When traveling around the Amazonas river with the boat, there are a few stops which are a must, maybe because you are at the beginning of your trip, at the end of it, or you just need a break in mainland for a while, but to spend some days in these cities is a must during your journey! Through the Brazilian part, the boat does a few stops in different towns so I decided to start the journey in Belem and finish it in Manaus. I didn’t have enough time to keep on traveling through the river to other countries like Colombia or Peru … but if you have time, you shouldn’t miss it!
I arrived to Belem with a bus from Sao Luis, which I don’t recommend at all (but sometimes is the only choice you have). The bus ride is more than 12 hours, so you can do it by night, but the route is so bad (only one lane and full of holes…) that the trip is really awful (you can just buy your ticket online @ the Sao Luis Rodoviaria). The best way to get here is to find a good flight offer.
Where to stay
In Belem there are a few hostels, but if you are on a budget or prefer staying @ a hostel, instead of a hotel or a pousada, I recommend you the Amazonia Hostel, which is cheap and is the nicest compared with the others (avoid Hostel Amazonia, although is the cheapest, it’s already very old and with a lack of maintenance)
What to do
In Belem you can spend a few days strolling around the old town & the interesting market of “Ver-o-Peso“, as well as getting to know the night life. I spent there 2 days but didn’t have the opportunity to go out because I was sick.
The city center is not that big, you can walk around it without any problem. The main Square, “Praça da Republica” is nice and fresh with big trees that give a great shade to refresh from the heat. There are also food stands that sell finger food, coconut water, etc. Close to the square, is the comercial area, which is interesting to see. There is a street where they only sell hammocks of all price ranges and colours! After the comercial area, next to the river, it’s the famous market “Ver-o-Peso”, this is a very local experience, it’s a must if you are visiting Belem. Not only visiting it is a whole experience, but also eating there! They offer typical food from the area, as well as the typical Brazilian dish “prato feito” which includes rice, pasta, meat or fish & beans. The market is very big and with different sections: tropical fruits, meat, fish, vegetables, as well as cloth, touristic souvenirs, natural medicine, animals… you can miss this maze of people & things. Next to the market you will find the modern “Estaçao das Docas” which used to be old storage buildings of the port, and now here you find nice restaurants, shops, ATMs, bars, WiFi, as well as the perfect spot to enjoy sunset. Inside it’s also the “Amazon beer Belem” restaurant, which brew it’s own beer, worth tasting! On weekends they also offer the typical Brazilian dish “feijoada”. From the Docas, there are also some boat tours leaving.
In the old town there are a few nice buildings worth a visit, my favourite one was the “Casa das Onze Janelas” (house of the 11 windows) which is now an art gallery (free entrance) where they have some modern art pieces, etc. The house is next to the river, so you can enjoy the fresh air in the garden under the trees shade.
Near the house you may find the “Forte de Presépio” (free entrance). Inside the fort there is a museum and from top of the walls there’s a really nice view of the fishermen port, the river Amazonas and the city.
There is also the cathedral, “Catedral da Sé“, located across the 11 windows house. From outside is very nice, from the inside it’s not that attractive though.
How to get there
Manaus is literally located in middle of the jungle, on the shore of the Amazonas river, so to get there, if you are in Brazil, you might need to take a flight. If you are coming from Peru, Colombia or Belem, then you can arrive per boat (you might need a couple of days for this option), and if you are coming from Venezuela, then you can take a bus.
Where to stay
Manaus is a very big city, but the center, where all the accommodation options are, is not that big, you can go everywhere just walking. Nowadays there are many hostels options in the city. Personally I recommend you Ocara Hostel, which is very central located, next to the Amazonas Theatre and the main square. The facilities are very nice, it used to be an old big house, so it has a room with a nice balcony, a big living room with TV, pool table, big and confortable couches, a kitchen, and a backyard where you have breakfast, and there is a space to do the laundry if needed. They offer share rooms with or without air con (from 20 R$ per person per night) with breakfast included. They also always have a volunteer working there (in case you are interested, you can contact them! You work a few hours a day, and in exchange you get accommodation and breakfast). Another nice hostel, but not that central, is Big Hostel Brasil, located around 15 minutes walk from the city center. They have share rooms with air con and share bathroom, as well as double rooms with private bathroom (from 30 R$ per night per person, with breakfast included).
