Casiquiare canal

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The Casiquiare river (Spanish pronunciation: [kasiˈkjaɾe]) is a distributary of the upper Orinoco flowing southward into the Rio Negro, in Venezuela, South America. As such, it forms a unique natural canal between the Orinoco and Amazon river systems. It is the world's largest river of the kind that links two major river systems, a so-called bifurcation. The area forms a water divide, more dramatically at regional flood stage.

Casiquiare canal
Location of the Casiquiare (highlighted in purple) within the Amazon Basin
Physical characteristics
SourceOrinoco River
 • coordinates3°8′18″N 65°52′49″W / 3.13833°N 65.88028°W / 3.13833; -65.88028
MouthRio Negro
 • coordinates
2°0′5″N 67°5′54″W / 2.00139°N 67.09833°W / 2.00139; -67.09833Coordinates: 2°0′5″N 67°5′54″W / 2.00139°N 67.09833°W / 2.00139; -67.09833
Length340 km (210 mi)[1]
Basin size42,300 km2 (16,300 sq mi)


The name Casiquiare, first used in that form by Manuel Román, likely derives from the Ye'kuana language name of the river, Kashishiwadi.[2]


In 1744 a Jesuit priest named Manuel Román, while ascending the Orinoco River in the region of La Esmeralda, met some Portuguese slave-traders from the settlements on the Rio Negro. The Portuguese insisted they were not in Spanish territory but on a tributary of the Amazon; they invited Román back with them to prove their claim. He accompanied them on their return, by way of the Casiquiare canal, and afterwards retraced his route to the Orinoco. Along the way, he made first contact with the Ye'kuana people, whom he enlisted to help in his journey. Charles Marie de La Condamine, seven months later, was able to give to the Académie française an account of Father Román's voyage, and thus confirm the existence of this waterway, first reported by Father Acuña in 1639.[3][4]

Little credence was given to Román's statement until it was verified, in 1756, by the Spanish Boundary-line Commission of José Yturriaga and Solano.[3] In 1800 German scientist Alexander von Humboldt[5] and French botanist Aimé Bonpland explored the river. During a 1924–25 expedition, Alexander H. Rice Jr. of Harvard University traveled up the Orinoco, traversed the Casiquiare canal, and descended the Rio Negro to the Amazon at Manaus. It was the first expedition to use aerial photography and shortwave radio for mapping of the region. In 1968 the Casiquiare was navigated by an SRN6 hovercraft during a National Geographic expedition.[6]


The Casiquiare (bottom left) is separated from the Orinoco

The origin of the Casiquiare, at the River Orinoco, is 14 kilometres (9 mi) below the mission of La Esmeralda at 3°8′18.5″N 65°52′42.5″W / 3.138472°N 65.878472°W / 3.138472; -65.878472, and about 123 metres (404 ft) above sea level. Its mouth at the Rio Negro, an affluent of the Amazon River, is near the town of San Carlos and is 91 metres (299 ft) above sea level.[3]

The general course is south-west, and its length, including windings, is about 320 kilometres (200 mi). Its width, at its bifurcation with the Orinoco, is approximately 90 metres (300 ft), with a current towards the Rio Negro of 0.3 metres per second (0.75 mph). However, as it gains in volume from the very numerous tributary streams, large and small, that it receives en route, its velocity increases, and in the wet season reaches 2.2 metres per second (5 mph), even 3.6 metres per second (8 mph) in certain stretches. It broadens considerably as it approaches its mouth, where it is about 533 metres (1,750 ft) wide. The volume of water the Casiquiare captures from the Orinoco is small in comparison to what it accumulates in its course.[3] Nevertheless, the geological processes are ongoing, and evidence points to a slow and gradual increase in the size of Casiquiare. It is likely that stream capture is in progress, i.e. what currently is the uppermost Orinoco basin, including Cunucunuma River, eventually will be entirely diverted by the Casiquiare into the Amazon basin.[7][8]

In flood time, it is said to have a second connection with the Rio Negro by a branch, which it throws off to the westward, called the Itinivini, which leaves it at a point about 80 kilometres (50 mi) above its mouth. In the dry season, it has shallows, and is obstructed by sandbanks, a few rapids and granite rocks. Its shores are densely wooded, and the soil more fertile than that along the Rio Negro. The general slope of the plains through which the canal runs is south-west, but those of the Rio Negro slope south-east.[3]

