Our planet has numerous natural phenomena that can seem implausibly erratic until someone comes up with a scientific explanation of how they really work.
And one such hard-bitten phenomenon is the Boiling River at the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, which results in instant death to anything that falls into it.
This sizzling turquoise river fires up temperatures up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and is guided by ivory-hued stones. To guard it, 60-foot walls of dense forest and vegetation cover the deadly river.
Initially, the mentions of the river were once considered merely a legend, and only a few locals had seen it or were aware that it existed.
They called it the Shanay-timpishka River, which can be roughly translated as “boiled with the heat of the Sun.”
So, read on to discover more about this incredible and exciting wild wonder.
1. Where is the Boiling River Located?
Stretching up to 4 miles long, this powerful geothermal anomaly lives hidden amidst a thicket next to Agua Caliente, Peru’s ancientest oilfield.
It lies in the farthest East of the Huánuco Region, close to the border of the Ucayali region.
This searing river is a miniature tributary of the Pachitea River. Now the Pachitea is a tributary of the enormous Ucayali River, a significant source of the Amazon River.
You can find the Boiling River Amazon location here!
2. Why is the Boiling River so Hot?
This is one of the greatest mysteries of the boiling river that scientist are yet to discover. The question remains unveiled to date: How can a river soar over such massive temperatures without any active volcanos beside it?
Now let’s recall what we learnt once in our geology class about the geothermal gradient feature prevalent in the Earth because that’s the culprit to emit such extreme heat to this river.
As you may recall, the intensity of heat increases as you reach the core. This is otherwise known as Geothermal Gradience.
According to this theory, the meteoric water collected on the surface of the Amazon Rainforest seeps through deep-rooted faults to get itself to the crust.
After this seepage, the water temperatures unusually spike to deadly heat. And the heat travels all the way up to the surface, producing fault-fed hot springs.
This theory is assumed to be the source to fire up the 4 km river.
These kinds of Rivers do exist in many parts of the globe but are usually close to the volcanoes.
Even the fumaroles in Yellowstone National Park experience the same feature of water temperatures of 280°F from meteoric water that comes into contact with the heated rocks deep inside Earth’s crust.
However, in the case of the Boiling River in Peru’s Amazon, the nearest active volcano is 400 miles away.
And geoscientists still ponder how such an enormous water body can be heated without obvious heat sources nearby, like an active volcano.
3. The Fiery Hot River: Legends and Oral Traditions
The once-upon-a-time evolution of this deadly River in Peru began in the form of narratives by a handful of locals who had chanced upon the river.
Today, it is considered the last secret that the Amazon Basin has given up to the whole world.
3.1 Legend 1: This River was Narrated as a Part of a Lost City Full of Gold
The legend of the Lost City of Gold in the Amazon mentioned the tapering end of the river. Later to prove the legend, geologists ventured to locate the river’s source.
Fortunately, they discovered it in the central region of Peru’s Amazon, creeping amidst a low jungle.
Subsequently, the two Shamianic communities residing beside the Boiling River had their own oral traditions about the place.
One of the two communities, the Mayantuyacu, stated that the environment around the river possessed remarkable spiritual powers.
Furthermore, they stated that the place is ruled by robust jungle spirits, so only mighty shamans can face them more than the others.
3.2 Legend 2: The local Asháninka People Believe a Giant Serpent to Create the River
This legend arises from the boulder that looks like a serpent’s head. The giant snake spirit called the Yacumama (“Mother of the Waters”) is believed to have unleashed the hot waters.
And the boulder is a testimony of the primitive tale’s validity.
Now for the world outside, this was no more than a mere legend, a utopian tale. There was also no clear documentation than those few records in the 1930s.
Later geologists dismissed the existence of such a river, stating it is impossible to heat such a vast river as the Basin is miles away from the nearest volcano.
Also, only a few tourists who visited Mayantuyacu annually to gain knowledge of the orthodox healing methods by the Asháninka people knew about the river.
Ultimately, to the rest of the civilised world, the presence of the Boiling River in the Amazon was oblivious.
But here comes a geologist from Peru to prove to the world that what the legends said were true!
So, continue reading to trail his life history and how he chanced upon this unique natural wonder!
4. Legend Made into Reality by a Geothermal scientist and Conservationist
For generations, the Shanay-timpishka remained mythical for the world outside the Amazon Forest and the area was pushed off the limits of exploration. Not until the November of 2011, with the arrival of Andrés Ruzo, a geothermal scientist and conservationist who decided to discover and study it!
From his childhood, Ruzo was brought up by his Late Peruvian grandfather listening to the tales of this fiery river. But as a child, he was sceptical of whether this river actually existed in the real world.
He heard his grandfather say that the place was first discovered by Spanish conquerors in their thirst for gold. However, not many who travelled so deep into the jungle returned.
While the few who returned narrated some horrible experiences of encountering man-eating snakes, sickness, famine, and a weird boiling river.
