

Tocantins

Length: 2640 km or 1640 miles

Runs Through: Brazil

The Tocantins River flows into the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Amazon River
The Tocantins River flows into the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Amazon River

Credit: Camsidou, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Tocantins River, or ‘toucan’s beak’, is a 2640km long river stretching across Brazil. It flows through Goiás, Tocantins, Maranhão and Pará. Unlike many of the South American rivers, the Tocantins ends its course at the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Amazon River. The main tributaries of the Tocantins River are the Paranã River, Sono River, Araguaia River, and the Itacaiúnas River.

The Tocantins is home to many interesting animal species, such as the Amazonian Manatee and Araguaian River Dolphin. Reptiles like the Black Caiman and Yellow-Spotted River Turtle also call the river home.

Madeira – Mamoré

Length: 3250 km or 2020 miles

Runs Through: Brazil and Bolivia

The Madeira River is connected to the large Amazon River
The Madeira River is connected to the large Amazon River

Credit: Kmusser, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Madeira is made up of a number of rivers. These include the Mamoré and Beni, covering a 3250 km stretch across Bolivia and Brazil. The river as a whole is classified as the largest tributary to the colossal Amazon River. With a drainage basin of 1,376,000 km2, it encompassed many settlements, such as Borba, Manicoré, and Porto Velho. The Madeira is known as one of the Amazon’s busiest waterways of the modern era.

The rare Bolivian River Dolphin is found in the upper reaches of the Madeira River, along with a plethora of fish species. There are believed to be 900 species of fish that live within the Madeira River system, meaning the river is one of the most biodiverse freshwater waterways in the world.

Purús

Length: 3382 km or 2101 miles

Runs Through: Brazil and Peru

The Purus River supports many livelihoods throughout Peru and Brazil
The Purus River supports many livelihoods throughout Peru and Brazil

Credit: Agência de Notícias do Acre, Foto: Gleilson Miranda / Governo do Acre, CC BY 2.0

The Purús River is a biodiverse waterway between Peru and Brazil and flows through South America for a whopping 3382 km or 2101 miles. The source of the river is located in the Ucayali Region in Peru and, as a tributary river, it ends its course at the larger Amazon River. The Purús has a sizeable drainage basin of 371,042 km2.

There are many animals that live in and around the Purús. However, one mammal is particularly unique. The Purús Red Howler is a monkey that is native to the Bolivian, Brazilian, and Peruvian regions.

Rio de la Plata

Length: 4880 km or 3030 miles

Runs Through: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia

Many battles have taken place on the River Plate (Rio de la Plata)
Many battles have taken place on the River Plate (Rio de la Plata)

The Rio de la Plata, also known as River Plate, covers 4880 km across South America. The river runs through Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia before eventually emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. There are some well-known capital cities that rely on the river, such as Buenos Aires and Montevideo. With a large drainage basin of 3,170,000 km², many source rivers flow into la Plata. These connecting water bodies include the Paranà River, the Paraguay River, and the Uruguay River.

The Rio de la Plata has a wide variety of animals living in its waters. The Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Leatherback Sea Turtle, and the endangered La Plata Dolphin all can be found within the river. There is also a lot of historical significance attached to it, with multiple battles taking place throughout the years. In particular, the 1827 Battle of Juncal and the Battle of the River Plate in 1939.

Amazon River

Length: 6400 km or 3976 miles

Runs Through: Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela

The colossal river travels through 6 countries
The colossal river travels through 6 countries

Credit: Paulo Philippidis (via Flickr – CC by 2.0)

At 6400 km, the Amazon River is by far the largest river in South America alongside being the second largest river in the world. The Amazon River has a monumental drainage basin, at 7,000,000 km². It is known that just the Brazilian section of the basin is larger than any other around the world. The Nevada Mismi Peak is regarded as the source of the river, located southeast of Lima. The Amazon subsequently flows through Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Amazon River is the unique animals within the ecosystem. The Amazon River Dolphin, Amazonian Manatee, and the Giant Otter are some of the most fascinating mammals inhabiting the river. Anacondas and Caimans also live in the waters of the Amazon alongside many fish species, such as the Piranha, Arapaima, Electric Eel, and occasionally the Bull Shark.

FAQs

Is the Amazon River the longest river in the world?

It is largely debated that the longest river in the world is either the Amazon River or the Nile River. It all depends on what measurements you go by. The widely accepted notion is that the Amazon is noted as 6400 km, while the Nile is recorded at 6650 km.

What are the 2 longest rivers in Latin America?

The two longest rivers in Latin America are the Amazon River (6400km/3976 miles) and the Rio de la Plata (4880km/3030 miles).