The Casiquiare is not a sluggish canal on a flat tableland, but a great, rapid river which, if its upper waters had not found contact with the Orinoco, perhaps by cutting back, would belong entirely to the Negro branch of the Amazon.[3]

To the west of the Casiquiare, there is a much shorter and easier portage between the Orinoco and Amazon basins, called the isthmus of Pimichin, which is reached by ascending the Temi branch of the Atabapo River, an affluent of the Orinoco. Although the Temi is somewhat obstructed, it is believed that it could easily be made navigable for small craft. The isthmus is 10 miles (16 km) across, with undulating ground, nowhere over 15 metres (50 ft) high, with swamps and marshes. It is much used for the transit of large canoes, which are hauled across it from the Temi river, and which reach the Rio Negro by the little stream called the Pimichin.[3]

Hydrographic divideEdit

The Casiquiare canal – Orinoco River hydrographic divide is a representation of the hydrographic water divide that delineates the separation between the Orinoco Basin and the Amazon Basin. (The Orinoco Basin flows west–north–northeast into the Caribbean; the Amazon Basin flows east into the western Atlantic in the extreme northeast of Brazil.)

Essentially the river divide is a west-flowing, upriver section of Venezuela's Orinoco River with an outflow to the south into the Amazon Basin. This named outflow is the Casiquiare canal, which, as it heads downstream (southerly), picks up speed and also accumulates water volume.

The greatest manifestation of the divide is during floods. During flood stage, the Casiquiare's main outflow point into the Rio Negro is supplemented by an overflow that is a second, and more minor, entry river bifurcation into the Rio Negro and upstream from its major, common low-water entry confluence with the Rio Negro. At flood, the river becomes an area flow source, far more than a narrow confined river.

The Casiquiare canal connects the upper Orinoco, 14 kilometres (9 mi) below the mission of Esmeraldas, with the Rio Negro affluent of the Amazon River near the town of San Carlos.[3]

The simplest description (besides the entire area-floodplain) of the water divide is a "south-bank Orinoco River strip" at the exit point of the Orinoco, also the origin of the Casiquiare canal. However, during the Orinoco's flood stage, that single, simply defined "origin of the canal" is turned into a region, and an entire strip along the southern bank of the Orinoco River.

Popular cultureEdit

On April 12, 2022, the Casiquiare River was part of a clue on the American TV game show, Jeopardy: "The Casiquiare River connects 2 major river systems the Amazon & this 1300-mile one." The answer: The Orinoco River.[9]

See alsoEdit



  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChurch, George Earl (1911a). "Amazon". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 783–790.
  • VARESCHI, Volkmar. Orinoco arriba. A través de Venezuela siguiendo a Humboldt. Caracas: Ediciones Lectura, 1959


  1. ^ Ziesler, R.; Ardizzone, G.D. (1979). "Amazon River System". The Inland waters of Latin America. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISBN 92-5-000780-9. Archived from the original on 8 November 2014.
  2. ^ Lauer, Matthew Taylor (2005) Fertility in Amazonia: Indigenous Concepts of the Human Reproductive Process Among the Ye'kwana of Southern Venezuela, page 152
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Church 1911a, p. 787.
  4. ^ Guss, David. M. (1990) To Weave and Sing: Art, Symbol, and Narrative in the South American Rainforest, page 5
  5. ^ Church, George Earl (1911b). "Orinoco" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 275–276.
  6. ^ "Graham Clarke". The Daily Telegraph. 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2008-07-14.
  7. ^ Quinn, Joyce Ann; Woodward, Susan L. (2015). Quinn, J.A.; S.L. Woodward (eds.). Earth's Landscape: An Encyclopedia of the World's Geographic Features. Vol. 1. pp. 141–142. ISBN 978-1-61069-445-2.
  8. ^ Stokes, Maya; Goldberg, Samuel; Perron, J. Taylor (25 May 2018). "Ongoing River Capture in the Amazon". Geophysical Research Letters. 45 (11): 5545–5552. doi:10.1029/2018GL078129.
  9. ^ "Jeopardy Archive". Retrieved 2022-04-17.

External linksEdit