Amazonian Expeditions in Manaus, Brazil

amazonas

In the midst of the Amazon rainforest, on the river front of the Rio Negro lies the city of Manaus. A blooming city with around 1.7 million inhabitants, here you will find many opportunities to enjoy Brazilian culture and hospitality.

One can reach Manaus by plane or boat. If you travel from the United States, you can get direct flights to Eduardo Gomes International Airport from Miami, Florida with the Brazilian airline TAM or from Atlanta, Georgia with Delta Airlines.

If you travel from Europe, several airlines offer routes via Portugal, or the South Brazilian city of São Paulo.

By boat, take a cruise down the Amazon river from the North Brazilian city of Belém. This will naturally take longer time but the trip affords a wonderful view of the rain forest, with some tour companies offering stops at small villages along the way to Manaus.

Getting Around

For transportation in Manaus, rental cars such as Avis and Hertz are available at the airport. It must be said, however, that driving is for the daring and traffic can sometimes be congested and stressful. Beware of motorcyclists coming quickly from behind and crossing rapidly between the lanes.

Although likely the cheapest option, traveling by local bus is not recommended. The driving schedule is, at times, unreliable and coach standards may not be comparable to what you are used to. To catch a ride, pay the driver in reais (BRL), the Brazilian national currency.

For tourists, using official taxis is probably the best way to get around the city. Still, we were surprised to find that the taxis we used did not have the back seat belts available.

Did You Know…

manaus opera house

Historically, Manaus has many interesting features. Fort São José, the original Portuguese settlement, was founded in 1669. The area, however, got its name from the first inhabitants, the Manaos indians.

Situated in a region rich in native rubber trees, the modern city of Manaus came of age in the mid-19th century when it prospered as an industrial supplier of rubber.

In 1896, during the height of Manaus’ rubber boom, the opera house, or Teatro Amazonas as it is known locally, was designed by Italian architect Celestial Sacardim. The building, a copy of the Grand Opera de Paris, was constructed with materials such as tile, marble, and Murano glass imported from all over Europe. Most recently restored in 1990, the opera house offers a glimpse of the societal wealth of the rubber barons.

Today, Manaus is an industrial hub for electronics and other hi-tech businesses. It also sits in a free trade zone, where imported luxury goods are available for reduced tax.

City residents, too, have an entrepreneurial spirit. If you are walking from the opera house towards the river bank, you will notice many small shops, street vendors and market stands with handicrafts. Buyers beware or bargains abound – you decide. As always, know the value of what you wish to buy.

Amazon Adventures

lilypad with boat

For nature tours, you’ll find a plethora of tour agents in Manaus. Eco Discovery Tours is a popular, multilingual tour agency in the area which advertises jungle excursions through Jaú National Park, canoeing, and fishing tours.

Maia Expeditions is another ecotour operator with good reviews, offering jungle trekking, canoe trips, and pink river dolphin cruises down the Rio Negro.

Check with your hotel as they can most likely recommend tours with English speaking guides. Unless of course you understand Portuguese.

It’s a fantastic experience to take a tour down the Rio Negro, the largest tributary of the Amazon river. On the way, you may see pink river dolphins, or freshwater fish such as giant snake-like arapaima or pirarucu, surface-feeding arowanas, or candiru, a species of parasitic catfish one should avoid if bathing in the river.

Where the Rio Negro and the Solimões river merge to form the Amazon, a point known as the “meeting of the waters,” you will see how the Rio Negro got its name – it is black in comparison to the silty Amazon river, which appears almost yellow. The two rivers also differ in other ways such as visibility and water temperature.

The waters of the Rio Negro are cooler, clearer, and acidulous with a PH around 3.5, which has some positive side effects such as fewer mosquitoes.

Depending on the tour you choose, you may also see floating villages, jungle wildlife, or try your hand at fishing and gain insight into the importance of the river for life in Manaus.

If you choose a longer tour down the Amazon, you may see other river inhabitants including flesh-eating red-bellied piranha, electric eels, alligators, or giant anaconda in shallow areas. Bull sharks, too, have been known to swim thousands of kilometers upriver.

Where to Stay

When it comes to hotels in Manaus, the Tropical Manaus is a nice place to stay. It’s located on the river front of the Rio Negro, with architecture that leads you to think of plantation mansions. On the hotel grounds, there’s a small zoo and several courtyard swimming pools. Running along the river bank in the morning might be a good way to start the day.

For a hotel in the city, the Mercure Manaus offers apartment style rooms with fridge, microwave, and electrical burners for heating food. The hotel style targets business people but may be a good fit for tourists as well.

Just 5 minutes walk from the hotel you’ll find the new Manauara shopping center, which offers everything from clothes to fishing equipment, musical instruments to pharmacy goods, as well as ATMs on the bottom floor. If you wish to buy food or refreshments, Carrefour, a chain supermarket is also nearby.

riverboat

To get closer to nature, book a room at Ariau Amazon Towers eco hotel. Exotic in every sense of the word, visitors stay in treetop lodges set on stilts in the Rio Negro. Walk over the wooden bridges connecting the various buildings, and you may spot resident monkeys, colorful macaws, and lizards. The hotel offers jungle trekking, fishing excursions, helicopter tours, and other adventures.

Another eco-friendly choice is the Amazon Jungle Palace, situation on the left bank of the Rio Negro. The hotel, constructed with input from environmental researchers at the University Center North, boasts energy-saving operations and use of sustainable materials.

Local Fare

In the city blocks neighboring the opera house you can choose from many small eateries. For a nice restaurant pub you might head to O Chefão on Pena Rua Ferreira, 50. The staff is friendly, speak English well, and offer good food and drinks. The Godfather theme of the restaurant is interesting, and some evenings they offer live music. Try to get a seat on the courtyard patio.

Quick Facts:

  • Lang: Portuguese
  • Currency: BRL, reais
  • Time zone: GMT -4 h
  • Tel. country code: +55

About 10 kilometers outside the city center at Turismo Ave, 215, the restaurant El Toro Loco offers an amazing variety of food. They serve everything from grilled and barbecued meat cut to order, to a fish buffet serving local catch such as tambaqui and tucunaré. There are also salads, and among others, a must-try syrupy pineapple dessert prepared the Brazilian way – sweet!

Medicine

Before departing for Brazil, be sure to check with your doctor for any needed tropical vaccinations. Some common vaccinations include yellow fever, cholera and hepatitis. Malaria preventatives may also be recommended. Obtain medical advice as soon as you have your travel schedule, as some vaccines need to be taken days or weeks in advance.

The Brazilians are very friendly, and while the English language might be an obstacle, they make up for it in their willingness to help you. We hope you have a nice stay, and enjoy the wonderful wildlife and hospitality of the people of Manaus.