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How to Create a Natural Amazon River-Themed Aquarium

I have three fish tanks and enjoy giving advice to others about their aquariums.

Morning in the Amazon.

Morning in the Amazon.

Amazon River Plants and Fish in Your Aquarium

The Amazon is the second-largest river in the world. It's home to over 2,100 species of fish, with more being discovered each year. It is a very diverse habitat. In this article, I will tell you how to bring a tiny part of this river home and make a proper Amazon-themed tank with Amazonian fish.

Supply List: Tank Mechanics

When setting up a tank, you will need the following must-have items to keep the mechanical part of the aquarium up and running:

  • Glass aquarium
  • Filter
  • Airstone
  • Air pump
  • Undergravel filter (optional)
  • Tank-cleaning materials
  • Water conditioner

You will have to set up the aquarium (I will not go into detail) and have a proper fishless cycle to build up healthy nitrates and bacteria in the aquarium. This pretty much means that you just leave the aquarium up and running with everything in place for one or two weeks. You can speed up this process with driftwoods, plants, and even snails.

When you have the proper aquarium, you can give it an Amazon theme. You can use plants, driftwood, stones, specific gravel, and specific fish.

All About Plants

You can add Amazon River plants to your aquarium to create a natural look.

How to Keep Plants Healthy

  • Substrate: Pick out a brown, natural-colored sand or gravel substrate so the roots of the plants can spread and the plants can be healthy. Specific store-bought substrates are usually provided to help out plants' growth.
  • CO2: Carbon dioxide for plants is usually added into the water by fish respiration, and plants release the CO2 for fish to breathe. CO2 is very important for plants in aquariums to keep them green and healthy. You can artificially add it by using a CO2 system, if you want.
  • Lighting: Lighting for planted aquariums is important. Most Amazon River plants need moderate to bright light. Use a hood for the tank to provide enough light. Hoods also prevent fish from jumping out.
  • Fertilizer: Plant nutrients include nitrogen and phosphorus from fish food and waste and potassium that we add through the addition of ferts. Some trace elements including calcium, magnesium, and iron are also essential. Fertilizer can be added to the substrate (the Azoo Plant Grower is what I use) to keep the plants healthy.

Where to Put the Plants

Put large aquarium plants near the back and side of the tank to make it look more planted and green. Shorter plants should go in the front of the aquarium. Always leave a swimming space in the middle of the aquarium for the fish to swim.

Good Amazon Plants to Consider

  • Broad-leaved Dwarf Amazon Sword
  • Brasilian Water Ivy
  • Water Stargrass
  • Water milfoil, a Christmas tree plant
  • Mayaca vandelli
  • Pygmy Chain Swordplant
  • Red Amazon
  • New Zealand grass plant
  • Red copper-leaved Alternanthera
Please note that you will need to buy your driftwood from a pet store to ensure that it is clean and safe for your tank.

Please note that you will need to buy your driftwood from a pet store to ensure that it is clean and safe for your tank.

Keep Driftwood in Your Tank

Make sure you purchase driftwood from a pet store rather than collecting it from the wild. Driftwood that has not been properly cleaned is dangerous for your tank.

Benefits of Driftwood

Driftwood has many uses and benefits in an aquarium, besides giving it a natural, Amazon look. Driftwood can be used to anchor aquarium plants if the specific plant needs that. Driftwood also lowers pH levels considerably, which will help Amazonian fish will thrive. Driftwood also creates a slightly acidic environment and provides hiding space for fish when they need it.


Even though tannins aren't bad for an aquarium, they stain your water yellow. Most people don't want yellow water and seek to get rid of tannins. The first thing you should do to prevent them is boil the driftwood. Secondly, put the driftwood in a bucket, and change out the water once every two days. Thirdly, you can just put it in the aquarium and do water changes more often

Finding Driftwood

Never buy driftwood from a normal, non-pet store because they usually spray their pieces with harmful chemicals. You can find driftwood in the wild but it may be unsafe, as the piece could be rotted or have a harmful growth. The best place to buy driftwood is from local pet stores, as they will always be safe for your water.

Rummy nose Tetra

Rummy nose Tetra

Amazon Aquarium Fish You Can Get

Common, easy to care for, and smaller species:

  • Most types of tetra. My favorites: rummy nose, neon, white or black skirt tetra, Buenos Aires tetra, bloodfin tetra, harlequin rasbora.
  • Corydoras
  • Guppies
  • Hatchet fish
  • Pencil fish

Easy to care for, larger species:

  • Angelfish
  • German blue rams, dwarf rams
  • Bristle-nose plecos
  • Silver dollars

Very advanced, specific needs, bigger species:

  • Discus
  • Piranhas
  • Common pleco
  • Pacu

Remember that every fish has its own needs and requirements, so always research before you buy.



fishy on November 12, 2019:

albino cory catfish love living in rivers i have some in my tank

Dan on December 30, 2018:

Harlequin rasbora don’t originate from the amazon basin. They are from Asia

squirtgunbotany on September 28, 2016:

here's your sign: fish breathe in oxygen and expel CO2, AKA respiration.

heres your sign on December 07, 2013:

fish breath oxygen not co2

FishAreFriends (author) from Colorado on April 17, 2011:

Thank you so very much! glad you liked it!

Diana Owens from My Little Hole In The Wall, HubPages, USA on April 17, 2011:

Great info!

This is a good start for Newbies just learning the ropes of building their first aquarium.

(I like the Neon Tetras best) (:

Keep up the good work!

peace to you...always,


McGilwriter from Florida on April 16, 2011:

Very interesting. I've always loved large aquariums, but never thought about making one myself.