What to do
Manaus is a big city that offer a full range of activities, museums about history and nature, concerts @ the Amazonas theatre, markets, natural parks, beaches boat trips through the river… and a lot more!
Regarding museums I visited the house of Eduardo Ribeiro (free entrance), who was a very important governor in Amazonas in the 1890’s. The “Museu da casa Eduardo Ribeiro” has been restored in 2010 and contains furniture from the time the governor was living there. There is also the “Palacio de Rio Negro” a very nice building, which you can also visit for free. Here you will see how powerful were the business men related with the rubber industry in Brazil, at the beginning of the 20th century. Also in the city center, very close to the Rio Negro palace, is the “Palacete Provincial” which has a 5 museums inside (free entrance, too): Pinacoteca do Estado do Amazonas, Sala de Arqueologia, Exposição Esculturas do Mundo, Museu Tiradentes, Museu da Imagem e do Som, also worth taking a look at them. Inside it’s also a very nice coffee place to refresh yourself and take a break… after so much culture together! The “Palácio da Justiça” (courthouse) it’s also open to the public, and can be visited for free. Inside the building is very nice and majestic. The Amazonas Theatre (Teatro Amazonas) is a must visit, and the good news here is that they offer almost in a daily basis, free performances & concerts by night.
If you feel like being in the middle of the jungle, don’t hesitate visiting the “Museu da Amazônia” (MUSA). It’s far away from the city so you might need to take a bus to get there (from the city center: 448 or 676 – one hour ride) and get of @ the last stop, which is next to the entrance. The last visit starts @ 15:30 hs (you can only visit the park with a guided tour) and the entrance is free on Tuesdays, if not the regular price is 10 R$).
Another great park you could visit is the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA, National Institute of Research of Amazonia). You also need to take a bus there, because is far away from the city center. Here you find manatees, that were rescued from the river, and they are taking care of them, as well as other tropical animals. BUT remember, they are closed on Mondays! I couldn’t visit this place, because I went there… exactly on a Monday (entry fee: 5 R$).
Manaus is surrounded by river, so there are beaches all around. When I was there was wet season, so the tide was very high, and there where no beaches to visit, only the beach of Praia da Punta Negra, which is not a very nice one, but good enough to refresh and have some drinks next to the river.
There are also many boat day trips, but if you are already arriving to Manaus by boat, or planning to do a jungle trip experience, there are no needs of booking an extra boat trip. What you need to see is the “Encontro das Águas” where the river “Rio Negro” meets the “Solimões”. Due to the different density of both rivers,they go parallel for a while, and you can see the difference of the colours, one is black and the other is brown.
There is a market next to the river, the “Adolpho Lisboa” market, that used to sell only food (fresh fish, vegetables, fruit, etc) but nowadays it sells also souvenirs and handmade crafts. This market is open everyday until 5pm. There is also a weekly market that take place on Sundays, from 7 am until 2pm (the best time to visit this weekly market is between 10 and 12 o’clock). If you are on Sunday @ Manaus, I really recommend you to check it out, it’s a very local experience, and you can taste very nice local food @ the stands there.
Tours & lodges in the jungle
If you are only passing by Manaus to head straight into the jungle, you are in the right place! There are a lot of companies that offer the opportunity of experiencing the jungle in a responsible & safety way.
The most known ones, which guarantee a safe and responsible experience are Amazon Gero Tours & Iguana Turismo. Both offer more or less the same activities for the same price (around 50 USD per day): piranhas fishing, alligators search by boat, sunrise bird watching, trekking through the jungle, sleeping out in the open air with a hammock & a bonfire, as well as transfer from hostel to the lodge in the middle of the jungle (literally, in the middle of the jungle), 3 meals (breakfast, lunch & dinner) & accommodation in a share room (you can also pay more and get the upgrade for the private cabins).
I went 3 days with Iguana Turismo and had a great time with them. The lodge also has a nice dock where you can jump in to the water (during the wet season and only during the day) and sunbathe.
Maps of Belem & Manaus