The Boiling River of Mayantuyacu, Peru

Feb 20, 2016 7 comments

Deep in the Amazon rainforest, in Mayantuyacu, Peru, flows a river so hot its water actually boils. The locals call it “Shanay-timpishka” which loosely translates to “boiled with the heat of the sun.” They believe that the hot water is released by a giant serpent called Yacumama, “Mother of the Waters,” who is represented by a large serpent head-shaped boulder at the river’s headwaters.

The river is about 25 meters wide and 6 meters deep, but only 6.4 km long. The water temperature ranges between 50 and 90 degree centigrade, with small portions touching 100 degrees, hot enough to cause third-degree burns within seconds. Many unfortunate animals have fallen into the river and got killed. While there are documented hot springs in the Amazon, nothing is as large as Shanay-timpishka.


Photo credit: Devlin Gandy

Each year, a handful of tourists visit Mayantuyacu to experience the traditional medicinal practices of the Asháninka people. But aside from a few obscure references in petroleum journals from the 1930s, scientific documentation of the river is non-existent. Somehow, this natural wonder has managed to elude widespread notice for over seventy five years. For most Peruvians, the river is only a legend. Geologists dismissed it because they argued that it would take a tremendous amount of geothermal heat to boil even a small section of a river, and the Amazon basin lies 400 miles from the nearest active volcano.

Andrés Ruzo, a geothermal scientist at the Southern Methodist University, had no reason to believe the river exists, but the stories intrigued him. Ruzo first heard about the river from his grandfather when he was twelve years old. According to the story he was told, the river was discovered by Spanish conquistadors when they headed deep into the rainforest in search of gold. Some of the men who returned spoke about a dangerous land filled with poisoned water, man-eating snakes, starvation, disease, and a river that boils from below.

Twenty years after his grandfather told him about the river, Ruzo finally found someone who had actually seen the river —his own aunt.

Ruzo has now written a book on the phenomenon, The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon. He is also conducting detailed geothermal studies of the boiling river, and collaborating with microbial ecologists to investigate the extremophile organisms living in its scalding waters. Ruzo hopes that his book will bring attention to this natural wonder and the increasing threat it has been facing from illegal loggers.

“In the middle of my PhD, I realized, this river is a natural wonder,” Ruzo said. “And it’s not going to be around unless we do something about it.”


Photo credit: Devlin Gandy


Photo credit: Sofia Ruzo


Photo credit: Devlin Gandy


Photo credit: Andrés Ruzo


Photo credit: Devlin Gandy

Sources: Gizmodo / National Geographic via Presurfer


  1. Why does the water boil. Where does the river get it's heat? I did not see the answer to that question in the article.

    1. The river is still being studied, so maybe they don't know the answer to that yet.

    2. I've found some description about that in this article:

  2. Gee , a hot spring in and earthquake prone area of Peru ( -8.82, -74.73 ) . There are hot springs around Colorado , perhaps not quite as big , which were spas a century ago , now abandoned .

    What a lot of hype about something that is not that rare .


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