Manaus city, gateway to the Brazilian Amazon. Not exactly the view you expect from a jungle trip!
Photo by Dave
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Manaus is a large and not attractive port on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. It's a hot and sticky transit point for the jungle but does host a couple of worthwhile sights of its own. The river here is the Rio Negro, not the Amazon, and the waters are almost black, hence the name, joining with muddy brown Amazon waters a few miles downstream.
Manaus Main Attractions
• The famous Opera House, once a startling oasis of European culture surrounded by rubber trees and forest, but now just another sight to be visited with a guide, though there are occasional shows that can be attended.
Teatro Amazonas, the Opera House.
Photo by Bruno K Diniz
• The city market, Mercado Municipal, is big and busy.
• Palacio Rio Negro, an arts and culture centre.
• Shopping malls! Yes, after a few hours in the oppressive humidity, air-conditioned malls are a rare treat!
Palacio Rio Negro.
Photo by Madison
One unexpected attraction in Manaus is the presence of one large, well-developed beach, Ponta Negra, complete with a good selection of bars, restaurants and places to stay nearby. Or if you prefer more solitude jump into a motorised canoe and for a small fee and a little time you could laze on a smaller more secluded beach such as white sand Praia do Tupé or Lua Beach, a short distance up the Rio Negro. Take a picnic, cooler box with ice and beers and everything else you might need including repellant though due to the acidity of the Rio Negro mosquitoes are less of an issue in Manaus than other Amazon regions.
Alternatively hop a boat up one of the river tributaries to the lush and lovely Paricatuba Waterfall that's perfect for a cool swim on a hot day (i.e. every day) or the crystal waters of the Love Cascade in Guedes Bayou which will require a boat and hiking.
These beaches can only be visited when the water levels are low; the best time is August to November which is also when water temperatures are quite warm.
Igarapé slums in Manaus.
Illegal Brazilian slums are known as
because they spread like tributaries of the Amazon, called
Igarapés in the Portuguese language.
The heat is not the problem in Manaus, with temperatures in the low 30Cs (80F-90F) most of the daytime and around 23C (73F) at night. It's the oppressive humidity that is the energy killer, up around 80%-90% much of the time. July to November is the dry season with July-September being the driest and least humid months.
Malarial mosquitoes are also found here, though number are not as bad as in some areas due to the acidic water of the Rio Negro. Take anti-malaria precautions
Dowtown Manaus with the Opera House visible on the left and Rio Negro in the background and flash, air-conditioned, underground shopping malls not at all visible.
Getting to Manaus
• by boat is a romantic idea but not feasible unless you have a lot of time. For example the journey from Manaus to Belem on Brazil's Atlantic coast takes 5 days.
Downriver from Peru's Iquitos to Manaus takes at least 8 days, including 3 dull days to reach the Peru/Brazil border at Santa Rosa, hanging with your homies in a hammock. Then it's a small boat to dirty and unpleasant Tabatinga, probably a nasty night there before the 4 day trip down to Manaus - if you're lucky and the boat is not already fully booked.
• by bus is even less practical. Routes are very few and times are very long.
• by air. Flying is the best solution for most travelers but it's still a 4 hour flight from Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo as they're about about 2,200kms (1,375 miles) from Manaus. If the Amazon rainforest is your primary/only aim then try to fly direct there from your country. That's easy enough from North America but not so easy from Europe; you may have to stop over in North or Central America en route.
View Manaus in a larger map
A map of Manaus surrounded by tropical rainforest and the Rio Negro (black) meeting the Rio Solimoes (brown) 10 kms downstream to form Rio Amazonas, the Amazon River. Scroll to the right (east) and you'll see the cute little town of Silves.
Amazon Rainforest trips
Manaus is the best place to get bargain trips into the Brazillian jungle but beware of two problems.
• even on a fast boat it's going to take a day, each way, to reach any reasonably virgin forest so the best explorations are based away from Manaus, preferably more than 200 kms north or possibly south.
• the best direction to take for jungle satisfaction is upriver north. South of Manaus, for example to Lake Mamori or Jurara, has modest amounts of wildlife but also has undergone a fair bit of development - and concrete civilisation is probably not what you want to see!
• the jungle experience you desire, since you've invested heavily with time and money, is going to be almost totally dependent on your guide. He will need to know when and where to go to show you interesting plants and creatures. He will need to have great knowledge and eyesight to point out the numerous, well-concealed animals and birds. He will need to speak your language reasonably well. These kind of guides have long since been snapped up by reputable tour operators, so that is where you need to go to get your guide, otherwise it's wasted time and money. Do not pick a cowboy off the street or even a cowboy in a little shop.
Check an agency's Embratur (certification from the Barzilian Tourist Board) and shop around. Starting at the official tourist information center (CAT) would be a good place to get tour operator suggestions and advice.
Note that there are many travelers who believe that Peru's Amazon is less spoilt, easier to access from Iquitos (fly in from Lima) and cheaper than Brazil.
Tour Operators offer differing activities during their rainforest trips. Apart from river cruises on various motorised craft many involve some canoeing up Amazon/Rio Negro tributaries, walks through the forest - day and night. Then there's fishing for piranha (eating them too if desired) and other local species; survival expeditions (what can you eat in the rainforest etc.); tree climbing is also popular!
Manaus riverboats ready to take tourists to Amazon rainforest camps and jungle adventure trips.
Photo by Gerhard Rosenberger
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