As 20 years passed after he heard the tale, he found a person who had actually been there to the place and seen the river first hand. It was his own aunt!
It was during a family dinner when Ruzo brought out the topic about the river and all the scepticism encircling it that his aunt said,
..but no, Andres, I’ve been there, I’ve swum in that river.
Yet again, the revelation of the river appeared when he studied under the Dallas campus of Southern Methodist University while creating Peru’s thermal map.
Here he discovered the existence of some huge geothermal features nowhere to be seen across the world.
It quite tweaked his curiosity about how science brought this place back to him in his adult years since he was sceptical about its existence in his childhood.
Immediately, taking advantage, he began his journey to the place.
4.1 Ruzo’s Journey to the Hottest River
In 2011, he began his journey, supported primarily by the Young Explorer of National Geographic to the river, guided by his aunt.
From Pucallpa, the nearest city, they took a journey of up to four hours, with an hour hiking the muddy jungle paths.
A shaman protects the river in the miniature town of Mayantuyacu, a remote healing centre.
Upon getting his blessing and permission to study the water, the shaman’s apprentice led him to the four-mile stretch of flowing, scalding water.
But before that, the shaman had one condition and asked him to pour the collected water samples into the ground such that;
…the waters could find their way back home. – Andrés Ruzo
4.2 At the Burning Hot River
This is the first time his own eyes have seen the river, and he points out the first feel of his experience in The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon, stating that it felt like a sauna inside a toaster oven.
And sinking a finger would result in a three-degree burn just below half a second.
But the awful picture he paints is that falling accidentally into the river can result in instant death as the river is so hot that it can melt away your flesh to the bone!
He also makes mention of all the carcases of animals accidentally falling into the river when he wrote to National Geographic;
The first thing to go are the eyes.. Eyes, apparently, cook very quickly. They turn this milky-white color. The stream is carrying them. They’re trying to swim out, but their meat is cooking on the bone because it’s so hot. So they’re losing power, losing power, until finally they get to a point where hot water goes into their mouths and they cook from the inside out.
So, just wearing a pair of sandals, Ruzo had to literally ‘hop’ over the rocks and the hot mud over it to avoid the soles of his sandals melting to his feet. Every leap made him feel his lungs and throat as he breathed in the hot air.
Apart from being heated within himself, he was shocked to see the apprentice unharmed by the environment.
4.3 Exploring the River Environment
During his research, the inability to find the source of the heat in this river puzzled Ruzo, as no active volcanos were nearby.
Hence, he discovered that the heat must have risen from under the surface, resonating with the theory that they are fault-fed hot springs. And according to Ruzo, no such thermal rivers are spiking to this magnitude found here in Peru’s Amazon.
During his TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference seminar in 2014, he provided a robust explanation stating that just as humans have arteries and veins that help in the circulation of blood throughout the body.
Similarly, the Earth possesses enormous quantities of highly heated waters rushing through its faults and cracks. When these touch the surface, there are geothermal manifestations like hot springs, fumaroles and even the boiling river!
However, since the initial visit to Ruzo, the place has been ransacked by severe deforestation, and drive time from Pucallpa has rapidly decreased.
And it’s proud to know that this issue led to implementing the Boiling River Project, where Ruzo, like his grandfather, has embarked on a journey to protect and preserve this sacred river and its environment.
The project’s primary goal is to do a ‘safe’ study of this natural wonder. He has penned his experience in his book titled, The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon.
Don’t you think you might as well add this to your bookshelf?
Today, Ruzo runs his own Boiling River Project, a nonprofit organisation that keep the river and the surrounding environment under surveillance.
And after Ruzo, a woman biochemist named Rosa Vásquez Espinoza tried mapping the microbes in the river. Check out her story here!
5. Want to Take a Tour?
Tourists desiring to see the river must liaise directly with either Santuario Huistín (santuariohealing.com) or Mayantuyacu (mayantuyacu.com) centres.
Both have a lengthy history of accepting tourists and equipping visitors with elaborate travel tips, safety guidance, and caution about the innate hazards of the river.
The website also warns tourists stating that tourists must be prepared to experience humid and hot climates, NO air-conditioning, enormous hikes, bug stings, 0 mobile or Wi-Fi connection, and ultimately being an hour away from the most immediate clinic.
And about three hours from the closest hospital in Pucallpa town!
So, the journey to this river safely is entirely shouldered by you as there are no handrails, boardwalks and ropes.
Saying so, the website wildly beautifies the description of the river by stating;
The Boiling River area remains (for the most part), wild and untamed— and we hope to keep it this way.
So, think twice before you take the journey!
6. In Conclusion
This unique but dangerous river holds great cultural significance for the communities thriving around it for their daily needs.
But today, they are under tremendous threat due to human interventions and urbanisation.
By the way, how did his aunt manage to swim across such a burning hot river?
The answer is simple: the intense heat is diluted after a heavy shower, allowing people to swim in its waters!
But Ruzo DOESN’T recommend you taking a casual dip.
So, watch your step!